Journey through the showcases of contemporary art, tiny exhibition spaces dedicated to passers-by, curated and set up like large exhibitions

A diorama. Yes, those of natural history museums capable of giving the public a taste of panoramas and landscapes - prehistoric or otherwise - in which to set the daily life of an animal. Magical showcases that capture attention in a frontal view of history. What if contemporary art ends up in the display case?

Outside museums and art galleries, more and more free-access street windows are being created which host artistic projects with curation and installation ready for use by those who pass by.

They are like dioramas of art, accidents on the path of those who are simply passing by, opportunities for artists and curators to show a work in a new way, certainly different from the spaces classically used for exhibitions.

In Reggio Emilia in an intimate and well-kept courtyard a couple of collectors have created a system of showcase exhibitions, where in addition to the works it is possible to briefly learn about the artist's biography and read some critical texts . It is Spazio C21, not an art gallery but a place always usable and free that wants to tell first of all about love.

«My husband and I are very passionate about urban art», says Sandra Varisco, a dynamic organizer and promoter of exhibitions, artistic residencies and meetings on the topic in her SpazioC21, «and For 20 years we have been collecting works, but also publications, fanzines and catalogs on the topic. When we started, we went to festivals and community centers to look for artists and works of art: we were interested in subculture.

Then it happened that we found ourselves living in Rome for a few years and there we began to host artists in residence in our home, where they would create a work that we would buy. The idea was very successful, but it was also an opportunity to meet from which new curiosities were born."

Life then took them to Reggio Emilia, his hometown, where they had already taken this space to use as a warehouse for their works, until they transformed it into a place of production: «It is a place that changes depending on the work of the artist in residence, who produces the works that we display in the shop windows, always usable from outside in a very democratic idea that respects the provenance of this art that comes from the walls and is born in the street to be free and usable."

The aim is to promote young people, but also to disseminate knowledge about urban art through talks held in the courtyard and a project, only thought of for now, to create a study centre.

SpazioC21 currently has My Rug, Your Arms on display by Antwan Horfee (until February 11th), while a collective exhibition will be inaugurated on 24/2. The shop windows are visible from 9am to 7.30pm (then the door closes), but on the street there are two miniature ones, acting as sentinels... or reassuring latecomers.

Small Small Space is in Milan, a small former newsstand of 7 square meters with windows on the street, taken over by Michele Foti and his partner to transform it into a place for large projects.

«My partner is Korean», explains Foti, «and in Asia there are many spaces like this in which to do many things. Because if it is true that there is never enough space, it is also true that the small space allows you to do many different things. So after Covid we took it over and started using it for exhibitions of photography or small design objects, together with books that accompany the exhibitions."

He is a photographer and she is an art director, they have transformed Small Small into their play space, like a small incubator of creativity. However, it has an impact on the neighbourhood, perhaps smoothing the distrust that the public has for art galleries: here you don't need to enter, everything is done from the street.

«Having a shop window on the street means becoming part of the neighborhood and dealing with the people who live there, between fear of what is new and curiosity to get to know it. You give and you receive", concludes Foti, after explaining the curatorial project of his space: a collaboration with the artists.

The first exhibition of 2024 opens on February 29th (until 10/3) with Giacomo Colombo.

Also in Milan, there is BuildingBox, a showcase of the Building gallery opened in September 2018 with the idea of hosting annual projects close to art and design: the works presented monthly are linked together by a common thread that develops over time, rather than in space.

The curators Roberto Lacarbonara and Gaspare Luigi Marcone explain it well: «These display cases visible at all hours of the day and night are filters, transparent curtains that allow access to the use of the work at any time, free of charge, without opening hours or other constraints.

Another interesting aspect is the temporality of the event: it is a collective exhibition in which the 12 invited artists individually exhibit their work over the 12 months of the year, generating, from time to time, continuous connections . In this way, it is possible to explore a trace, follow a path slowly, fueling the curiosity of the next intervention, of the next presence".

Art dioramas that are always accessible, at street level, real shop windows that compete for name with those of the shops.

«The shop window is a commercial device, it is a tool for capturing attention and desire, it is the place for the goods. Each installation, therefore, seeks a balance between the sacred and the spectacle, between the singularity of an unexpected encounter - with the work of art - and the staging of an organized vision, capable of stop the pace and, in a certain sense, distract from reality", continue the curators.

Who then emphasize their task: «BuildingBox defines a very different model of use compared to what happens in the internal, defined and, in some way, protected space of the gallery. On this side there is the road, the cars, the passers-by, the chaos of indiscriminate flows; beyond the glass there is, however, a thought that takes on a plastic form and acts by diverting attention, entering the circuits of everyday life like a foreign, almost defenseless body."

Like that of ceramics, planned for this year with the Faventia project, which brings the ceramic district of Faenza and its relationship with art, one year after the flood that hit him hard: «The 2024 program is dedicated to the use of ceramics in the field of contemporary art, with particular reference to the Faenza district, home to two prestigious museums – MIC and Carlo Zauli Museum (we talked about it here) – and about the ancient Faenza International Prize», say the curators.

«The reason for this choice is twofold. On the one hand, the work with clay, terracotta and enamelling evokes a primordial nature of the artistic gesture, the desire to shape and manipulate the earth. On the other hand, with the gallery owner Moshe Tabibnia and the Building staff, we wanted to pay homage to a city which, in May 2023, suffered enormous damage due to the flood and flooding of the Lamone river, the same river which, with its waters and the clayey soils that characterize the coast have always fueled the entire ceramic manufacturing sector.».

All this in a small space, for frontal use...

«Working on a single intervention means delving into the depth of the work, recognizing its absolute completeness and singularity, entering into a sort of intersubjectivity with the body of the sculpture that is in front. It's not about more or less stimulus, nor about available space. It's about discovering the text that fuels that single thought, its invisible connections, its less explicit allegories. It is an invitation to dedicate time to yourself", they conclude. Faventia's first artist, Gianni Caravaggio, is on display until February 11th.

A few kilometers from Milan there is also Platea, a showcase of Palazzo Galeano in the historic center of Lodi. It is created, managed and animated by their overflowing passion by Claudia Ferrari and Carlo Orsini.

As art enthusiasts and serial visitors to exhibitions, with this project they have gone to the other side and cultivate their diorama with great care and creativity. And so they made a 3.5 x 2.5 meter rectangle into a «visual device dedicated to the city and always open», explains Orsini, «in a point of great passage because Platea is located on the road that leads to the post office and the market, near a stop that we sponsored (and it became the Platea stop).

So you pass in front of him and his presence creates an accident of the gaze. Thus a relationship with the city was created."

Maybe not always easy, initially looked at with a certain suspicion in a place not accustomed to contemporary art and now a point of reference and curiosity. The project was born with the idea of promoting young people and was supported by the Raffaella Cortese gallery, "godmother and magistra" as the locals define it founders of Platea.

Because Orsini and Ferrari come from other professional worlds and Cortese was their guide to enter the world of art. And they did it very well. Artists and curators now transform the space in unusual ways, from those who have chosen to use only the surface of the glass transforming it into a mirror with chromatic variations (Valerio D'Angelo), to those who have chosen to make it an office in which to live for 30 days, in a live performance on current working conditions (Camilla Gurgone).

There are also those who have made it a real diorama to tell the ancient story of the lake that arose near Lodi and its dragon (Martina Cioffi)… so many the stories of these three years of work, which began with Marcello Maloberti who also inaugurated the idea of filling the city with artist posters to signal the imminent inauguration of an exhibition.

But that is not all. What happens in Platea is the transfer of authorship by the artist: «We dealt with the relationship between nature and artifice», explains Orsini, «involving the artists to work on our landscape conceived in an anthropological key. So for example Luca Boffi alias Black Tree who moved from street art to environmental art, recreated in the shop windowa Po Valley environment with the fog that changed to depending on the timesand the lights, in a transfer of authorship to the fog.

Here, this is the meaning, also well captured by Fabio Roncato who pours a tub of liquid wax into the river to take the impression of the current and then make a lost wax sculpture in aluminium: the author is the river, which determines the shape. Even Maria Teresa Sartori, on display until March 10, made the wind draw."

And then? 2024 will inaugurate work on the collectives, there will be 5 and they will also be accompanied by the first editorial project, a work of art in book form, printed in 250 copies.

In Bologna there is a special place because, despite being in the center, it does not have a portico to shelter it. It is Garage Bentivoglio, the street showcase of Palazzo Bentivoglio created to display pieces of the collection that are not included in the exhibitions.

After the room by Ico Parisi and Luisia Aiani, a project born on the occasion of Arte Fiera in Bologna will open and will then be visible for a month with a site-specific installation by Agostino Iacurci.

But how do you set up such a small space? «First of all, Garage imposes a frontal vision, very different from the usual spaces in which one enters and moves around the works», explains the curator Davide Trabucco. «Moreover, in Garage we only put the name of the artist, the title of the work and the year of creation, without critical texts: we have no didactic intentions because those who pass by see the work but then continue on their way, perhaps with one more food for thought», continues Trabucco, «The reduced space allows you to concentrate on the work in its entirety, to the point that it is the work that narrates the space».

Garage Bentivoglio is open only in the evening, from Wednesday to Saturday from 7pm to 11pm, for a specific reason: «The Garage is almost a lantern, it is in a spot that is not too dark but not too bright and not having a porch, it is very noticeable from the street. So even the inhabitants of the neighborhood are fascinated by this showcase and await the change of works.

As for the curation, we are forced to be clear: the idea is to understand if the works in themselves, without any additions, work and have the right prominence in that space." And it seems so. They really liked Parisi and Aiani's room and the magic of being illuminated solely by the wall lamp designed by Parisi himself creates an unrepeatable atmosphere. Less is more…