Roberto Casamonti collection
In the heart of Via Tornabuoni, a new place dedicated to modern and contemporary art
Lucio Fontana used to say: “The difficult thing was not so much to make my paintings as to keep on making them when nobody wanted them”. Following your nature, instinct, passion even when nobody believes in you. This has always been the modus vivendi of Roberto Casamonti, art collector and art gallery owner, strictly in this order. He still goes on pursuing this way of life, with a new exciting project: the creation of a modern and contemporary art museum in a Renaissance exhibition space in the heart of the city, which will be open to the public free of charge from March.
On show on the main floor of Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni- the magnificent building designed by Baccio D’Agnolo with an incredibly modern façade for the time it was built and located close to Via de’ Tornabuoni where Casamonti opened his first art gallery- are his paintings, the ones he will never sell. They will be showcased in two separate exhibitions. The first one features works ranging from the early 1900s to the early 1960s (running from March 2018 to spring 2019), the second exhibition, from the 1960s to the present day. We met with him on the eve of the vernissage.
We were surrounded by works by Fattori, Marini, Morandi, de Chirico, Savinio, Casorati, Picasso, Leger, Soutine, Klee, Chagall, Ernst, Kandinsky, Dorazio, Vedova, Capogrossi, Burri, Klein, Castellani, Manzoni… Fontana. “I bought about 35 works by Fontana, when you could buy them for a few hundred lire….”
How did you develop a passion for art, before it became a business?
At the age of ten, when I was still a boy: I went with my father Ezio to the sudio of Ottone Rosai, who was painting my father’s portrait. Silent and sitting there by myself, I looked raptly at that studio thick with dust and color, I sucked in the smell of trichloroethylene and of the rags used to clean the paintbrushes. There and then, I decided that that would be my world. Some years later, I was with my father again when he picked the first works by Tuscan masters Ardengo Soffici and Lorenzo Viani. Then came the painitings by Felice Casorati and Carlo Carrà, Giorgio de Chirico. That was my father’s world, I chose to go beyond, for I was attracted to different, stronger and more contemporary languages: Fontana’s cuts, Burri’s combustions, Rotella’s posters, Boetti, who would later become a friend of mine…
When did you feel the need to pursue this new project?
I wanted to share the beauty, the artists and the works I had fell in love with throughout my life. Each and every piece on show was love at first sight, the kind of passion that you cannot ignore. None of the pieces are on sale, none of the ones on show here today, nor any of those that will be showcased at the second exhibition: it is my personal collection, paintings that represent a special memory or moment or person in my life. And I’m very pleased to see all my pieces here, one by one, hanging from these walls. But I’m not pursing a personal goal: I just want to share this heritage with Florentines and with those who choose Florence as a travel destination. I wish to show that Florence is also about contemporary art, contrary to those who believe that the city thrives by looking back at the amazing Renaissance age.
Why did you choose Palazzo Salimbeni?
Life offers you some opportunities: this Palazzo chose me. Had I not found such a fascinating place, just 100 meters away from the spot where I opened my first art gallery, I would have probably never embarked on this venture. I had not planned to purchase the first floor of this amazing palazzo designed by Baccio d’Agnolo. But then renovation works on the rooms ended up being so complex and extensive that my son and I decided to buy them and restore them to their original splendor: it is a beautiful, historic place with perfectly harmonious Renaissance views. A special place for my works.
The first and latest piece you bought?
The first one…at the age of 16. The latest one, two months ago: a fellow-art gallery owner brought a painting by Casorati to the art show in Bologna, it is more beautiful than the ones I own, and I have eight Casorati works. I told him: “Put it immediately away, it’s sold”. It is hanging here in the first room. But each of these paintings has a story. It took me four years to lay my hands on the black and white Kounellis on show here: it belonged to a friend of mine who complained about the size. But he would never tell me the price. He would invite me over for dinner, we discussed art, he asked me for advice..but he would not give me the work. So, one day I said: “Don’t call me anymore unless you are willing to sell me the painting”. It’s here now.
Do you love both modern and contemporary art?
Of course, otherwise I would be an antique dealer. Art meant as pure beauty is timeless. I was thrilled at the sight of both the Riace Bronzes and Guernica. But every age has its own language and I am mostly focused on contemporary artists.
Are there any promising names right now?
I don’t have a crystal ball. If I had any idea who’s the next Picasso, I would buy only his works. But there are some contemporary artists whom I am very fond of: Francesca Pasquali, Franco Ionda, Pintaldi… very talented.
As you said once, Beauty will save us….Florence’s most beautiful corner, according to Roberto?
Everything in Florence is beautiful: the streets, squares, Piazzale Michelangelo, San Miniato.. I own art galleries in London, Paris, Switzerland. I travel the world for business. But my place is here, I was born in Ponte a Ema, Bartali’s hometown.