Renato Leotta: Mondo: Museo Archeologico del Reale

Renato Leotta: Mondo: Museo Archeologico del Reale

Istituto Sicilia

July 29, 2021
Renato Leotta
Mondo: Museo Archeologico del Reale
July 11–August 31, 2021
Palazzo Biscari
Via Museo Biscari, 10
95131 Catania

From July 11 until August 31, 2021, Palazzo Biscari hosts MONDO: Museo Archeologico del Reale. 

Curated by Pietro Scammacca and Claudio Gulli.

The exhibition project stems from a reflection on the museum as a historical device that invents “nature” and the multiplicity of the “real” through taxonomically organized knowledge.

This project arises from new research about the Museo Biscari, one of the first museums open to the public in Sicily, founded in Catania in 1758 by Ignazio Paternò Castello (1719–1786). Inaugurated a few decades after a devastating 1693 earthquake, it intended to “give back” a sense of identity and collective memory grounded in archeological findings. In 1934 the collection was given to the Civic Museum of Castello Ursino, where many of the objects remained in storage. For Mondo, after almost a century, some of those objects and artifacts have returned to the Baroque palace. 

Leotta reconceptualizes this “lost museum” as a medium through which to rethink a museography derived from examinations of the natural landscape and its possible interpretations. Thus, the exhibition is a mise en scène of a new “Archaeological Museum of the Real,” where concepts of nature and culture are treated on a single epistemological level. Human-made artifacts testify their adherence to nature and time.

Taking its cue from an index hand written by the prince qua archaeologist, recently found in the palace’s archives, the exhibition opens with a section dedicated to the sky, presenting a cosmology of watercolor representations of heroes and divinities from the Greco-Roman world. This idealized listing of the museum’s statuary acts as the incipit and guide to the exhibition. 

Departing from modern preconceptions that divide land, sea, and air, the next section presents Gipsoteca, a series of sand casts by Leotta produced by registering the motion of waves on beaches during low tide due to lunar cycles. Dedicated to the moon, this room is completed by a collection of photograms by the artist realized with the bioluminescence of plankton, as well as an archaic marble head inventoried in the original Biscari collection by the archaeologist Guido Libertini as “exhibit N.2,” thought for decades to be lost. In the artist’s research, it became known that the antique sculpture, representing a young man, was placed by the prince on a female bust in one of his experimental assemblages that he frequently conducted in the laboratories of the museum.

In the orchestra hall, ancient marbles, Attic and Sicilian vases, Roman-era bronzes, Mexican ceramics, and glass ampoules are displayed in a museography that echoes the earth’s movements and the temporalities of material culture. Additionally, a selection of stuffed birds from the Museum of Zoology of the University of Catania recalls the representations in the palace’s “Gallery of the Birds,” a room detailing the Prince’s amateur ornithological research through frescos. This room features Sicilian vases and terracotte from the prince’s archaeological excavations throughout Sicily, as well as an Egyptian headless bust in basalt that was used as a magical statuette to protect and heal. Lastly, this room also presents objects  referencing to Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, through traces of recent eruptions and a collection of volcanic bombs from the Ecomuseo della Riviera dei Ciclopi. In this central gallery, this Archaeological Museum of the Real becomes apparent as cultural heritage and landscape merge together. 

The exhibition is accompanied by “Mondo Meridiano,” a public program dedicated to the late professor Franco Cassano, and the first issue of Lachea with contributions by Christian Greco, Sofia Gotti, Claudio Gulli, Renato Leotta, Pietro Scammacca, Cristiano Raimondi, and Leonardo Caffo.

The project is supported by the Exhibit Program / Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity of the Italian Ministry of Culture. 

The exhibition has been realized thanks to loans from the Civic Museum Castello Ursino, the Museum of Zoology of the University of Catania, and the Ecomuseo della Riviera dei Ciclopi.

The project is presented by UNFOLD and ISTITUTO SICILIA.

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Istituto Sicilia
July 29, 2021

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