Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte opens an exhibition of works by Santiago Calatrava

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Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte opens an exhibition of works by Santiago Calatrava
Installation view.

NAPLES.- The exhibition on Santiago Calatrava—architect, engineer, painter, sculptor draughtsman, all-around artist—arrived to Naples at the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte with four-hundred works, including sculptures, drawings, and models. Calatrava is a restless spirit always in search of a balance between volume and light, the two essential elements of his concept of architecture. It was Auguste Rodin, in his 1914 book The Cathedrals of France, who defined architecture as the “harmonious game of balancing volumes in the light.”

The exhibition at Capodimonte, split between the Museum’s second floor and the Cellaio building of the Real Bosco, reinforces the exhibition’s title—Santiago Calatrava: In the Light of Naples—but also the artist’s love for the city, a city that can be probably called a cradle and an entrance to the Mediterranean, a crossroads of diverse cultures and civilizations. The exhibition is curated by Sylvain Bellenger, the director of the Museo and Real Bosco di Capodimonte, and Robertina Calatrava, wife of the artist. It is supported by the Campania Region with the help of funds from the European Research Council’s Proof of Concept Complementary Operational Program 2014-2020. The exhibition is organized by Scabec, the regional society of cultural heritage, and executed in collaboration with the Calatrava Studio.

Thanks to the efforts of these individuals and organizations, Calatrava’s models for his most important architectural works have made their way to the galleries of Capodimonte’s second floor. These include those of the Lyon Airport “Saint-Exupéry” railway station and, in New York City, the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, better known as the “Oculus.” The latter bears witness to and memorializes the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and stands as a symbol of the rebirth of the city thanks to the lightness of its “bird’s wings.” Also on display are designs for future projects: the Sharq Crossing Bridges (three different types of interconnected bridges for Doha, Qatar) and the bridge for Genoa (in three versions: the arched bridge, the continuous bridge, and the cable-stayed bridge), which has been designed and offered to the city after the collapse of the Ponte Morandi in August 2018.

Also exhibited are sculptures from all of Calatrava’s artistic phases (geometric, mathematic, abstract, kinetic, and anthropomorphic), which have been executed in a wide array of materials including ebony, white marble, alabaster, gilded copper, aluminum, black granite and bronze. Calatrava made the earliest sculptures in the 80’s, and they are composed of diverse geometric cubes under tension and connected primary by steel cables. You can see this clearly in the sculpture Musical Star, chosen by Calatrava as the guiding image of the exhibition. These sculptures are works that communicate the crucial sense of lightness that we find in all the architect’s buildings. Alongside them are works of pure abstract form derived from the art of the Cyclades, followed by sculptures inspired by nature and plants. And for the first time in Naples, six sculptures will be exhibited that are inspired by the warriors from the façade of the Greek Tempo of Aegina, now in the Munich Glyptothek. These works form a group of anthropomorphic sculptures, and offer a synthesis of Calatrava’s entire career as a sculptor. They are a metaphorical bridge between the twenty-first century and Naples, a city that remains a symbol of Hellenistic culture.

Ample space is dedicated to Calatrava’s drawing. Executed in pastel and charcoal, these works take as their main themes trees, bulls, and the female nude. From a young age, Calatrava began drawing the human in order to explore the sense and dynamism of movement. The human form, rendered through muscular tension and partial figures, was to be decisive in the development of Calatrava’s architectural language. He produces watercolors by the hundreds as a meditative path. It is not a surprise that Calatrava’s first vocation was drawing and that both his work as a painter and sculptor decisively influenced his work as an architect and engineer.

“I have never stopped painting,” attests Calatrava, “for me it is important to engage with painting, sculpture, and also with ceramic, not only as independent disciplines, but as an incessant nourishment for my architecture.” He continues, “My sculpture precedes my work as an architect. To understand my architecture you have to know my sculpture. The point of departure for some of my buildings and bridges has been fed by the formal searching prompted by my activity as an artist, especially as a sculptor.”

The Cellaio in the Real Bosco di Capodimonte, a building used to store food during the Bourbon era, will host the second section of the exhibition. Over 50 works in ceramic will be put in dialogue with the eighteenth-century productions of the Royal Capodimonte Porcelain Factory, founded by Carlo di Borbone in 1743. Calatrava’s ceramics are works of art of phenomenal visual power, painted with the same precision as calligraphy. Ceramic is a material that Calatrava first knew in Spain, in Manises near Valencia, which posses one of the greatest European schools of ceramic. What Calatrava appreciates in this art form is its ancient technical roots in which a process that is by necessity highly meticulous transforms primordial material into an object of extreme luxury, and which was later to be renowned for its diplomatic value across all the European courts of the eighteenth century. Some of the ceramics on display are based on traditional Greek, Mediterranean, and even Celtic red-figure pottery. The use of colors and primitive pigments—earth tones, ochre, black—is an allusion to the ancestral totemic function of the sign.

The exhibition Santiago Calatrava: In the Light of Naples offers an unprecedented reflection on the architect’s forty-year career, revealing his rich artistic production through a completely new perspective: light, one of the fundamental component of all of his great architecture. An innovative lighting design project will make possible a new narration of all the facets of his work, exploring in detail his bold use of materials and colors, enhancing his sculptural forms, deepening pictorial research and ceramic production.

The exhibition was conceived by Studio Calatrava and realized in collaboration with the design studio Ing. Vito Avino and the appointed architect of the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Renata Marmo. Fundamental contributions were made by the Museum’s technical partners: Tessuti d'arte Annamaria Alois di San Leucio (Caserta), Ance-Aies Salerno, Cimolai Spa, FioreLegno srl, Ferrara Costruzioni, iGuzzini illuminazione Spa, Antonio Perotti Design, Gesac-Aeroporto internazionale di Napoli, and the journal AD for its media partnership. The exhibition is supported by the Amici di Capodimonte onlus and the Istituto ad indirizzo raro Caselli-DeSanctis / Real Fabbrica di Capodimonte.

Santiago Calatrava was born in 1951 in Benimàmet, not far from Valencia, Spain, and began his formal instruction in drawing and painting at the age of eight at the Arts and Crafts School. In 1968, he enrolled in the Polytechnic University of Valencia, where he earned a degree in architecture and took a postgraduate course in urbanism. In 1979, he earned a Ph.D. in civil engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, where he also met his wife, Robertina, with whom he has four children.

He opened his first studio in Zurich in 1981, and two years later he won his first design competition, for the Stadelhofen Railway Station in the same city. His international reputation for bridge building was established in 1984 when he won the competition to design and build the Bach de Roda Bridge, commissioned for the Olympic Games in Barcelona. In 1991, Calatrava won the design competition to complete the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. In 1992 he built the Alamillo Bridge over the Guadalquivir river in Seville for the Expo and, in the same year, the Montjuic Communications Tower in Barcelona.

Other major projects include the railway station of Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport (1989–94), the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, the acclaimed expansion of the Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin (2001), the Tenerife Auditorium in Santa Cruz, Canary Islands (2003); the Athens Olympic Sports Complex in Greece (2004); and the "Turning Torso" residential tower in Malmö, Sweden (2005). Calatrava also designed the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub, called the Oculus, which was inaugurated in 2016 at the site of Ground Zero in New York and has become a symbol of the city’s rebirth after 9/11.

In Italy, Calatrava executed what is the fourth ever bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice (1999-2008)—the Ponte della Costituzione—as well as the Madiopadana Station (2002-2014) and the so-called “three bridges” in Reggio Emilia (2002-2007), and the Saint Francis of Paola Bridge in Cosenza (2002-2018). In February 2005, he was awarded the American Institute of Architect’s gold medal, the year in which the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held a monographic exhibition on the artist. Calatrava has also enjoyed retrospectives at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (2012), and the Vatican Museum (2013). In 2011 Pope Benedict XVI appointed him a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Culture, and in 2019 Pope Francis appointed him a member of the Pontifical Academy of the Virtuous.

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