From Italy with Love: A Look at the Collecting Path of the Maramotti Family

At 27, Hungarian artist Mona Osman is still at the early stage of her career and while the  Royal College of Art student has had a solo exhibition at an artist-led contemporary gallery in London and was part of group show at Saatchi Gallery last year, perhaps her biggest break will come later this year: The young painter will have a solo exhibition at the Collezione Maramotti, one of Italy’s top private art museums, which presents the ever-growing art collection of the family that founded the upmarket ready-to-wear company Max Mara.

“To have this opportunity is a huge honour and an amazing chance to expand and visually showcase my research,” Osman says, adding her challenging project will compared the Bible to notions of existential philosophy.

Over recent years, the museum has increasingly been supporting young artists and each year gives three or four emerging or mid-career artists carte blanche to create works that will later form part of the museum’s collection.

Chantal Joffe
“We believe that the awareness that their work has already found a purchaser relieves the artist of economic worries, enabling them to engage in a purer artistic research rather than in a commercial one,” explains Sara Piccinini, Collezione Maramotti’s senior coordinator.

Located in the fashion brand’s first warehouse in the northern Italian town of Reggio Emilia, the Collezione Maramotti was initially set up to showcase artworks collected by Achille Maramotti, who founded Max Mara in 1951. Though Maramotti died in 2005, two years before his long-planned museum finally opened, his three children, all dedicated art collectors, have continued to expand the collection which now comprises around 1,000 artworks, with the second generation having more than doubled their father’s initial collection.

Piccinini notes the common thread from father to children has been collecting artworks “of their time,” focusing primarily, though no longer exclusively, on paintings.

Alessandro Pessoli
While Achille Maramotti initially collected ancient art and Metafisica (metaphysical) art, a movement created in 1911 by Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carra that uses sharply contrasting light and shadow to create dreamlike works that often had a vaguely threatening or mysterious quality, Maramotti turned his attention to contemporary art in the early sixties.

The Collezione closely mirrors the developments of several art movements including Art Informel from the 1940s-50s which embraced abstraction and experimented with new materials; Arte Povera, a radical Italian art movement of the late 1960s-70s whose artists explored a range of unconventional processes and non-traditional ‘everyday’ materials; and Italian neo-expressionism, known as the Transavanguardia, of the late 1970s-early 80s.

“He was interested in the latest artworks being produced and one of the main qualities of the collection is that the works were purchased at the time of their production. He liked to have a close and personal relationship with artists, and he would visit them in their studio and purchase the work from them directly, maybe not even finished yet, but showing there were at a very important point of new development in their career,” Piccinini says.

“From the 1960s he mainly focused on Italian art, and then in the early 80s he started to look at American art, which he found more interesting,” Piccinini says noting that he bought , early pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, Alex Katz and Ross Bleckner, to name a few.

Gert & Uwe Tobias

Maramotti’s children have continued to follow his mantra of supporting emerging and mid-career artists.

“One of their main way to collect has been to invite young and mid-career artists to produce a specific work for the collection,” Piccinini says, adding the family is directly involved in the selection of artists: “There is no board or commission. They are very passionate about arts and they attend fairs and exhibitions. When they see something they like, they research the artist to see at what point they are, and the commissions then stem from that.”

In parallel, Max Mara, which is still run by the family, has been collaborating with Whitechapel Gallery in London since 2005 to develop the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, a biannual award given to an emerging female artist working in the UK. Recipients, who are selected by Whitechapel Gallery, are awarded a six-month residency in Italy leading to exhibitions at Whitechapel Gallery and Collezione Maramotti, after which the Collezione acquires the works.

Thomas Scheibitz

Recipients have included Emma Hart and Margaret Salmon, as well as Laure Prouvost, who went on to receive the 2013 Turner Prize and is representing France this year at the Venice Biennale.

The museum has recently rehang its second floor to showcase the works of 10 artists that the Collezione has supported over the last 11 years with a room devoted to each, which Piccinini notes “gives visual consistency to each room and visitors can really see every single project in a powerful way and discover each artist.”

Each room offers a very different experience. For example, Enoc Perez presents two large colourful canvases – made with a complex, layered painting process, without the use of a brush – that interrogate the role of painting today, meanwhile in another room, Jacob Kassay’s series of silvery and mirror-like canvases hold the ghostly presence of the underlying painting while also absorbing and reflecting their surroundings.

“I think visitors are positively surprised by these changes from room to room. There is a changing rhythm, which is very interesting,” Piccinini adds.

A version of this story was published in Prestige April 2019 edition.