Helen in Europe travel blog

Obligatory selfie with Duomo; I didn't queue to go inside

wonderful documentary photography exhibition about Czech Republic in 60s at Palacio Real,...

outstanding permanent exhibition of Anselm Kiefers at Pirelli HangarBicocca

With my last house guests gone and eight whole days left in Lecco before heading down under (do they use that term here?) to The Cinque Terre, I embarked on my first day trip, this time to the Milano, capital of Lombardy, and the second most populous city in Italy after Rome, having a population of 1,380,873. That's more than ten times the population of Lecco. Fortunately, the train from Lecco (if you catch the express one) only takes about 39 minutes, so I joined the commuters after farewelling Annie and Carol on their way to Croatia (or Krowaarsha, as the Italians pronounce it) and found myself in the huge station of Milan. It was certainly a day of the big as everywhere I looked,things seemed supersized; it's like the city decided that it was how they were going to delineate themselves from the other major Italian cities. Big stations, big shopping plazas, and of course, the big Duomo, the amazingly huge cathedral that all tourists tick off as a must-see in Milan. Having really enjoyed my sense of the large from the bell tower tour last night I didn't want to spoil that with a tour of Duomo and felt like avoiding the crowds. So I headed to the art museums, three of which were just adjacent to the Duomo and then caught a train to HangarBicocca about 30 minutes. HangarBicocca is a space for contemporary art, located in an area of Milan which used to be dominated by the Pirelli factories and it feels very industrial. It took a bit of time to walk along the grimey streets of this area to find the Hangar and then, once it was sighted, you needed to walk a block to reach the entrance, such was its size. The history of Pirelli HangarBicocca is closely linked to that of Breda, a company incorporated in 1886 by Ingegner Ernesto Breda, who moved it to the Bicocca district from 1903. Pirelli, Falck and Marelli followed suit with their own companies, thus turning the area into one of the most important industrial centres in Italy. In the new 200,000m² factory, Breda mainly manufactured railway carriages, electric and steam locomotives, boilers, farm machinery and equipment and, during the First World War, aeroplanes, projectiles and other products for the war effort. In 2004 the empty spaces were transformed into spaces for contemporary art. When I entered, firstly, I was pleased to be reminded that entry was free. Then I moved through a tunnel to the first exhibition “The Dream Machine is Asleep,” by Eva Kot’átková and found myself unusually drawn to some text based works comprising (imaginary) interviews with animals such as race horses, circus bears and chickens. Visually I enjoyed the collages and was reminded of the work of Hannah Hoch and Sally Smart. The space afforded solo artists is immense in this space, but the next exhibition, “The Feeling of Things” by Matt Mullican (born in 1951 in Santa Monica, California) is possibly the largest exhibition in size and scale of artworks I have ever seen. The Turbine space at Tate Modern in London pales into insignificance compared to these spaces.

The climax of the visit for me was the permanent installation The Seven Heavenly Palaces by the German artist Anselm Kiefer, made specifically for the site. It consists of seven towers made of reinforced concrete, each weighing 90 tonnes and varying in height between 14 and 18 meters. I was in awe of the scale, the lighting, and the ambience. I knew I could not possibly see any other art spaces after this one (well on this day anyway). It was one of those rare moments when you are so glad to have the opportunity to experience something so amazingly beautiful and privileged to be able to travel to see it.

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