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Historically a vibrant centre receptive to international trends, Naples is a city where the concept of community, with all its share of light and shadows, has formed many layers.
Looking more specifically at the artistic community, over the decades Naples has followed the same process that has affected Italy and Europe throughout the last half-century. Which is to say, the 1960s and 1970s drive for collectivism, inclusiveness and sharing (in years in which historic galleries such as Lucio Amelio, Il Centro, Lia Rumma, Studio Morra and Studio Trisorio opened their doors, but which also saw the emergence of experimental initiatives with a strong aggregating effect, such as the Galleria Inesistente and the A/Social Group) has been followed by a retreat, centred on the individual and the single talent, and resulting in a fragmentation of interests and opportunities. This has been to the benefit of ever-more frequent foreign incursions, free to make their way in a context that leaves wide openings for them, most often dominated by solitary monads.
The decade spanning the turn of the millennium saw the city of Naples consolidate its position as a cultural hub for contemporary art. This also owed to the foundation, in 2005, of the Madre, which from its very first years of activity — and through a programme linked to the project room — offered exhibitions of artists from Campania born in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This was indeed how many of these artists launched their careers, finding a place in the local art system but also sometimes choosing to make their homes outside of Naples.
This trend for artists to move away from the city and towards autonomy has begun to be reversed in recent years, most notably among the latest generations. This is a response to a widespread state of uncertainty, in reaction to the ever more liquid condition of post-postmodern society, thereby creating “crutch communities”. These young artists are by now accustomed to the fluid situation that leads to so many crossings between disciplines and geographical spaces, but they do not thereby lose sight of their territory of origin, which becomes a terrain of engagement and, in some cases, a runway to land on (again).
Hence, while Naples is increasingly emerging as a place of attraction for foreign artists and cultural operators — thanks also to the boom in visibility that this regional capital has enjoyed in recent years, and its transformation from a criminal hotspot to “the place to be” — at the same time, local communities are consolidating their roots in the city. They do so to varying intensities, yet driven by a common need to strengthen or rediscover their dialogue with Naples, as they launch initiatives embedded in the city and among its inhabitants.
Leading the way, in this regard, are the various projects that have sought, in the past decade, to create spaces of aggregation in the interest of building communities around art, even if they are also the product of individuals’ initiatives. Such are the cases of the Quartiere Intelligente, Magazzini Fotografici, Riot Studio, Superotium, La Casaforte.
Combined with these are the projects conceived and curated by local artists such as SMMAVE, a centre for contemporary art founded by Christian Leperino and housed in the spaces of the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia ai Vergini; Flip Project, an artist-run space conceived by the artist Federico Del Vecchio; Tarsia, an exhibition space created in a flower and plant shop and managed by Antonio Della Corte; and Residency 80121, a residency project and exhibition space created upon the initiative of Raffaela Naldi Rossano.
While these spaces each retain strong ties to the research conducted by their respective founders, they have offer other initiatives by national and international artists.
Especially significant was the presence in Naples of Jimmie Durham and Maria Thereza Alves, who chose the Bourbon-era wool mill in Porta Capuana as their second home, after Berlin. Over the years, the artists’ home-studio has become a site of encounters and engagement, giving rise to temporary communities and also fostering dialogue with younger people, from the local territory but also beyond it. One direct outgrowth of Durham and Alves’s commitment to the Neapolitan context was the creation of Labinac. Run in collaboration with Marcello Del Giudice, it is dedicated to the production and exhibition of works on the borderline between art and design. Another artist’s studio — that of photographer Antonio Biasiucci, in the heart of Naples’ historic centre — has since 2012 been hosting the LAB/per un laboratorio irregolare project, aimed at developing and valorising the research of young auteur photographers, especially in the Campania region, by encouraging dialogue between its protagonists.
In more recent times, we have seen the emergence of a new Neapolitan art scene in which artists born over the late 1980s and 1990s play a leading role. In this context, the desire to create a community based on a shared vision and common intentions takes on an even greater, more manifest importance, in turn allowing the identification of groups who gravitate around specific points of attraction.
First of all, there is a certain sharing of studios: a response to the gentrification process to which the historical centre and surrounding areas are subject and the consequent increase in rents. This leads artists, if not to directly working together, at least to a sharing of their intentions and to mutual suggestions during the production phase.
However, the choice to share their workspace does not represent the main glue binding them together. Rather, this can easily be identified in an aggregative mentality that goes beyond the physical and productive space to become a collective intelligence — both in the realisation of projects, and in individuals’ process of defining their personal research and poetics.
We find an example of this in the shared studios at Atelier Alifuoco, an apartment located in a building on the border between the Sanità and Vicaria neighbourhoods, which was converted into an artistic laboratory in 2016 on the initiative of Alessandro Cirillo and Francesco Maria Sabatini (the latter one of the artists in residence together with Maria Teresa Palladino, Nicola Vincenzo Piscopo and Lucia Schettino). So, too, in the aggregation of artists’ studios a stone’s throw from the church of Santa Maria della Sanità, which in recent years has seen a turnoverof artists present including Lucas Memmola, Gabriella Siciliano, Clarissa Baldassarri, Carmela De Falco, Selene Cardia, Miho Tanaka and Akele Castellano.
Both groups have given rise to projects which are brought together by their desire for interaction with the territory: from the Atelier Alifuoco came Quartiere Latino, a project whose title (a reference not only to the famous Parisian neighbourhood, but to an artistic collective founded in Naples in 1928 by the painter Giuseppe Uva) itself emphasises concepts of sharing and exchange. Presented as a “homegrown contemporary art gallery”, Quartiere Latino invites artists from outside the studio and from across different generations to produce site-specific works for the building and its tenants. The three editions thus far have featured works by Clarissa Baldassarri, Paolo La Motta, Gabriella Siciliano, Veronica Bisesti, Andrea Bolognino, Lucas Memmola and Fabrizio Cicero, Antonella Raio, and Vincenzo Rusciano.
For their part, the Sanità studios were the starting point for the itinerant project Exit Strategy — a programme of distributed exhibitions resulting from an idea of Lucas Memmola’s and now coordinated together with Marta Ferrara. Today in its second Neapolitan stage (following an interlude in Milan), Exit Strategy first appeared amidst the pandemic emergency, choosing for its exhibition spaces the windows of cinemas and theatres closed to the public. It then became a sequence of temporary interventions, playing out over the course of an afternoon in November 2022, proposed as “interferences in public space” resulting from the interaction with the neighbourhood’s inhabitants and shopkeepers. The actions and works by Andrea Bolognino, Carmela De Falco, Lucas Memmola, Nicola Vincenzo Piscopo, Gabriella Siciliano and Miho Tanaka were presented to the public between shops and transitional spaces, in many cases also giving rise to a participatory dimension.
Even just by putting together the names of their respective initiatives, it is easy to see that there is a dynamic of exchange between the two groups that makes the team emerge as a recognisable force, even with full respect for their individual careers. What unites many of these artists is their training at Naples’ Accademia di Belle Arti, particularly at the school of sculpture, coordinated by the artist and teacher Rosaria Iazzetta. In recent years it has made strides to bring students into view outside the Accademia’s own premises, through an ongoing search for engagement with institutions and exhibition spaces.
Yet what seems to unite these artists even more is the desire to build a community that is not only and strictly artistic, but rather extends to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, starting with the tenants of the via Cirillo building and ending with the local shopkeepers, who support and partly finance these activities. This network is, indeed, dictated by necessity, but also by the desire to pursue a shared project, to create a system.
Characterised by the same stimulus, albeit in this case outside the city centre, is Opificio Puca, a hub active in Sant’Arpino, in the province of Caserta. Founded by Francesco Capasso, Maria Giovanna Abbate, Rosanna Pezzella, Vincenzo D’Ambra, Luca Dell’Aversana and Ferdinando Cinquegrana, it presents itself as a permanent workshop, exhibition space and meeting place for local artists and activists, in the converted spaces of one of the area’s many examples of industrial archaeology.
Interestingly, the common denominator of these groups is that they have an only sporadic and limited relationship with galleries.
Given this scenario, the exhibition experiences autonomously organised by artists appear as necessary initiatives, useful for showing and communicating their own research. Although this research is surely individual, and formalised on the basis of different assumptions and languages, it also runs into links and analogies that translate into the elaboration of collective projects. The artists thus “bypass” or themselves replace the chain of operators and conditions that has classically defined the course, the construction and the dissemination of an exhibition project.
In conclusion, within the general context of a renewed tendency towards coalition-making among the younger generation of artists, it could be said that Naples is also aligning itself with this (allowing realities to emerge that will be worth following in their future developments). The hope is that such communities are not just the temporary “cloakrooms” — as described by Bauman — where you can leave your clothes during the performance, but energies capable of feeding the debate on the foundations of a common cause, which will keep this same performance going the years to come.
It would seem that Naples is once again recognised even by its “resident” artists as a place in which to find cues for collective and shared experimentation and research. It may thus be hoped that local institutions and the gallery system will provide their coordinated and effective attention, so that this drive to aggregation can find an adequate stage on which to grow and be valorised both nationally and internationally.
 Z. Bauman, Liquid Modernity, Polity Press, 2000; on the same topic, see his Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World, Polity Press, 2001.