Private Museums of the World: Magazzino Italian Art

An homage to the Arte Povera collection
Concrete and glass forms wrapped around a central courtyard turn a former warehouse, built in 1964, in the Hudson River valley into the home for post-war Italian art.

by Nadezna SiganporiaPublished on : Nov 12, 2021

Quite literally translating to 'Poor Art', the radical Italian Arte Povera movement of the 1960s and 70s saw artists transform everyday materials into exquisite art through the exploration of a range of unconventional processes. Italian art critic and curator, Germano Celant, who coined the term in the late 1960s, wasn’t really referring to ‘poor’ as a lack of money, rather about making art without the restraints of traditional practices and materials. So, it is quite a fitting tribute that when Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu went looking for a space to exhibit their private Arte Povera collection, they chose a former warehouse in Cold Springs, New York.

  • The architecture and material palette was deeply influenced by the Arte Povera collection it houses | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
    The architecture and material palette were deeply influenced by the Arte Povera collection it houses Image: Marco Anelli; Courtesy of Magazzino Italian Art
  • Concrete and glass forms wrapped around a central courtyard | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
    Concrete and glass forms wrap around a central courtyard Image: Javier Callejas; Courtesy of Magazzino Italian Art

Says architect Miguel Quismondo, the founder of MQ Architecture, "The Arte Povera movement is very conceptual and materials are usually raw or readily available. This influenced the name of the building, Magazzino, which means warehouse in Italian, that came up even before we started designing the space, therefore affecting the architecture early on. The client’s request was clear – they wanted a space that would let the art be the protagonist; the building would need to be a silent background.”

  • Architect Miguel Quismondo, founder MQ Architecture | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
    Architect Miguel Quismondo, founder, MQ Architecture Image: Courtesy of Architect Miguel Quismondo
  • Vittorio Calabrese, Director, Magazzino Italian Art | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
    Vittorio Calabrese, Director, Magazzino Italian Art Image: Montse Zamorano; Courtesy of Magazzino Italian Art

Built in 1964, the former warehouse consisted of an 11,000 square-foot L-shaped structure surrounded by loading docks and canopies. Quismondo completely renovated the existing building and added an additional 14,000 square feet of new construction, establishing a dialogue between the old and new. “Quismondo greatly expanded the structure, which now doubles in square-footage and allows the visitor to step through a series of galleries that wrap around a central courtyard,” explains Vittorio Calabrese, Director, Magazzino Italian Art. “The industrial features allow for an elegant management of natural light, providing an optimal and unintrusive framework around the works on view…”

  • The architecture and design was aimed at establishing a dialogue between old and new | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
    The architecture and design was aimed at establishing a dialogue between old and new Image: Montse Zamorano; Courtesy of Magazzino Italian Art
  • The industrial features allow for an elegant management of natural light, providing an optimal and unintrusive framework around the works on view | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
    The industrial features allow for an elegant management of natural light, providing an optimal and unintrusive framework around the works on view Image: Montse Zamorano; Courtesy of Magazzino Italian Art

The design philosophy

The philosophy of the building’s design is centered around the intention to maintain the integrity of the art on view. “Through its elegant balance of natural light and unobtrusive architectural form as well as its industrial feel, the design creates an appropriate setting in which to experience the exhibition...The grounds that surround the building are carefully landscaped to create a natural setting and speak to its location in the Hudson Valley,” says Calabrese.

The materials used in construction were deeply influenced by the art movement | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
The materials used in construction were deeply influenced by the art movement Image: Marco Anelli; Courtesy of Magazzino Italian Art

Even the materials used in construction were deeply influenced by the art movement. “The Arte Povera artists worked with elements considered to be low-quality or readily available. We wanted to pursue this philosophy by using simple components and building techniques,” Quismondo adds. The stucco refers to something existing and concrete was chosen due to its simplicity, cost and the ability to solve structural needs. Inside, everything is very simple as well – the concrete floors have a matte finish and the structural elements are exposed showing all the joints and trusses. The walls are white and have regular openings that hide the frames, creating a clean interaction between the inside and the outside.

  • The approach to the existing building was an effort to strip the structure to the bare bones | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
    The approach to the existing building was an effort to strip the structure to the bare bones Image: Javier Callejas; Courtesy of Magazzino Italian Art
  • Both natural and artificial light have been used strategically to elevate the art on display | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
    Both natural and artificial light have been used strategically to elevate the art on display Image: Javier Callejas; Courtesy of Magazzino Italian Art

The transformation

“The approach to the existing building was not so much to make additions but more an effort to strip the structure to the bare bones. Once we started demolishing the existing interior space we discovered the beautiful simplicity of the construction, and it became clear we needed to use it in our favour,” explains Quismondo. The existing L-shaped building was completed into a rectangle with a central courtyard. For this, an independent structure was constructed that runs parallel to the longer part of the existing building. Both structures are linked by means of two glass connectors; the contrast against the solid concrete forms enhances the lightness of the glass connectors.

The design establishes a dialogue between the new and existing building which was continued in most design elements including the materiality of the envelope, the fenestrations and the structural elements. Quismondo continues, “High rendition LED light was necessary to appreciate the art, however, we wanted to take advantage of the natural light. All windows are open to a northern oriented light except for gallery number five which is oriented East, creating a very even light in the existing building…In order to allow an ever-changing display of pieces, we tried maximisinh the flexibility of artificial light by means of track lighting that crosses the lower interior cordons of the joist. This would allow for any possible configuration of sculptures within the space.”

The architecture lets the art be the protagonist, the building is a silent background | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
The architecture lets the art be the protagonist, the building is a silent background Image: Javier Callejas; Courtesy of Magazzino Italian Art

Art affects architecture

Quismondo mentions, “We did a scaled model of the building with dollhouse-like art pieces. We had numerous conversations on how we would lay out the art and the different possible configurations… (along with) the focal art pieces because the grid lines would require meaningful pieces as focal points of those axis. Particularly, the pieces called Efesos required structural considerations. Additionally, the interaction with the skylights of the existing building were important and the location of some of those pieces were also catered. Ultimately, those pieces that required permanent installation, in particular, the Pier Paolo Calzolari works which needed compressors because of the use of ice as an element of art composition, also had to be decided early on.”

The position and the art itself lent to the design of the museum | Magazzino Italian Art | Miguel Quismondo | STIRworld
The position and the art itself lent to the design of the museum Image: Javier Callejas; Courtesy of Magazzino Italian Art

The proposed extension

Originally designed as a private space that would host by appointment only visitors, the conversion into an open-for-all museum architecture meant more visitors and hence more space. “The new 9,000-square-foot pavilion for special exhibitions and public and educational programs will be a free-standing pavilion that will enable flexible exhibition and programming spaces and new visitor amenities, including a reading lounge and a café,” explains Quismondo who is working on the new extension together with mentor architect, Alberto Campo Baeza. “The new space will incorporate some of the construction techniques from the original space to create a multi-storey building that puts the emphasis in an ‘isotropic room’ – a cubic space with sequential perforated corners.”

Private Museums of the World:
Curated by Pramiti Madhavji, STIR presents Private Museums of the World: an original series that takes you behind the scenes of privately-owned museums, sharing their origin with chats with art collectors, museum directors, curators and architects, who seamlessly come together to create the most unusual and amazing structures to host art collections.

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