Lots of greenery, trails, a playground, a wild animal rescue center, a military museum, an amphitheater and contemporary sculpture – the Catanzaro Park of Biodiversity or the Parco della Biodiversità Mediterranea has a lot going on amidst its 60 hectares (148 acres) and 50,000 varieties of Mediterranean plants.
The large park area is near the historic center, and depending on who you talk to, it’s either a short walk from the old town or impossible to reach without transportation. In reality, it’s a good half-hour, healthy climb up steep streets that lead from the old town, but in Catanzaro, everything is either up or down a hill. And the beauty of being perched up on high ground is that you’re surrounded by panoramic views over the rugged landscape and out to the sea.
CATANZARO PARK OF BIODIVERSITY
Calabria is often thought of in terms of its wonderful natural attributes and of course, its exceptional culinary tradition. Much is also said of its ancient artifacts, but contemporary art lives side by side with the famous Riace Bronzes and other masterpieces of Greater Greece found throughout the region. This Catanzaro Park of Biodiversity was inaugurated in 2004 on the grounds of an agrarian school, and shortly thereafter a project dedicated to contemporary sculpture created by internationally acclaimed artists was launched.
At the entrance to the park is a children’s play area, which looks quite inviting with a pair of slides jutting out from the enclosure. For history buffs, there’s also a military museum in the former Scuola Agraria (agrarian school). The park and its art, however, will appeal to everyone, as the works are accessible and the setting is lovely. So, let’s stroll past a few of the sculptures in this pleasant Catanzaro park.
CONTEMPORARY SCULPTURE AT THE PARCO DELLA BIODIVERSITÀ MEDITERRANEA
One of my favorite installations is Seven Times by British sculptor Sir Antony Gormley (b. 1950). This series of seven human figures from 2006 was created in iron from casts of the artist’s own body. Many of Gormley’s works depart from his own image and nearly all focus on the human body. In Seven Times the figures face towards the sea in a straight line but at graduated heights. The forms appear to emerge directly from the earth, giving the piece both a spatial as well as a temporal quality.
The four bronze figures of I Testimoni (The Witnesses) by Mimmo Paladino (b. 1948) solemnly invite the viewer into their interior worlds of ancient ritual. The Italian sculptor, painter and printmaker was one of the principal protagonists of the transavantgarde, a movement that reacted to conceptual art with a return to recognizable forms, emotion and mythic imagery. The witnesses from this 1998 work appear as actors in a play.
The bronze Cast Glances (2002) belongs to a series of works characterized as the Rational Beings; however, the organic nature of this sculpture seems to challenge that rationality. The artist is Tony Cragg (b. 1949), or Sir Anthony Cragg, as he’s another knighted British sculptor.
German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol (b. 1957) focuses on Everyman. His Man and Ballerina (2005) depicts two figures in painted bronze on pedestals. The ballerina remains suspended in a pose, precariously balancing on pointed toe over a bright red ball while the man faces her securely from his lower position on a stouter support, but both stare vacantly forward.
PLAYFUL CONTEMPORARY SCULPTURE
I found the image of a modern temple leaning on its side as if on a seesaw rather whimsical. Italian painter and object artist Michelangelo Pistoletto (b. 1933) constructed his work from steel, drums and recycled coils, and named it I Temp[l]i cambiano (2009). By adding one letter in the Italian, tempi becomes templi, thus Times/Temples Change in English. In this sculpture, the artist explores the relationship between past and present through the classical form of the temple. What appears to be a dead tree behind the sculpture in the photo below is actually part of the Villaggio degli Scoiattoli (Squirrel Village), designed for the enjoyment of the park’s full-time residents.
The delicate Gothic filigree of the Concrete Mixer (2007) by Wim Delvoye (b. 1965) caught my eye. I thought that even though the Belgian neo-conceptual artist had deprived this object of its original function, the sculpture made of weathering steel looked very nice on the green lawn and could possibly be pressed into service for a garden-party bingo game or raffle drawing of some sort.
Perhaps being an American helped me interpret the title of fellow countryman Dennis Oppenheim’s (1938-2011) Electric Kisses (2009), constructed in stainless steel and acrylic colored tubes. The two little pagodas that can be entered are in the classic shape of Hershey-brand chocolate kisses.
SCULPTURE AND ITS SPACE
The large ring made of cement and cast iron, 8 meters (26 feet) in height and weighing 12 tons, was made specifically for the city of Catanzaro. Thus, Italian sculptor Mauro Staccioli (b. 1937) named the work Catanzaro ’11 (2011). I must say that the large circle gave off a rather pleasing vibe, light and airy despite its physical particulars.
The Man Who Measures the Clouds (1998) by Jan Fabre (b. 1958) sizes up the atmosphere with intent, from the simple stepladder to the markings on his ruler. The Belgian multidisciplinary artist sculpted this matter-of-factly surreal work in bronze and silicone, and “The Man” is as hard to reach from the ground as is his mission to measure the sky.
There are numerous other works in the Catanzaro Park of Biodiversity, and there’s the nature itself. For locals, it’s a nice city park. For the out-of-towner, it’s well worth a visit, particularly as a break from time on the nearby beach during the warmer months. And don’t forget a walk and a meal or two in the historic center as in my Video of Catanzaro.
Read more about Catanzaro, Calabria’s capital in Calabria: The Other Italy, my non-fiction book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating southern Italian region.
More about contemporary art in Calabria on my posts MuSaBa: Not Just A Museum, The Palazzo della Cultura in Reggio Calabria, An Artist in Amantea and Contemporary Interpretations of the Riace Bronzes.