Last February, artist and curator Antonio Manfredi threatened to set fire to the permanent collection of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum outside Naples to protest under-funding of the arts in Italy. This afternoon, he put his art where his mouth is. Standing before cameras, he torched a painting by French artist Séverine Bourguignon, who watched the ceremony via Skype. Manfredi has said that he intends to burn three paintings a week from now on as part of an ongoing protest.
In following through with his earlier promise, the outspoken museum director hopes to inspire a reversal of the harsh austerity measures that have laid particularly high burdens on the shoulders of Italy's cultural sector. Such problems are all the more difficult in the nation's south, where employment and illiteracy are high, corruption is rampant, and general attitudes concerning art are characterized by cynicism and mistrust. In Manfredi’s view, only extreme measures can expect to win the attention of Lorenzo Ornaghi, director of Italy's Ministry of Cultural Heritage.
In February, when he first made his threat, Manfredi sent a dossier to Ornaghi containing photocopies of every one of the works of art in the Casoria collection, which number more than a thousand. An email from the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum to ARTINFO explained the day's drama, as the deadline Manfredi had given the government to respond ticked away:
“At 6 PM in front of the entrance of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), the work of Séverine Bourguignon was consumed by fire. The canvas was burned by the director, Antonio Manfredi, who waited all day for a signal from the institution’s staff. Filled with anger and emotion when the signal did not arrive, Manfredi, the staff of the museum, and the artist herself (via Skype), gathered to sacrifice a work of art from CAM's permanent collection. The French artist has confirmed the decision to destroy her work, a decision which she called “political,” necessary, and compelling in the face of these adverse circumstances. Tomorrow, again at 6 pm, Neapolitan artist Rosaria Matarese will set fire to one of her works. CAM, meanwhile, is waiting for someone to intervene.”