Museum: 12.75”w x 8.5”h x 6.5”d - plaster, paper, cotton velvet, tile, 
grout, glass, steel wire, archival mat board, acrylic paint, wood

My great-grand-mother’s Italy was of the 19th century, a newly unified country, still dominated by the padrone and village farming communities. The many stories she told were of impossible love with the padron’s son, love settled for with the man who saw her in church, and the meddling mother-inlaw who blamed her for taking her daughter’s dowry. She never spoke of large cities like Rome. And although she proudly claimed herself as coming from Naples, she was meaning the commune of Naples, not the city. The city of Naples was merely the port where she boarded the ship that brought her to America. As a child, the Italy I experienced through the stories of my great-grandmother seemed quaint, old-fashioned, and set in a land of rural exoticism.

In art school I learned of another Italy, an Italy that was the center of art history. Most of the treasures of the Western World seemed located there, something my Nonni never mentioned. By the time I was college age, my great-grandmother had died, so I was unable to ask her about the great art of her home country. Since she never really travelled far from her village, she probably wouldn’t have known about any of it anyway, so this Italy of art, architecture and ancient history, was a new place to me. While the romance of my family history had me dreaming of an Italy long ago and far away, the Italy of art had kindled a longing to travel and to see the treasures I was learning about.

It took a long time for me to get to Rome as other life events had intervened. My mother and sister went before me and returned with eyes full of marvelous things, insisting I had to go. My cousin, a Roman Catholic priest travelled there frequently and planned a trip with me that somehow never happened. It wasn’t until after college, graduate school and a move to New York City that I began to explore the wider world. Rome was the first place I went.

I wasn’t prepared for Rome to be like going home - the people looked like my family and they acted like my family. There was something in the architecture that I resonated to as well. Was it the form, the materials or the age? The aura of Rome felt comforting and familiar, like Friday pastina when the weather begins to turn cold. I didn’t have enough senses to take it all in. There was mystery and magic in every shadow. And, just like my mother’s wide-eyed description, art was everywhere.

For an artist, Rome is an immersive saturation of the visual. Every piazza, every street has something to delight the eye. Art and history take on a nearly casual role, it melds into everyday life. In the US, art is precious and expensive. It is closed in silent white box galleries, or idolized in high stepped museums. In Rome, art is part of life. While there are many museums, art also lives in churches, and adorns the piazzas. In the Vatican Museums, I passed through room after room of classical sculpture. One room was devoted to ancient statuary of animals;every inch of the room was filled with them, each on top of the other. So on through the other galleries, everywhere these precious objects were placed behind, above, on top of other objects, or left in dusty corners. It was this casual treatment of what I had come to revere as precious that informed my piece “Museum.” It is how I saw the manifestation of the European interaction with art. Art is something that lives with you. It is to be appreciated and studied, but it is not something to grovel under. In Italy, history and art are long. These hundreds of years of of human activity, inures the soul of those born with it.

I wanted to stay and live in Rome. From my family and upbringing, I innately understood the culture. But, it was the art, architecture and history that I wanted to keep near me. To be able to pass, as a casual, familiar friend, the Pantheon or a Bernini fountain, would be sublime.

Arthur Bruso

Museum was part of the exhibition, “Sanctus” at Curious Matter, Sept 27 - Nov 15, 2015

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