Ancient and Modern: The Re-opening of Fondazione Morra Greco in Naples

After an extensive restoration, the lavish palazzo hosts Peter Bartoš, Jimmie Durham and Henrik Håkansson

BY Barbara Casavecchia | 04 JUL 19 in Opinion

After four years of restoration and several million euros of public funding, the Fondazione Morra Greco has finally reopened its doors. Housed in the 16th century Palazzo Caracciolo di Avellino in the historical centre of Naples, it’s a few minutes walk from the Duomo, the Archaeological Museum and the Madre museum. Trompe-l’oeil baroque and rococo frescoes have emerged from beneath crumbling layers of wallpaper and plaster, revealing a fresh palette of mauve, moss green and ochre. The foundation now occupies all five levels of the building, which was progressively acquired by the collector and founder, Maurizio Morra Greco, between 1996 and 2007.

Jimmie Durham, Something... Perhaps a Fugue or an Elegy, 2005, mixed media, 1.8 × 7 × 1.6 m. Courtesy: Fondazione Morra Greco, Napoli; photograph © Maurizio Esposito 

In the vaulted basement, where the renovation laid bare portions of Greek and medieval foundations, Jimmie Durham (a long-time resident of Naples) installed Ceremonial (2019), a ‘primitive’ altar-like sculpture that pays homage to the chthonic rituals of a city inhabited since the Neolithic era, which is rich in caves and catacombs. Other ad hoc assemblages – made from pieces of wood, furniture, tools – by Durham are installed in the ornately frescoed rooms on the first floor; a Head (2006) covered in seashells and turquoise inhabits a tiny ante-chamber, which is decorated with the stories of Turandot (a 1762 commedia dell’arte play by Carlo Gozzi), recalling the times when Naples was the capital of comic opera.

Peter Batoš, Environmental Aesthetics, installation view. Courtesy: Fondazione Morra Greco, Napoli; photograph © Maurizio Esposito 

With due irony, visitors find themselves cast as the cheering audience of The Monsters of Rock Tour (1996) by Henrik Håkansson, a room-sized installation complete with lights, cameras and speakers that turns into rock stars a ‘band’ of crawling and singing crickets. By contrast, Håkansson’s silent 35mm projection JULY.20.2004 (Pieris napi) (2005), on show in the attic, is a slow-motion loop of a single shot of a butterfly.

The piano nobile is given over to the least known, but most surprising, artist of the trio, Peter Bartoš. Along with an architectural display by artist Petra Feriancová, the exhibition includes large drawings, hand-coloured photocopies and diagrams of the artist’s visionary ‘environmental aesthetics’ and, a particular highlight, his project for the Bratislava Zoo (1979–91), which he conceived as a new urban environment, ‘a research facility, a living museum and a genetic bank’. 

Henrik Håkansson, The Monsters of Rock Tour, 1996, audio structure, amplifier, speaker, light, microphone, stage unit, plexiglass. Courtesy: Fondazione Morra Greco, Napoli; photograph © Maurizio Esposito 

Since it first opened to the public in 2006, the Fondazione Morra Greco has made the concurrent staging of multiple solo shows a feature of its curatorial programme, helping to highlight the 200 or so contemporary artists in the collection. Working in partnership with Regione Campania, the foundation – to which entrance is free – will expand in the near future to encompass the atmospheric outdoor space of piazza Largo Proprio di Avellino, directly opposite themain building. Surrounded by the city’s familiar mix of traffic, rubbish and animated street life, there’s not a white cube in sight. 

Main image: Jimmie Durham, Something... Perhaps a Fugue or an Elegy, 2005, mixed media, 1.8 × 7 × 1.6 m. Courtesy: Fondazione Morra Greco, Napoli; photograph © Maurizio Esposito 

Barbara Casavecchia is a contributing editor of frieze and a freelance writer and curator based in Milan, Italy.