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Design and travel magazine August launches with an eye on Milan

Read an excerpt on Italian contemporary art dealer Massimo de Carlo and his fantastic Neoclassical palazzo

Villa Corbellini-Wassermann
In the spring of 2017, de Carlo took possession of the Villa Corbellini-Wassermann, a 1936 masterpiece by the architect Piero Portaluppi. It will become his main gallery and office in 2018.
All photos by Adrian Gaut courtesy August
Courtesy August

Milan, home to the design world’s largest fair and endless marvels (Sublime villas! Hidden entryways! Legendary showrooms!), makes a fitting subject for the debut issue of August, a new travel and design magazine launching this month.

Founded by publishing veteran Dung Ngo, the journal digs deep into one location in each edition, unearthing stories and scenes—new and rediscovered—that define the local culture. The Milan issue is rich: There’s an interview with Memphis member Barbara Radice, a peek into an underground Art Deco public bath, an essay from Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange, and more.

Below, we’re thrilled to share one of those stories. “Master of His Domani,” by W Magazine features director Alix Browne, with photos by Adrian Gaut, is an intriguing look at how prominent Italian art dealer Massimo de Carlo is merging contemporary art with Milan’s historic architecture.

August 01: Milan is now available for purchase within the U.S. on its website and on Amazon.

Palazzo Belgioioso is one of those typical Milanese splendors hiding in plain sight—an enormous 18th-century Neoclassical pile designed by Giuseppe Piermarini (who’s also responsible for the regal La Scala opera house) on a startlingly quiet square smack in the middle of the city center. Its occupants include descendants of the man who commissioned it, Prince Alberico XII di Belgioioso d’Este; the employees of a law firm that is headquartered there; and, for a few months this past fall, a pair of giant eyeballs.

Last April, local art dealer Massimo de Carlo took over what was originally the palace library, restoring the neoclassical details and commissioning period-appropriate chandeliers. The eyeballs were the work of the Swiss artist Urs Fischer, whose solo show, Battito de Ciglia (Italian for “blink”) was, for him and de Carlo alike, more than merely an exercise in looking.

Massimo de Carlo’s new gallery in the Palazzo Belgioioso is located in what was previously the palace’s library.

The installation was just one part Fischer’s show; the second half was concurrently on view at de Carlo’s other exhibition space in Lambrate, the art and design district northeast of the city center, where the gallerist has occupied a former espresso machine factory–turned–white cube space since 2003. There, a series of mini-bronze figurines—depicting, among other oddities, a barefoot man crawling into a crushed soda can, a lady lounging on a chaise next to a snail, and a crying horse—perhaps seemed less bizarre than the two eyeballs lying on a terrazzo floor beneath a twinkling crystal chandelier.

Over the past decades, the construct of the white cube has come to stand as a somewhat aging code, understandable in virtually every language so as to signal: Warning! Contemporary Art Ahead! While de Carlo has no plans of giving up the Lambrate space up anytime soon, its cocktail of white walls, polished concrete floors, and standard gallery lighting no longer excites him.

“I find it very boring,” he says, point-blank. “In the past few years, I have grown unsatisfied with the standard architectural level of the gallery. I thought that even though some of the galleries of my colleagues are very beautiful, very big, the lights are always a certain type of light, the wall is always white, the floor is always cement or wood. I think that, historically, to show work in this type of white cube—it’s over.”

The entrance to his 2003 Lambrate gallery space, in the renovated Faema ex- presso maker factory, features a visible triple-height storage wall—an unusual feature even for today’s new galleries.

Milan is not Florence or Rome, where historical buildings with 200-year-old frescoes can be found on every corner. “I was looking for many years,” de Carlo says. “I saw a lot of spaces. Sometimes you have the right space but maybe it’s too low, maybe a different area than you have in mind, maybe the access for the artwork is not easy. You have always to compromise. But Belgioioso was just perfect: It’s in the perfect area, it’s in the perfect building, and it is just a perfect space. I’m 150 meters from La Scala, I’m 150 meters from the Duomo, I’m 150 meters from the famous shopping area Montenapoleone and this is a very quiet place. It sounds impossible, but that’s exactly what it is.”

De Carlo, who is attracted to unruly artists (his roster includes well-known pranksters like hometown anti-hero Maurizio Cattelan, the Scandinavian duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, as well as the Austrian collective Gelitin) first opened Belgioioso as a sort of provocation. There, the art would be forced to fend for itself, battling it out not just with the décor but the deep layers of aesthetic, social and political history. But good art, he believes, will win every time. “Once you have excellent food, the taste doesn’t change whether it’s served on porcelain or on a very cheap plate,” de Carlo insists. “But as an experience, you probably prefer one over the other.”

De Carlo has developed an equally big appetite for challenging architecture. At the same time that he began renovations on Palazzo Belgioioso, the art dealer also took on an expansion of his home library and office with the Milanese architectural firm Caturegli Formica, which also added a tearoom adjacent to the new space. “Massimo is very collaborative,” explains Giovanella Formica. “He also likes to ask questions and likes to know about all the conceptual, design, and construction details.”

For de Carlo it is this level of focus to details that adds to the experience of the space which, as the world continues to be flattened by digital culture, and the art world, in particular, becomes more aspatial, comes to take on greater meaning. “Of course I have incredible experiences all over,” says de Carlo, who also has satellite galleries in Hong Kong and London. “What I don’t like are the ‘iconic’ places. I think most museums are very boring, especially the way they use the partition walls: You start from one point and you always end up on the opposite side, just do a little tour, it’s very boring sometimes.” (For more on de Carlo’s feelings about unimaginative partitions, one needs only to behold the stunning shoji screens that Caturegli Formica installed in his townhouse.)

“Some of those experiences are very unpleasant even if the shows are fantastic,” de Carlo continues. “Especially during Christmastime because everyone is on vacation and wants to see a specific museum. If you are in Florence, you want to see the Uffizi, and if you are in Paris, you want to see the Pompidou, and if you are London, you want to see Tate; you are always in line. It’s like trying to get to the Hamptons on a Friday afternoon. It’s very annoying. The starting point should be the perfect viewing of an artwork. This is exactly what I’m trying to do in my little niche when I deal with a space like Palazzo Belgioioso. That is exactly the starting point of my reflection.”

The Milanese architectural firm Caturegli Formica designed a tearoom in between De Carlo’s renovated home office and the new living room, designed by Lorenzo Bini of Studio Binocle. Bini placed a circular “moon door” between the two spaces, through which a vintage Bazaar “loungescape” by the radical design group Superstudio is visible.

And the art dealer is not stopping there. De Carlo recently took over the ground floor and basement of another significant Milanese house, Casa Corbellini-Wassermann, designed by Piero Portaluppi in 1936. He anticipates that gallery, which will have both exhibition space and offices, will open in 2018. Still, for de Carlo, nothing will ever compare to the experience of seeing art where it’s made. “The studio visit for me is always an incredible experience,” he says. “I see the art I’m working with, I see the artist I like, and the finished artwork is still very fresh. It’s like having a baguette early in the morning.”

The Villa Corbellini-Wassermann is well-known for this stone and bronze exterior staircase, which was designed by Portaluppi for the 1933 Triennale and repurposed for the house after the exhibition.

Alix Browne is the features director of W Magazine. She writes regularly about the intersection of art, fashion, and design.

While architectural work still rests at the foundation of photographer Adrian Gaut’s oeuvre, his subject matter now encompasses anything and everything from cars, planes, and spaceships, to landscapes, still-life and portraits. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Gaut lives and works in New York City.