We have heard a few things about how contemporary art could exist and resist in a little town. We have discovered that big works by artists like Picasso, Modigliani, Guttuso were displayed in a small gallery in Valle d’Itria…
Walking through the streets of the old town of Martina Franca, it is not difficult to run into a fine man sitting on the door of “his living room”, as he calls it. From the comfort of an armchair worn out by time and history, Pinuccio Ancona – with his glasses on the nose and newspaper in hand – releases the typical allure of an old-time gentleman. Everyone knows him in the city: La Pietra Art Gallery, his living room, was founded in the early ’70s and has dwelt for more than 40 years in a small room in the heart of Martina Franca, a few steps from the Basilica of San Martino. Entering Pinuccio gallery means losing the sense of space and time. A little place where you can breathe a mystical air: works of art are everywhere, hanging on or leaning against the wall.
There are objects and decorations that narrates and impress, putting together different inspirations, ages and cultures, almost like in a modern Wunderkammer (literally wonder chamber). It is hard to imagine that in this small gallery, in a small town in the province of Southern Italy, works of immortal artists have been displayed. Picasso, Guttuso, Andy Warhol, Modigliani to name just a few. Mind-boggling names, aren’t they?
While the sun fools us into thinking it is already spring and the bells of the Basilica interrupt the silence of this slow, dozy Monday, we are happy to stay with Pinuccio to talk.
Tell us how this wonderful adventure was born…
My experience began in the ’70s, with my first exhibition organized in the Halls of the Palazzo Ducale in collaboration with Gianfranco Mai, an artist from Milan who has moved in Puglia. I was a young art lover, as I am now, and it was a great opportunity to present an artist who had chosen to live and work here. For a few years, I have worked together with the Cultural Association Nuove Proposte: we founded the Salvatore Basile Art Gallery and, on July 5, 1975, we managed to inaugurate my personal gallery, La Pietra.
A gallery that is a jewel kept in a precious treasure trove: the old town of Martina Franca.
A judgement calls for me, not only because I was born here, but especially because an art gallery must always keep in touch with the evolutionary path of the city, with its growth. For Martina Franca this need is even clearer: our historic centre not only encourages you to discover it, but also involves you, it bewitches you. It is here that our history is settled. Just like within these walls: before becoming a gallery, this was the Caffè Brancaccio. This is where the most important bargaining of the city took place: big landowners met in this cafe to discuss business, to sell and buy farms, woods, and lands. From a trading meeting place to a cultural meeting place.
How do you choose the works that you will exhibit in your gallery?
Since the 70s, La Pietra Gallery has took part in the most important industry event: Arte Fiera in Bologna, Arte Genova, Expo of Padua, etc. During these events, you have the chance to acquainted and get in touch with the contemporary expressions of art, both nationally and internationally. These fundamental opportunities determines my artistic choices, respecting currents.
What is your relationship with young artists from Puglia?
Intense. Continuous. Highly rewarding. In every art expo, I have always preferred to bring with me Apulian artists to give them a chance to be there. I achieve thus a double result: I make my gallery grow nationally as a mentor to young artists and, on the other hand, over the years, I have the pleasure of seeing an exponential growth of their listing in the national and international art market. They are my greatest pride. I think of Franco Fortunato, Umberto Ferrelli, Francesco Musante, Gianni Bruni and then Alexander Kossuth, who died prematurely. I am particularly fond of him: I have admired his genius that led him to abandon his role as first violin first and then as conductor of the Orchestra at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, to dedicate his life to sculpture and painting.
What exhibitions have you hosted in all these years?
From 1975 still now, the La Pietra Gallery has hosted more than 100 exhibitions, including some great ones that have made history. Just to name a few: Ernesto Treccani, Renato Guttuso, Emanuele Luzzati, Andy Warhol, Amedeo Modigliani and Picasso.
Picasso, the same we would admire soon in the exhibition The Other Half of Heaven also in Martina Franca… Do you have a moment that you remember with particular nostalgia and affection?
Among my memories, I remember all the afternoons with Ernesto Treccani, and our chats. We talked, intimately, about our political experiences. I remember with appreciation his civic and cultural commitment, his work in the Corrente Foundation, the bond with Guttuso: we shared passions, involvements and projects in a period full of enthusiasm and change.
What would you recommend to a tourist visiting the Valle d’Itria?
Although Martina Franca is a small town, it offers many interesting spots for art lovers. At this moment, our gallery hosts the paintings of Lamberto Melina. It is possible to visit the MuBa, the museum of the Basilica of San Martino, with its collections of very high-quality liturgical furnishings and history documents. People could visit the Noesi Foundation for Contemporary Art, in which is preserved, among others, a work by Pino Pascali. And finally, in the Palazzo Ducale are housed different temporary exhibitions, including the next one, above mentioned, dedicated to Picasso.