One of the pleasant things about Milan is that there are many interesting locations not far away. For example, the Cinque Terre, five small towns on the rocky Ligurian coast, are a couple of hours by train. Even closer is Varese, known as the garden city for its verdant nature and its lakes. Here there are several fascinating villas and gardens, ideal for a day trip offering some respite from the heat of Milan in July.
Villa Panza is such a villa, in Piazza Litta 1, Varese, about 15 minutes walk from Varese Nord station. It is open every day except Monday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (info: tel. 0332.283.960). It was built in the mid-18th century for Marquis Menafoglio. After several changes of ownership, it was purchased by Giuseppe Panza who installed his collection of contemporary art there. Many installations were designed specifically for the location, such as the works by environmental artists from Los Angeles, Robert Irwin, Maria Nordman and James Turrell, who in some cases actually rebuilt parts of the structure, removing walls and roofs. Dan Flavin’s works with neon are particularly evocative.
From 12 May to 28 October 2012, there is a temporary exhibition by Bill Viola, pioneer of video art. The show is titled Reflections, and it consists of eleven video installations that document Bill Viola’s oeuvre from the mid 1970s to the early 21st century. Viola selected the works specifically for Villa Panza, considering their interaction with the permanent collection. The project transforms the exhibition space, in the Scuderie and the first floor of one wing of the Villa, into an itinerary of light, colour and mysticism, encouraging an interior voyage in search of the self. The installations last for between six and sixty minutes, encouraging visitors to pause, slow down, and gradually absorb the art, based on the dual meaning of the word “reflection:” on one hand, a spatial transmutation of one’s inner being, and on the other, the idea of thinking, recognizing and analyzing one’s identity.
Viola’s work typically takes up entire rooms, with combinations of sound, images and architecture. As an example of this type of art, in the 1992 installation “The Sleepers,” on show in Italy for the first time, the images of sleeping figures are projected onto black and white TV screens at the bottom of seven metal barrels, filled to the brim with water. In this case, the viewer is necessarily a certain distance from the imagery, while in other pieces, the observer is within the space of the artwork, in direct contact with the tension created by the installation. As Viola himself says, “The raw material is not the camera and the monitor, but time and experience itself – the work exists not on the screen or the walls of the room, but in the heart and mind of the person who has seen it.”
In other words, it is the visitor’s perception of the work that brings it into existence. Perhaps this is why a lot of Viola’s work consists of an exploration of perception, and its relationship with human emotion. Works such as “The Innocents” and “Three Women” look at nothingness – the condition from which we come, and to which we will return. He constantly works on themes linked to the mysteries and meaning of life, and so therefore includes many references to classical Western traditions and Eastern influences. One of his objectives in the use of video is to surpass the static nature of painting, adding effects linked to the passage of time. In the work “Emergence,” Viola reworks the subject of the entombment of Christ, with imagery derived from a fresco by Masolino da Panicale.
This may seem rather intellectual, but in actual fact, Viola’s video art is always evocative and very beautiful. The setting of Villa Panza is perfect, because Giuseppe Panza di Biumo was, in his own way, inspired by the combination of art and environment. His extraordinary passion and dedication to the minimalist artists whose work he particularly loved live on in the villa that he remodelled to house the works, later donating it to the Italian heritage trust FAI.
The Villa includes a restaurant named Luce, with a bar, open kitchen and restaurant serving innovative recipes made using products from the villa’s gardens and orchards. From April to September, you can eat al fresco, and at weekends, you can order a picnic to eat on the grass in the lovely gardens. For restaurant info and bookings, phone 0332.242.199.
And if you like the idea of having a swim to cool down while visiting the lake, we recommend taking the ferry from Laveno to Intra, and then the bus to Cannero Riviera (ferries also run from Luino to Cannero). It’s the only location on Lake Maggiore to have Bandiera Blu certification, and it’s also a very attractive place.
Fondo Ambiente Italiano