Despite the rich historical and cultural heritage in Siena, Italy I was recently surprised to find a contemporary art center rich in international works. Siena’s 15th Century Palazzo delle Papesse houses the city’s Contemporary Art Center. The current exhibit, Numerica, draws works of art from across the world, mainly from the 1960s to the present, focusing on the use of numbers in the works. The show opens with a glowing 1924 painting by Futurist painter Giacomo Balla entitled “Numbers in Love” showing the numbers 8, 4, 5 and 3 as the subject of the painting almost glowing in green and yellow against a gray background. From sculptures the paintings to drawings to installation pieces the show explores certain artist’s affection for numbers as subject matter. Other works include those by varied artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Mel Bochner, Kay Rosen, Micah Lexier, Alighiero Boetti, Roman Opalka, Dan Graham and Darren Almond.
By far the most interesting piece is an installation piece by Mario Merz (1925-2003) entitled “The Spiral Appears” from 1990. Commanding four beautiful small rooms on one end of the Palazzo, three of which have exquisitely hand-painted ceilings depicting Greek gods and intricate decorative patterns befitting an Italian Palazzo, Merz’s work is a series of tall bundles of branches installed in a row which runs from one room to the next, pushing its way right through the doorways connecting each of the rooms. On either side of the branches are stacks of newspapers (Le Nazione) with neon lights forming Arabic numeric characters resting periodically along the papers. Merz designed the numerals to depict the Fibonacci formula, or the sequence of numbers in which each number equals the sum of the two preceding ones. This particular series was often used by Merz in his artwork to demonstrate the numbers’ correlation in nature, and this particular installation piece represents one of his longest depictions of the Fibonacci sequence, reaching 5 digits. There is something enlivening about seeing an abstract piece of art such as this one in such a historically rooted environment.
The exhibit runs June 22, 2007 – January 6, 2008.
Centro Arte Contemporanea, Via di Citta, 126 Siena, Italy.