Santiago Calatrava - “In the Light of Naples”

Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte

The exhibition on Santiago Calatrava—architect, engineer, painter, sculptor draughtsman, all-around artist—arrives 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.


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