The Agrati brothers: an extraordinary artistic legacy

An exhibition of works collected by renowned industrialists and collectors Luigi and Peppino Agrati is on public display for the first time as Intesa Sanpaolo’s Gallerie d’Italia unveils Art as a Revelation – a window on one of contemporary art’s most exciting private collections.

Giulia Rhodes

03/08/2018

In November 1970, the pioneering Bulgarian artist Christo unwound the cloths in which he had boldly wrapped two of Milan’s most famous monuments, the statues of Vittorio Emanuele II and Leonardo da Vinci.

Among the fascinated onlookers were Luigi and Peppino Agrati – founders, with brother Carlo, of leading automotive component manufacturer Agrati – at that time fledgling collectors of contemporary art.

The pair immediately commissioned Christo to create some of his now iconic installations in the garden of Peppino’s villa.

Over the 40 years that followed, the Agrati brothers – among Lombardy’s most respected industrialists – would painstakingly amass 500 works, building one of the world’s most significant private collections of art from the second half of the 20th century.

Now, for the first time, a selection of these masterpieces is on public display – with free entry – at Intesa Sanpaolo’s Gallerie d’Italia museum complex in Milan. This major new exhibition, Art as a Revelation, is open until August 19.

Before his death in 2016, aged 98, Luigi Agrati entrusted the entire collection to Intesa Sanpaolo – Peppino having died in 1990 – requesting that it be made accessible to the community.

 

“A work of art is never completely yours; it belongs to the community, the heritage of humanity”
Michele Coppola, Intesa Sanpaolo’s head of art, culture and historical heritage and the director of Gallerie d’Italia.

In collecting works by Italian, European and American artists, including Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Mario Schifano, Fausto Melotti and Alberto Burri, Luigi and Peppino Agrati showed an extraordinary artistic sensitivity, driven by personal vision rather than market value.

“The exhibition shows the ability of the two collectors to recognise contemporary artists before they found fame,” says curator Luca Massimo Barbero.

Encompassing a wide range of genres – abstract informalism, Pop art, Italy’s radical arte povera, new figurative painting, conceptual art, postmodernism and minimalism – the collection charts, with intelligence, flair and great beauty, the pivotal moments of a fascinating period in Western art.

The Agrati treasures join almost 30,000 others – from historic palaces to sculptures, paintings, photography and more – that make up the bank’s prestigious collection.

Robert Rauschenberg
Port Arthur, Texas 1925–Captiva, Florida 2008
Blue Exit
1961
oil, graphite on canvas
Luigi and Peppino Agrati Collection

Lucio Fontana
Rosario, Santa Fe 1899–Comabbio 1968
Concetto spaziale [Spatial Concept]
1957
aniline dye and collage on perforated canvas
Luigi and Peppino Agrati Collection

For Intesa Sanpaolo, the Agrati bequest, and the opportunity to share it with art lovers from around the world, is an exciting and welcome testament to its longstanding commitment to protecting, promoting and democratising Italy’s extraordinary artistic heritage.

“Unlike other possessions, a work of art does not permit you to keep it for yourself. A work of art is never completely yours; it belongs to the community, the heritage of humanity,” says Michele Coppola, Intesa Sanpaolo’s head of art, culture and historical heritage.

“This is the cornerstone of the bank’s cultural project and the Gallerie d’Italia.”

Just as the Agrati brothers pursued the expansion of their art collection with the same energy, expertise and passion they poured into their increasingly successful and international business, so Intesa Sanpaolo regards its artistic activities as taking place in synergy with its corporate successes.

“Intesa Sanpaolo produces culture with the same dedication and professionalism as it does banking,” continues Coppola, “inspired by a strong sense of social responsibility and a great passion for the art and culture of our country.”

American art is strongly represented in the Agrati collection, with works such as Andy Warhol’s instantly recognisable Triple Elvis, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Financial District and a minimalist Dan Flavin neon – personally dedicated to Peppini Agrati – among the 74 works on display.

The Agrati brothers’ fascination for the New York art scene of the 1960s and beyond – and their desire to explore its links with Italian art – mirrored their business interests, as they were expanding the company across the Atlantic during the same period.

This notion of dialogue is apparent in works by American conceptual artists Bruce Nauman and Joseph Kosuth, for example, displayed alongside those by Italians Alighiero Boetti and Vincenzo Agnetti.

Among the items most treasured by the brothers is a 1957 slashed canvas, one of the rare Concetto Spaziale series, by Italian painter and sculptor Lucio Fontana.

Their passion both for art and for its creators is easily seen in this eclectic collection, says Barbero. “It demonstrates the capacity of the Agrati brothers to live at the same time as entrepreneurs and great collectors, so buying, living, building relationships with the artists directly and with contemporary art.”

Among the artists with whom the two siblings established lasting friendships were Christo and Fausto Melotti – a group of whose delicate sculptures fittingly opens the Milan exhibition.

The Agrati family would no doubt be delighted that what Barbero describes as their “visual gift to the city” is being enjoyed by the gallery’s many visitors. “This collection is a revelation and an enrichment,” he says, “an opportunity to share a world of images that embody modern life.”

 

Art as a Revelation: From the Luigi and Peppino Agrati Collection is at Gallerie d’Italia, Piazza Scala, Milan, until August 19

Fausto Melotti
Rovereto 1901–Milan 1986
Un folle amore [A Crazy Love]
1971
brass
Luigi and Peppino Agrati Collection

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Brooklyn, New York 1960–New York 1988
Financial District
1985
acrylic, oil on canvas
Luigi and Peppino Agrati Collection

Andy Warhol
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928–New York 1987
Triple Elvis
1963
acrylic and silkscreen on canvas
Luigi and Peppino Agrati Collection

Christo (Christo Javacheff)
Gabrovo 1935
Wrapped Monument to Vittorio Emanuele (Project for Piazza del Duomo, Milano)
1970
pencil, coloured pencil, canvas, cord, road map, photo on fibreboard
Luigi and Peppino Agrati Collection

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