Studio Daniel Libeskind

Exhibition Design, Claudia Gian Ferrari - Museo del Novecento

08 Nov 2012

Art in Private Life

Design for the Exhibition of Claudia Gian Ferrari's Collection


The figure of the private art collector conjures a certain freedom. Operating without the need to satisfy institutional mission statements or the demands of the marketplace, the collector is free to choose works of art that strike her as personally significant, that reflect her own interests, desires and dreams. A private art collection gives us a portrait of its collector, of her predilections and how she sees the world—even how she decorates her apartment—for the collector is passionate about her artworks and surrounds herself with them affectionately. She enjoys the freedom of associating with the artists that interest her regardless of their professional standing or fame, to discover and encourage new talents, who become her friends and make art specifically with her in mind and for her collection. By her very presence on the scene, the private collector is thus able to transform the art world around her. More than just a tastemaker or trendsetter, she becomes a kind of muse to the artists she patronizes.

Perhaps more than anything else, this ability to transcend mere collecting and become an artistic influence marks the difference between a run-of-the-mill collector and a great one, like Claudia Gian Ferrari. She was able to cultivate a series of artists, to showcase them in the gallery she inherited from her father Ettore Gian Ferrari, to write critical reviews of their work in newspapers and journals, and thereby to imprint upon the art world her own preferences and ideas. Therefore, we arrive full circle: as a collector, Gian Ferrari ended up influencing not just the market, but setting the standard for contemporary Italian art museums, by promoting major talents like Luigi Ontani and Claudio Parmiggiani, who are featured in the present exhibition, and by donating great works from her private collection for the benefit of the general public.

Having lived in Milan for many years myself, I know from personal experience the many treasures secreted behind the stoic facades of Milanese apartment buildings. Yet there were perhaps few places in this city that contained works of art as significant as those in Claudia Gian Ferrari’s apartment on Via Corridoni. For here we find not only major paintings and sculptures, but also her hats, wardrobe, archives and various objects of affection, all of which combine to give an intimate portrait of one of the preeminent collectors of 20th century Italian art, as she was in the privacy of her own home.

These are some of the thoughts I had when I was approached to design the exhibition of Claudia Gian Ferrari’s works at the Museo del 900. The installation can be seen as a reflection on art not yet in the public sphere but as part of the collector’s private life. My idea was to create a kind of labyrinth of discreet passageways and private rooms devoted to different areas of her collection, to represent the hidden alchemy at work in the collector’s eye, and to highlight the personal aspect of what she chose to collect and place in her home and gallery.

The whole installation is doubly inclined, so as the museum-goer proceeds through it the walls gradually increase in height, enveloping the visitor in the collector’s private world. The inclined top of the labyrinth is painted red to symbolize the collector’s soaring passion for art. There are six interlocking areas, each devoted to a different aspect of Claudia Gian Ferrari’s life and collection, which may be entered by the visitor from different directions through a diversity of angles and sightlines. For the logic of the exhibition is to allow the museum-goer to discover Claudia Gian Ferrari by exploring her collection in an idiosyncratic and exciting new way.


Daniel Libeskind


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