On Italy’s Adriatic coast, a ancestral seat on the verge of a second act

Avant-garde curator Giorgio Pace has commissioned architect Kengo Kuma to help him convert the 19th-century house into a museum.

GIORGIO PACE, an Italian art curator based in St. Moritz, Switzerland, is known for conceiving and realizing unorthodox ideas that others might dismiss as counterintuitive or absurd. Among his accomplishments: a 2015 collaboration with Parisian conceptual artist Pierre Huyghe and self-proclaimed anarchitect François Roche entitled What Could Happen, for which Pace convinced Swiss Railways to run a private train with 300 handpicked passengers in 1910 – including British architect Norman Foster, collector Maja Hoffmann and fashion designer Rick Owens – to a frozen alpine lake for a performance featuring a nude actor crawling into an igloo, to a soundtrack of recorded screams. Inspired by the Emily Dickinson line about her gardening habits, eight artists, including Rirkrit Tiravanija and Joel Shapiro, created idiosyncratic outdoor objects for his 2011 exhibition A Lunatic on Bulbs at Museum Chesa Planta near St. Moritz like a liquid. rubber coated table tennis table and a tire swing pulled up by solid gold chains. And for more than a decade, Pace, who earlier in his career worked for both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim in New York, has also directed Nomad, a biennial design fair.


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Even by his own ambitious standards, his idea of ​​having Tokyo-based architect Kengo Kuma transform a terraced house Pace inherited in a 19th-century fishing village on Italy’s Adriatic coast into a gallery and museum is overblown. The project, which he says will be completed by the end of 2023, is deeply personal: it owns Termoli, an enclave of 30,000 people in Molise, the second-smallest of Italy’s 20 official regions, almost a three-hour drive across the country from Rome him hometown of ancestors; both sides of his family have been prominent there for generations. For as long as Pace, 56, can remember, he has fretted that Termoli and its surrounding area — which, in addition to the pristine coastline, includes snow-capped mountains and remote hilltop villages, but not a single five-star hotel — is viewed by Italian cultured people as a little joke if they even know they exist. (There’s even a meme where comedians compare the region to Narnia: #IlMoliseNonEsiste.) Pace isn’t amused: “So much of Italy is overrun with tourism, and here’s this perfect setting, so charming and undiscovered,” he says.

If he has his way, that will change in the years to come, beginning with Kuma’s redesign of the beautifully detailed, gracefully crumbling, 8,000-square-foot, four-story 1850s home at the apex of Termoli’s main pedestrian street. The lavish residence, which came to Pace in 2018 following the death of his maternal great-uncle, Arnaldo Sciarretta, a physician, was once home to one of the city’s first pharmacies, founded by the curator’s great-great-grandfather, Pasquale Sciarretta, nearly 150 years ago. “I think my great-uncle gave it to me because he knew I would understand it from any kid and make the best of it,” he says. Pace’s parents, Elena and Nicola, both nearly 90, live in the stately 19th-century house next door, although theirs has a marble-floored entrance, oil portraits on the walls, fringed lampshades and velvet sofas. A few cobblestone blocks away, in a building owned by his father’s family and converted into apartments, Pace has already refurbished a two bedroom pied-à-terre for artist visiting, with a large terrace overlooking the Trawler & Docks docks Trabucchi — traditional Adriatic fishermen’s huts on stilts — in the nearby port. His decorative elements, including a drawing by Kiki Smith, a photograph by Roni Horn and stools by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, come from apartments he owned in Paris and London before moving to Switzerland a few years ago.

For his great-uncle’s house, Pace knew from the start that he needed to hire a world-class architect who shared his vision for the home as a 21st-century cabinet of curiosities of sorts, albeit one with modern interventions. Then, last year, Pace was introduced by a friend to Kuma, who had designed LVMH’s Japanese headquarters; the 67-year-old architect immediately recognized the building’s potential as a destination for art pilgrimage. Pace hopes Kuma will brush up on the building’s history and add a radical new attic (the architect was due to visit the site to finalize plans in late January, but his trip has been delayed due to Covid-19). “Giorgio and I share the same romantic vision of reactivating the landscape through culture and preserving its identity and craft,” says Kuma.

Ultimately, the curator intends to give each of the 15 large, high-ceilinged chambers to artist couples – artists, architects, chefs – who will create works together that will be exhibited for at least 18 months (the Albanian-born, the Milan-based performance and Video artist Adrian Paci has already begun conceptualizing his piece, which features music reverberating through the high-ceilinged rooms.The spaces, though now mostly empty, still evoke family gatherings across the decades; most still retain their original wallpaper that painfully fades and peels, and tile or terrazzo floors.Intricate Murano chandeliers hang from stucco ceilings frescoed with ivy garlands and small landscape paintings.The mahogany architraves between rooms support wrought-iron fittings;The heavy doors open and close effortlessly.A few pieces of furniture have remained and testify to the past of the Building: intricately carved walnut beds from the 1860s; a striking 1920s wall clock; a row of Thonet dining chairs around a huge oval table, both late 19th century. While tidying up the apartment, Pace discovered a pair of his great-grandfather’s embroidered slippers in a closet.

On a chilly afternoon, navigating the narrow streets of Termoli at his preferred pace was a challenge for the curator: on each block another distant cousin – the owner of a local restaurant, an accountant on her way to the office, a stay – at-home mom running errands — wanted to stop and chat. “I have probably 50 or 60 cousins ​​here,” says Pace, adding that most of them don’t understand what he does for a living — they suspect he’s just flitting around Europe with his friends. Others might find it a bit crazy to turn the historic home of one’s ancestors into a museum in a city that doesn’t really have a hotel apart from the cozy one Albergo belongs to a cousin of his, of course. But all of that will change, Pace insists. He believes that in a few years Termoli will emerge as the cultural enclave it was always meant to be, with its museum surrounded by luxurious new accommodation suitable for international visitors already visiting Bilbao, Spain, and Marfa, Texas, visit. Also on the list of invitees: those pranksters who once reduced the region to a punch line. Always gracious, he intends to be in the drawing room where his elders once stood beneath the frescoes of clouds and sky to welcome all within.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/22/t-magazine/giorgio-pace-kengo-kuma.html On Italy’s Adriatic coast, a ancestral seat on the verge of a second act

Luke Plunkett

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