TIAMSA Blog: The art market in Sicily and the effects of Manifesta12 on Palermo Part 2/3: Developments after 2000

by Geraldina Albegiani 

This is part two of a three-part blog post; see here for the first part.

After 2000 many private collections proliferated in Sicily, characterised by particular attention to the latest trends in contemporary art. At the same time the first private foundations appeared: the Brodbeck Foundation and the Puglisi Cosentino Foundation in Catania, the Goca Foundation and the Sambuca Foundation in Palermo.

These were intended to exhibit private collections and in Catania they made up for the lack of public spaces promoting cultural activities. The Brodbeck Foundation, located in a former late nineteenth-century factory, aimed to promote the interaction among young Sicilian and foreign artists through artist residencies. The Puglisi Cosentino Foundation, located in the eighteenth-century Palazzo Valle, did not see the space as a museum for its private collection, but as an exhibition space that only hosts temporary exhibitions. From 2011 to 2015 this foundation hosted five editions of Catania Arte Fiera, an event entirely financed by its promoters, created with the aim of bringing to Sicily a contemporary art fair that would permit national and international galleries to engage with this southern market. 

Tutto by Matilde Cassani at the Palazzo Costantino, Palermo.  Photo by Simone Sapienza. 
Image credit: Manifesta12. 

In Palermo from 2003 to 2007, Mediarte took place at the Mediterranean Fair, a phenomenon that, while involving the most prestigious operators in the sector at a national level, was not as successful as Catania Arte Fiera in terms of sales. In 2009, the opening in Palermo of Palazzo Riso, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Sicily, marked a period of promotion and confidence in contemporary art, sanctioned by the formation of a permanent collection established after a survey of art collecting in Sicily. 

In 2010 the “Farm Cultural Park” was inaugurated in Favara, an art gallery and residency for artists founded by the collector Andrea Bartoli with the aim of promoting young Sicilian and international artists in a difficult territory. This initiative had the merit of making the old town centre, then in a state of neglect, a destination for contemporary art and architecture enthusiasts from all over the world. As the collector pointed out: 

When passion spreads, you don’t just buy. And the passion for contemporary art has become a driving force for the promotion of the area and for activities aimed at cultural and educational growth, a sort of mission for an area that is not always ready to receive innovative cultural stimuli […] We have carried out many projects and events to get in touch with schools: projects designed to accustom children to art, in areas where there is no possibility of entering a museum or enjoying public art. Art is important for the social and economic evolution of the territory and today more than ever the art world in Italy must question itself by inventing new formulas: it is necessary to communicate in a simple way, to encourage knowledge and access to purchase. 

The Italian State does not invest as much in contemporary art as does the rest of Europe, probably because it has been historically oriented towards the preservation of a prestigious national historical and artistic heritage. However, it is possible to find lively artistic production throughout the country, however inadequately supported economically, because of the priority of preserving and promoting a huge cultural heritage. In Sicily, unlike other Italian cities, the inhabitants are not used to considering contemporary art within political and socio-cultural dynamics. 

Yet, Catania, with its high concentration of galleries, has had a commercial and entrepreneurial focus more open to welcoming new developments in all sectors. Palermo, a historically aristocratic and culturally livelier city, is not attuned to the complex system that now regulates the global contemporary art market. Often collectors bypass the few local gallerists and purchase works directly from artists’ studios, thus eliminating the secondary market. In Catania it is easier to sell art because of a widespread system of galleries; in Palermo it is extremely difficult because so few galleries exist today and the middle class is distrustful and unaware of art world dynamics. A further obstacle is represented by the Sicilian auction houses which, by offering their works at low auction prices, distort artists’ market prices, thus making it difficult for galleries to sell their work for viable prices.

 1 Exibart.com/personaggi/il.notaio-dellarte/

Next week’s third and final instalment of this blog will look at the impact of Manifesta on the gallery scene in Palermo.

For information on Geraldina Albegiani, see the first instalment of this text.