At this museum, social distancing devices vibrate. So does the art.
By Ted Loos
I’ve been cheating, and it’s likely you have been, too: Six feet apart is a lot farther away than most people seem to hope it is.
I know this because at the recent reopening of Magazzino Italian Art, the museum of postwar and contemporary work here in the Hudson Valley, I wore a piece of social-distancing hardware called an EGOpro Active Tag. It was attached to a lanyard around my neck.
The tag is required for all visitors, and it’s programmed to vibrate for a few seconds every time the wearer is closer than 6 feet to a tag worn by another person.
Mine buzzed a lot.
I misjudged my spacing quite a few times, and the incessant buzzing was annoying. But that’s the point, of course. It made me retreat, and quickly.
“The technology makes a lot of sense to me,” said Harry Wilks of Plattekill, New York, one of the visitors I encountered. “It would make even more sense on the weekend, when it’s more crowded.”
My interviews weren’t exactly helping the situation. Wilks added, “Mine didn’t go off until you came up to me to talk.”
Magazzino, founded in 2017 by collectors Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu, is the first museum in the United States to use the technology.
That Magazzino takes pandemic safety seriously is clear from the beginning of a visit there. Temperature checks are now required for all visitors, administered in a little tent outside the entrance. “Nobody’s fussing about it so far,” said Jay Nicholas, a visitor services assistant, who took mine. Masks are required, too.
The museum, which was closed for four months, is admitting 10 people per half-hour who have reservations, and it assumes a 90-minute visit. It could have more visitors, according to state and county guidelines, but it decided to start cautiously.
“We wanted to find a way to have a new normal,” said Vittorio Calabrese, Magazzino’s director. “Art does not stop.”
It was roomy and very quiet inside the high-ceilinged white galleries, arranged in a ring. The 20,000-square-foot building was designed by Spanish architect Miguel Quismondo. In galleries four and five, of eight, there are several artworks that incorporate neon, and I could distinctly hear the neon humming.
Highlights from the collection assembled by Olnick and Spanu fill most of the galleries, part of an ongoing exhibition called “Arte Povera,” dedicated to the Italian movement of the same name from the 1960s and ’70s, when pioneering Italian artists voiced their dissent about the direction of society.
Works by the movement’s greatest names are on display, including Alighiero Boetti, Giuseppe Penone, Jannis Kounellis, Luciano Fabro, Mario Merz, Marisa Merz and Michelangelo Pistoletto.
Now, there’s also a special show, “Homemade,” in the last gallery, featuring work made by eight Italian artists quarantined in New York during the pandemic. It began as an online and Instagram invitational and morphed into a real exhibition.
“Magazzino wanted to support artists making new work during this time,” Calabrese said.
He added, “Some of these artists had to deal with a lot of anxiety and stress. And the common sentiment was that this kept them going. We called our regular video meetings ‘Zoom apperitvi.’ ”
One of the artists in “Homemade,” Alessandro Teoldi, was on-site when I visited. To keep our buzzers calm, we circled each other at a remove as we chatted.
Teoldi, who hails from Milan and lives in Brooklyn, New York, talked about his 2020 piece “Untitled (Delta, Norwegian, COPA, Lufthansa, Thomas Cook Airlines, Hawaiian and Iberia),” which is an abstract assemblage of stretched airline blankets that looks from afar like a painting. He made it just before the pandemic hit.
“I buy them on eBay, or I steal them when I travel — or when I used to travel,” Teoldi said. I think his phrasing made us both a little wistful.
His commissioned works, a series of four reliefs called “Untitled (hug),” gets at an essential feature of the pandemic: the lack of physical intimacy. The four panels, cast in cement after starting out as a paper collage, all show people hugging.
The other artists in “Homemade” are Andrea Mastrovito, Beatrice Scaccia, Danilo Correale, Davide Balliano, Francesco Simeti, Luisa Rabbia and Maria D. Rapicavoli.
The EGOpro Active Tag that was making my viewing of their works extra safe is an adaptation of technology that has been around for a while, using ultrawideband radio waves.
The tags were developed by an Italian company, Advanced Microwave Engineering, which then partnered with a U.S. company, Advanced Industrial Marketing, nicely mirroring the married union of the Sardinia-born Spanu and Olnick, who is from New York City.
The technology is currently in use at the Duomo in Florence, Italy, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
“Proximity detection was developed to keep people away from machines, for safety,” Rob Hruskoci, founder of Advanced Industrial Marketing in Indianapolis, told me. “Until March, no one cared about keeping people away from other people.”
Hruskoci said that two other U.S. museums had purchased the system.