La Collezione del Museo

Museo’s Curator Mary Serventi Steiner and Professor Alessandro Falassi

Museo’s Curator Mary Serventi Steiner and Professor Alessandro Falassi

The Museo Italo Americano of San Francisco is very excited to share its latest acquisitions as well as old favorites with friends, members, and visitors this summer. On June 12th, the new exhibit La Collezione will display an extraordinary selection of artwork from its permanent collection:  a great number of works by Beniamino Bufano, a renowned and accomplished artist, largely beloved in the Bay Area; paintings and works on paper by landscape virtuosi  Gottardo Piazzoni, Rinaldo Cuneo, John Mancini and Luigi Lucioni; artwork from abstract expressionist John Grillo; paintings by well appreciated artists from the Italian Transavanguardia movement such as Francesco Clemente, Sandro Chia, Mimmo Paladino, and many other outstanding works by Italian and local Italian American artists.
The exhibition will also celebrate three new sets of works that will be a real treat. 
First, a brand new acquisition will be showcased in a dedicated gallery: a set of ten engravings by Italian Jesuit missionary, artist and architect Giuseppe Castiglione that will be enriching La Collezione with their incredibly detailed sceneries. These works were produced during the mid-18th century under orders of the Qianlong Emperor and portray the European Palaces of the Yuanmingyuan. These exquisite works of art are a gift to the Museo Italo Americano from Vince Fausone and Sheila Wishek, members of the Museo Board of Directors.
Another bonus for future visitors will be selections from the Huberman Collection, which includes an impressive number of Italian ceramics collected by beloved Museo member and student Alice Huberman. Alice was a refined chef and spent several years in Italy to further improve her craft. Last year she left her collection to the Museo, which is now honored to share it to the public. 
Last but not least, a rich assortment of saints and allegorical figures – The Falassi Collection – will make its debut in the Museo’s galleries, as well. The collection consists of an array of figurines collected by Professor Alessandro Falassi of Siena, Italy, who generously donated them to the Museo in 2013. 
Statuettes have been a constant presence in Italian iconography since the 8th century B.C., representing gods to whom the faithful paid homage. Later, with the coming of Christianity the old gods were replaced by new saints. Nymph and cherubs became decorative figures, and statuettes of saints and the Madonna were collected and revered in homes or at crossroads on altars. The Falassi Collection includes valuable antique statues dating from the 17th Century, fine porcelain Capodimonte figurines from the 19th Century, as well as charming pieces of folk art and even “tourist” art – all chosen for their anthropological as well as aesthetic value.
When asked about this unique part of the exhibit, Mary Serventi Steiner, curator of the Museo, provided interesting insight into Alessandro Falassi’s impressive background.
Mary, who was Alessandro Falassi?
Alessandro was a cultural anthropologist, scholar, and university professor from Siena, Italy. He collected art and artifacts from around the world, was an expert on folklore and festivals, and the author of dozens of books - many of which have been translated into several languages. There was one festival particularly dear to his heart, however:  the Palio of Siena. Twice a year for centuries, ten of Siena’s seventeen contrade or neighborhoods compete in an emotional bareback horserace around the Piazza del Campo for a prize also called the palio - an eight-foot high, hand-painted silk banner. Since the early 1970s, Siena has commissioned many of these banners to be painted by important contemporary artists. Falassi often served on the committee of city officials that selected the artists, approved the drafts, presented the artist and banner to the city at the unveiling ceremony, and judged the race itself. La Terra in Piazza, his 1975 book on the Palio, co-written with Berkeley professor Alan Dundes is now in its ninth printing.
Upon Alessandro’s death in February of 2014, the mayor of Siena, Bruno Valentini wrote, “If millions of people around the world have been able to comprehend the true essence of the Palio, we certainly owe it to him.”
What factors influenced your vision of how to display the Falassi Collection?

I met Alessandro Falassi when I spent a semester in Siena in 1976. He was the director of my study abroad program through the University of Colorado, my Italian folklore professor, and went on to become of one of my dearest friends. It is very difficult for me to separate Alessandro from Siena and the Palio. I chose to surround the Falassi Collection of Saints and Allegorical Figures with works of art by six artists of the Museo’s permanent collection—Valerio Adami, Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Renato Guttuso, Mimmo Paladino and Emilio Tadini. Though these highly regarded modern artists come from diverse artistic backgrounds, they all have one thing in common: they were all artists of the Palio. We have titled this room of the exhibit “Falassi & Friends”. 

How did the Falassi Collection land in San Francisco? 
Alessandro spent several years living in the Bay Area - first, as a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley where he earned his doctorate in Cultural Anthropology and later as visiting professor.  Being the generous soul and patron of the arts that he was, he offered his collection to the Museo in 2013, in his words “with gratitude to the community to which I belonged many years ago”. And we gratefully accepted.
Additional noteworthy artists included in the exhibit: Giorgio De Chirico, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Italo Scanga, Alan Shepp.
Museo Italo Americano
2 Marina Blvd.
Fort Mason Center, Bldg. C
San Francisco, CA 94123

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