COLD SPRING, NY — On June 28, the new Hudson Valley art space Magazzino opened its doors to the public. Like its neighbor, Dia Art Foundation, just down the road in Beacon, the collection is housed in a rehabbed warehouse nestled into the surrounding hills.
A permanent home for Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu’s private collection, the site boasts 18,000 square feet of exhibition space for the express purpose of showcasing postwar to contemporary Italian art, as well as a library comprised of more than 5,000 publications on the subject.
The inaugural exhibition, Margherita Stein: Rebel with a Cause, pays tribute to collector and dealer Margherita Stein, who in 1966 opened a gallery out of her Turin home dedicated to contemporary Italian artists. Because a woman running an art enterprise on her own would have raised some eyebrows, she adopted her husband’s name, Christian, in order to sidestep the stultifying gender politics of the time. Stein was an early supporter of the then-burgeoning Arte Povera movement, and supported many of its leading artists such as Mario and Marisa Merz, Alighiero Boetti, Luciano Fabro, and Jannis Kounellis.
Although Olnick and Spanu never had the chance to meet Stein (the gallerist died in 2003), they believe Magazzino follows the mission she championed. “One of the reasons we wanted to dedicate our first exhibition to her was because we realized as we were putting the show together that more than 85 percent of the works from our collection had been owned personally by her,” said Spanu. “Like us, she lived physically with these works, she took care of them. So we started studying this person, and realized this was a fascinating woman who had so much courage in the 1960s to start this gallery out of her own house.”
The show includes 70 works by artists whose careers Stein touched in some way. Among the highlights are Luciano Fabro’s precariously suspended marble slab, “Efeso II” (1986); Michelangelo Pistoletto’s “Sfera di giornali,” (1966), a giant ball of newspapers soaked and squashed together that was a part of a series of 30 works the artist made between 1965 and ’66 known as “The Minus Objects;” and Giulio Paolini’s dramatic rayon rag installation “Amor e Psciche” (1981), which Olnick and Spanu claim as the piece that got them hooked on collecting Arte Povera.
According to Olnick, the exhibition has been in the works for almost 10 years, when she and Spanu first had the idea to raise the profile of Arte Povera in the US. Translating to “poor art,” the movement gained traction among Italian artists in the 1960s and ’70s who wanted to disrupt the commercialization of contemporary art by using everyday materials like soil, rags, and twigs. In using such throwaway materials they aimed to challenge and disrupt the values of the commercial contemporary gallery system.
Magazzino’s opening comes on the heels of the Met Breuer’s recent retrospective of the only female artist associated with Arte Povera, Marisa Merz, work by whom is also included in Rebel with a Cause. “We wanted people to get a real feel for the genre,” said Olnick. “But also, just as importantly, how it has continued.” To that end, the last gallery, a project room, features works by Marco Bagnoli, Domenico Bianchi, and Remo Salvadori, who are all part of the generation following the Arte Povera movement.
Olnick and Spanu bought the former computer factory four years ago, the location of which was ideal for them — they’ve lived in Cold Spring for more than a decade. Appropriately, “magazzino” means warehouse in Italian and the building was modernized and expanded by Spanish architect Miguel Quismondo, who strove to keep the pared-down industrial aesthetic of the space. The original L-shaped warehouse footprint couldn’t accommodate some of the larger works in the Olnick Spanu collection, so the architect roughly doubled the square footage by making the building into a complete rectangle. According to Quismondo, ample natural light to showcase the artwork was of the utmost importance to the collectors, and the revamped building delivers plenty thanks to taller ceilings and simple panoramic windows overlooking the courtyard.
“Yes, we wanted beautiful architecture, but we wanted it to be respectful of the work that it houses — it shouldn’t try to compete with it,” said Spanu. “We made it very clear to Miguel from the start that Magazzino has one protagonist: the art.”