Accessibility links

Breaking News

Italian Museum Torches Art To Protest Underfunding

Museum director Antonio Manfredi says he is going to torch three paintings every week until Italy's culture minister recognizes his institution's plight.
Museum director Antonio Manfredi says he is going to torch three paintings every week until Italy's culture minister recognizes his institution's plight.
Antonio Manfredi has long been known as one of Italy's most radical museum directors.

But his latest stunt is truly extreme: burning paintings to protest budget cuts which he maintains are destroying culture in Italy.

"In Italy in one month five or six museums [have closed]," he says. "We don't want this. This is a revolution, to try to change the political Italian mentality."

Manfredi runs the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) close to Naples. The museum, which showcases works by artists from around the world, became a privately sponsored institution after municipal funds ran dry.

Manfredi now says he will have to shut it down if it doesn't receive financial help from Italian or European authorities.

The torching began on April 17 with a painting by French artist Severine Bourguignon, who watched her work's destruction via Skype.

The paintings are being sacrificed with the consent of their authors.

German Astrid Stoefhas is another artist whose work has gone up in smoke. She says she was initially taken aback by Manfredi's proposal to burn her painting.

"At first it came as a shock to me, I think it's a really heavy issue, burning art," she says. "It's also a taboo topic, it's very serious. But if it can help, if it's for a good I made up my mind and let it go ahead."

'Heartbreaking But Necessary'

Manfredi says he intends to torch three paintings every week until Italy's culture minister personally visits his museum and witnesses its plight.

The destruction, he claims, is heartbreaking but necessary.

"Each artwork is like one piece of my life," he says. "So it's terrible to destroy these works, [it gives me] a very bad feeling."

PHOTO GALLERY: An Italian museum director sets paintings alight to protest funding cuts

Manfredi opened the CAM in his hometown of Casoria in 2005. His museum quickly got into financial trouble after putting on an exhibition that drew the anger of the powerful local mafia, the Camorra.

He says the building has also suffered a flood and several break-in attempts, which he blames on the mafia.

This is not Manfredi's first publicity stunt. Last year, he wrote to German Chancellor Angela Merkel asking for asylum for his museum, saying Italy's government was failing to protect the country's cultural legacy. He never received a reply.

He now says he is ready to sacrifice his museum's entire collection of about 1,000 art works.

Culture In Dire Straits

While Italian authorities have yet to react, Manfredi's desperate and spectacular measure has caught the imagination of artists in other countries.

Several British and German artists have already set their own creations ablaze in a show of solidarity.

The CAM's controversial self-destruction comes amid dramatic funding cuts for Italy's cultural institutions.

The cuts began under former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and intensified after the current government passed a raft of tough austerity measures.

The dire state of Italian cultural sites and institutions gained international attention when the 2,000-year-old House of the Gladiators in the ruins of ancient Pompeii collapsed in 2010.

Prime Minister Mario Monti has since announced a 105-million-euro project ($139 million) to reconstruct the ruins, one of the world's most precious archaeological sites.

Written by Claire Bigg based on reporting by RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Okropir Rukhadze

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.