By Giulia Piceni. Cover image: Lia Rumma and Ettore Spalletti, Milan (2010). Courtesy of Galleria Lia Rumma Milano | Napoli.
With a Latinist as a father, the least you can expect is a meaningful name, laying the basis to project the appointed subject to success. When he picked his daughter’s name, Lia Rumma’s father, Ferruccio, was mainly inspired by the last canto of Dante’s Purgatorio. Lia, a symbol of active life appearing in the Divin Poeta’s narration while creating a flower wreath, is both a biblical and a literary character embodying all the virtues that gallerist Lia Rumma has: human warmth, hard work and intellectual dynamism.
Mentioning her beginnings at a garage gallery in Naples, questioning art’s future and uncovering her enduring career, this article brings out the main features of Lia Rumma, the woman who brought contemporary art to the stars.
THE PLEASANTRY OF HUMAN WARMTH
A troop of students anxious to meet a key figure in the art world, eager to extrapolate as much information as possible about the art industry and its complex dynamics. In front of them are two lifelong acquaintances sitting beside each other, discussing and recalling happy times spent together, reminiscing nostalgic memories and big artists’ names.
“I remember a summer in Stromboli at your house, Lia”, said Tutor Francesco Brunacci as a kick-off statement as he interviewed the Neapolitan gallerist and his longtime friend. “It was 2002 and there was the World Soccer Cup”, he went on.
“I was so embarrassed not knowing the rules: it was so hot, and my son was sitting on Marina Abrahmović’s lap, listening to her explaining what an offside is.
While listening to these anecdotes entirely captured by the observant members in the room, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Lia Rumma, a mythical figure of the art world, oozed that genuine warmth that defines Neapolitan women.
Initially a collector and owner of the eponymous gallery for over forty years, she delivered philosophical art concepts without trivialising them, talking in that light-hearted tone that only great minds like her can indulge in.
AN ARTIST’S INDEFINITE NATURE
The law of gravity may govern the Earth, but creative souls are strictly guided by a trivial triplet of nouns: intuition, mystery and guts.
Therefore, artists don’t belong to our world; while searching for the artwork that will be their epitaph, the major piece they will be remembered for, they strive to shape a new version of our experiential dimension.
An artist’s life is ultimately completed in this ongoing research filled with dissatisfaction and faux-passes.
“What is it that really defines an artist?” When Lia Rumma was asked this precise question, she instantly replied to ask an artist instead of a gallerist like herself. A minute later, she went on, mentioning the work of a close friend and artist as an example: Gino De Dominicis.
It was the Venice Biennale of 1972. A ball, a rock, and a taped-down bidimensional cube were lying on the ground of the 26th room; in a corner was Paolo Rosa, a young man with Down syndrome.
Seated on a chair, he was gaping at the objects in front of him, emitting with his passive presence a commentary on the passage of time and the seek of immortality: a provocative choice of performer that generated a scandal widely remembered today.
Needless to say, critics were tearing their hair out, trying on one side to justify the artist’s intent, while others were casting harsh critiques on it: the 26th room was eventually closed.
Back then, Lia Rumma and De Dominicis were already friends; during one of their conversations, the artist confessed to the gallerist to have had the idea for that performance many years before, when he was still very young.
While conceiving it, he remembered a summer spent with his parents at the seaside; a friend of his mother had a child with Down syndrome.
Excavating in his memory, De Dominicis remembered that little boy on a chair in front of the sea, looking at the sun setting behind the horizon, waiting for who knows what but peacefully enjoying that moment as if it was immortal.
This precious memory from the gallerist’s words was the ultimate proof that artists are born, they’re not made. It’s something innate that even the subject itself has a hard time to define.
QUESTIONING ART AND ITS FUTURE
Because of the successful parabola of her art business, starting from a garage in Naples and ending with two established galleries respectively in her hometown and Milan, Lia Rumma was the perfect person to ask her thoughts about the future of art.
One of the first questions on this broad theme invited the gallerist to make predictions about the phenomenon that has caused an earthquake in the art system: Digital Art.
After stating that she has seen nothing too exciting in the current scenario, she said, “The artist must use technology as a brushstroke. Like Walt Disney used animation to deliver messages”, leaving more than a critique but food for thought for future art insiders.
Another hot topic was democratising cultural institutions and their services to the broader public. Lia Rumma highlighted the limits of big cities such as Milan, which are strongly economy-oriented and consider culture a minor branch.
With her activity in the art system, she attempts to cultivate her gallery’s heritage, as her recent donation of more than 70 artworks to Museo di Capodimonte testifies.
Because, in the end, culture is what really defines us humans. As a true Dante devotee as her name suggests, Lia Rumma eventually declaimed the famous Ulysses’ line in the Inferno in which the hero tells Dante how he encouraged his fellows to continue their journey even beyond the Pillars of Hercules: “Fatti non foste per viver come bruti,/ ma per seguire virtute e canoscenza” [you were not made to live like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge.]
So, with their minds inspired by the fresh breeze of art and their hearts filled with Lia Rumma’s warm words but still feeling an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Istituto Marangoni Firenze students were ready to cut through the waves of the art world.
Giulia Piceni is an Arts Curating Undergraduate student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.