Intesa Sanpaolo’s fourth major art gallery promises a ‘new offering’
A former bank workspace has been transformed into a stunning art gallery and exhibition space within Intesa Sanpaolo’s historical Turin headquarters. Michele Coppola – Executive Director of Art, Culture and Historical Heritage at Intesa Sanpaolo and Director of the Gallerie d'Italia – discusses its eclectic nature, its cultural significance, and how it came into being in just two-and-a-half years
Under the arcades of the historical Piazza San Carlo in Turin, gallery space now occupies three underground floors where vaults, garages and shareholder meeting rooms used to be.
This transformation comes with the recent inauguration of Gallerie d’Italia – Turin, the latest museum to be opened by Italy’s leading banking group, Intesa Sanpaolo.
The museum is housed within the bank’s registered office and historical headquarters in Palazzo Turinetti di Pertengo, which has been stunningly renovated to accommodate the new space according to the design of Michele De Lucchi and AMDL Circle architects.
Gallerie d’Italia – Turin boasts 10,000 square metres of exhibition space spread across five floors (three of them subterranean) and is dedicated chiefly to photography.
It is the fourth museum the bank has established – after the Gallerie di Palazzo Leoni Montanari (which opened in Vicenza in 1999), the Gallerie di Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano (which opened in Naples in 2007) and the Gallerie di Piazza Scala (which opened in Milan in 2011).
"A one-time bank workplace has been reborn in a new guise, been transformed into a place of culture, with the existing architecture respected and enhanced rather than distorted"
Michele Coppola, Executive Director of Art, Culture and Historical Heritage, Intesa Sanpaolo, and Director of the Gallerie d'Italia
Collectively the four museums are known as the Gallerie d’Italia. While the other establishments are renowned for the array of paintings and sculptures on display, it was decided that Turin should represent a “new offering” – according to Michele Coppola, Executive Director of Art, Culture and Historical Heritage at Intesa Sanpaolo and Director of Gallerie d’Italia.
As Director of Gallerie d’Italia – Turin, Coppola is supported by Deputy Director Antonio Carloni, who was previously in charge of the international photography festival, Cortona on the Move.
“The strength of the four museums lies in their complementarity,” says Coppola. “With the space in Turin, we asked ourselves what the added value should be compared to the others. Photography was chosen as the identifying element: a medium that expresses contemporaneity with immediacy and evocative force.”
One of the underground floors at Gallerie d’Italia – Turin is the new home of the Intesa Sanpaolo Publifoto Archive. This consists of seven million photographs taken from the 1930s to the 1990s, documenting various aspects of Italian life from politics to sport. A selection of the images have been digitised and are now accessible to view via an interactive installation.
Another of the underground floors will host temporary exhibitions. One of the two inaugural shows there is The Fragile Wonder – A Journey through Changing Nature, featuring the results of photographer Paolo Pellegrin’s visits to countries such as Namibia, Costa Rica and Iceland – by way of an Intesa Sanpaolo commission – to track the impact of climate change.
The other temporary exhibition is From the War to the Moon: 1945-1969, a selection of photographs from the Intesa Sanpaolo Publifoto Archive, focusing on the quarter-century associated with Italy’s so-called miracolo economico (economic miracle) following the Second World War.
Elsewhere there are areas dedicated to research and for educating schoolchildren.
As impressive as anything that lies within Gallerie d’Italia – Turin, though, is the fact that the museum has come into existence so swiftly. Its opening was only announced in January 2020, and fewer than two-and-a-half years later – with a pandemic in the interim – it opened.
“The whole operation was a major challenge,” says Coppola. He believes, however, that clarity of architectural purpose was a key factor in averting delay.
“Like all our museums, the one in Turin was a one-time bank workplace that has been reborn in a new guise, been transformed into a place of culture, with the existing architecture respected and enhanced rather than distorted.”
Palazzo Turinetti di Pertengo was commissioned by Marquis Giorgio Turinetti di Priero, banker to the Dukes of Savoy, in the 17th century. It overlooks Turin’s central square, Piazza San Carlo, commonly referred to as the city’s “living room”.
This work forms part of Intesa Sanpaolo’s stellar collection of modern and contemporary Italian art and also features in 101/900, a new publication cataloguing 101 of the bank’s best works from the 20th century.
For Festa and Fioroni, Renaissance iconography was as familiar to them – as Italians – as Campbell’s soup cans were to Americans (Andy Warhol’s inspiration for perhaps the most famous Pop work of them all).
Another key difference was that where in the US, Pop artists adopted mechanical techniques such as screen-printing, the Italians by and large stuck to working by hand. In Fioroni’s case, she enjoyed working in monochrome and is renowned for her use of silver enamel paint.
This gave her art a ghostly feel or, as she herself put it, a “dreamy rhythm” – her subjects made to resemble a “remembrance resurfacing from far away”, albeit one that looked as if it could disappear again at any moment. Her fondness for adding modest pencil marks to her work merely accentuated the sense of impermanence.
Talking of impermanence, Fioroni – though she continued working – largely faded from view in the 1970s. By then, Italian art had become synonymous with the Arte Povera movement rather than Pop and moved on.
The building’s external façade remains untouched. Entrance to the museum is via a monumental new staircase, which leads visitors from Palazzo Turinetti’s internal courtyard down to the underground gallery spaces.
Reflecting Turin’s roots as the capital of Italy’s Piedmont region, the museum displays a selection of works from Intesa Sanpaolo’s collection of Piedmontese Baroque paintings – notably nine large canvases from the Oratory of the Compagnia di San Paolo (located in Turin, the venue was destroyed in the late 19th century). Each depicting a different episode from the life of St Paul, these canvases were commissioned in 1663 as part of a cycle marking the Oratory’s centenary.
The nine paintings are displayed nearby other Piedmontese works, executed from the 14th to the 18th centuries, which complement the magnificent late-Baroque decoration of the rooms in which they’re exhibited.
The opening of Gallerie d’Italia – Turin coincides with that of Gallerie d'Italia – Naples, a new home for Intesa Sanpaolo’s Neapolitan museum (which is three times the size of its old one, Gallerie di Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano).
The inauguration of both venues forms part of the bank’s Progetto Cultura, a long-term plan aimed at promoting cultural and artistic enrichment as a lever for societal growth. Manifested in countless initiatives across Italy – involving music, cinema, art, theatre and more – Progetto Cultura has no equivalent among financial institutions in Europe.
“Our aim is to bring Intesa Sanpaolo even closer to the community,” says Coppola. “The link between the bank, art and culture does not start today. It is in our DNA – it has its roots in the history of the group. But it is a commitment that has become increasingly professional, with the advent in recent years of Progetto Cultura. To open two such large museums in two such important cities responds to a strategic and enlightened choice by the group’s top management. Intesa Sanpaolo is concretely demonstrating that playing a central role in the economic development of Italy should not be separated from taking responsibility for its cultural and social development too.”