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Reopening: what prospects for the arts world and its institutions? | Interview with Lorenzo Balbi

ita | eng

The arts and culture sector is gradually reopening, with its own schedule and taking the necessary precautions. What has changed for museums and their summer exhibitions schedule?

We asked Lorenzo Balbi, artistic director of MAMbo – Bologna’s Museum of Modern Art, who explained to us what will happen, in the forthcoming months, within the museum. He offered us his personal viewpoint on the “new possible contexts” post COVID-19.

He explained that the role of the museum is to be a medium within the region and the importance of the public art collections. Of the many subjects we discussed he also briefed us on the project Nuovo Forno del Pane (the call for proposals closed a couple of days ago). The project is addressed to artists who live in Emilia-Romagna’s capital and it involves numerous cultural realities in the creation of a multifaceted interdisciplinary production centre.

Reopening: what prospects for the art world and its institutions?

The scenario post COVID-19 is one of new possible contexts. I believe this “emergency”, specifically with regards to the modern art and culture sector, has simply accelerated certain rethinking processes which were already being discussed before the crisis broke out, and which I believe were necessary. Personally, I think this crisis and the reopening process will be focused on the role of the museum, the cultural institution, in this new mutated context; answering to new perspectives such as local territory, the educational function of the museum and the use of art collections, particularly the public art collections.


What changes for MAMbo?

There is a new outlook for MAMbo. We’ve thought that in this mutated context, and the publics changed sensitivity, it makes sense to interrupt the exhibition program and aim for a new methodological approach (also with regards to our collection – which is the only space always open to the public) in which to experiment a new more radical approach to museology: new focal points, bringing out art pieces that for a long time have been accumulating dust in warehouses, suggesting new juxtapositions and calling professionals from other areas of culture to talk about the art collections present here.

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Lorenzo Balbi, Artistic Director of MAMbo – Bologna’s Museum of Modern Art – Photo by Stefano Laddomada


What are the key points of the “Nuovo Forno del Pane” project?

The Nuovo Forno del Pane project is conceived from the recovery of the productive soul inherent to the project itself. This building is known as Ex Forno del Pane as it was designed by the first socialist mayor of Bologna, Zanardi, in 1915 and inaugurated in 1916 as a bread oven, a public bakery in which bread was baked and sold at a discounted price; a symbol of the possibility of life and survival in a grave moment in time, the First World War.

In this moment of crisis due to COVID 19, which in itself is not comparable to a world war though it is nonetheless a difficult time, we have simply tried to recover this productive soul and begin again by giving artists and creative talents, who are part of the community of Bologna, a space and the chance to work. This new name came accordingly: it is no longer Ex-Forno del Pane (Ex-bakery), it is now Nuovo Forno del Pane (New Bakery). It came as an obvious result: to give the space to local artists, for logistical purposes, as well as to give the museum the role of an intermediary of sorts, between the community within the Forno del Pane and the professionals of the city of Bologna, so that they have a space to put their skills and professionalism to good use in this new artistic sphere.

I think of the Sala delle Ciminiere as a great creative forge. With my colleagues we’re trying to understand what sort of image to give to this place, and in my head there is a growing belief that the less things we start with the better, because the idea is precisely to give space to a freedom of thought, giving free reign to creativity. Abolishing and breaking down all compartmentalizations can be a winning criterion within the creation of a community that is called to act as a collective, with physical proximity, in an open space. A place in which one can work as a group, in which there are spaces to work together in both laboratories as well as individual studies. A space in which there is an open dialogue because what we want is to create the idea of a collective; and we firmly believe that to come out of this crisis it is better to join forces.

So, what we are creating is Sala delle Ciminiere which is open: there will be studies and all the structures – tables, workbenches, compartments – will be made from recycled material of previous installations. We see this as a beautiful and interesting way to recover materials accumulating dust in our warehouses, as well as a way to evoke the history of the museum.

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Nuovo Forno del Pane Logo, by Aldo Giannotti


Three words to describe MAMbo today:

An emblematic word is definitely BREAD, as a metaphor for nourishment, an essential good. There’s a lot of talk about the importance of culture and the museum’s answer is precisely the reference to bread. We believe art and artists are essential, and the museum’s job is to start from them and this form of necessity – so to speak.

The second word is PRODUCTION. Since I have been Artistic Director of the museum, all the exhibitions have not only had the purpose of exhibiting works but also encouraging artists to produce new works, which is a fundamental step for the activity of the museum. The museum is not just as a place of exhibition but also as a place of production; to understand the museum’s activity not only as a report (of an artist) but also as progress, to give artists the opportunity to continue their research, their work.

So, bread on the one hand and production on the other, where the third element is surely PUBLIC (to be considered both as public art collection as well as the target audience). This museum is largely public and the transparency between spaces, the fact that these spaces belong to everyone, that the collection is everyone’s, suggests the double implication of our activity and our institution: public as in belonging to everyone and public as in the audience that frequents this space.

Translated by Ludovica Sarti

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