by Bluto Ray
The word "polemicist" was invented for people like Vittorio Sgarbi, the conservative art critic and, until next week, mayor of Salemi, Sicily. A typically polarizing Sgarbism came during the winter holidays when he announced—echoes of “bunga bunga”—that his vice mayor should be a young woman with no political strings attached.
Ever the curator, Sgarbi opened a Mafia museum in the middle of Salemi's old center in 2010. More Halloween spook-house than cultural institution, the attraction that bore a blood-splattered logo was made adults-only after the “slaughterhouse cabin” display reportedly sickened two visitors.
To his credit, the mayor refused a judge’s order to remove a newspaper blowup from the museum’s wall depicting the arrest of Salemi natives Ignazio and Nino Salvo. Nino’s widow had made the initial request, adding that her husband, though indicted, had died days before his trial. (The Salvo cousins, entombed in the town cemetery, were decidedly mafiosi per investigations.)
Yet Sgarbi the freedom fighter has threatened to sue art critics over unfavorable reviews. The headline-stealing curator who holds the contemporary art world in contempt made a keen mockery of it when he curated the Italian exhibit at last year’s Venice Biennale. According to a write-up,
“”The resulting display has the sprawling randomness of a flea market. There are works featuring sex, religion, violence, nudity, as well as a giant pomegranate and a polar bear. Also on show are multicoloured mummies in flagrante, and a beaten-up doll next to a sign that declares 'I'm a warrior not a doll.' In the middle of it all there are occasional gems such as Giovanni Iudice's depiction of refugees, Humanity, 2010, but unfortunately these get lost in the visual mess. Many are wondering if Sgarbi's exhibition is an ironic gesture—or an attempt to undermine Italian contemporary art.”