Far from the bright lights of Florence and Siena, it’s hard for a small town art gallery to get any notice in Tuscany.  After all, the region’s nature has been the muse for artists since the age when paint was little more than crushed earth pasted to a stone wall canvas, but there are not many people around to see it.

Perhaps that’s why Castiglione della Pescaia has ditched the traditional notion of an art gallery and created a space that interacts with both visitors and the environment instead. It’s called the Strada del Contemporaneo and it opened in November 2012.

Whale by Rodolfo Lacquaniti. Photo: Paola Bernardini

For the residents of this coastal Tuscan Maremman city, the museum is a step away from what they’re used to. Castiglione della Pescaia is more than a thousand years old and all its other art galleries display masterpieces of the medieval and Renaissance religious kind.

The first exhibition at the Strada del Contemporaneo is a 20-metre long whale. It’s made entirely from recycled materials and is by local artist Rodolfo Lacquaniti. [Editor’s note: I wrote a long article about Rodolfo for Tuscany Arts some time back, if you wish to read a more in detail analysis of his work.]

Rodolfo is renowned for his recycling. A bio-architect, he created the nearby Giardino Viaggio di Ritorno – a spectacular garden filled with contemporary art installations that are made entirely from the bits and bobs Rodolfo has found.

Photo: Paola Bernardini

The whale takes up the entire exhibition space at the Strada del Contemporaneo. But its breathtaking detail and beautifully sculpted shape is so captivating, you won’t want for any other eye candy. The Balena is all the artistic stimulation you need.

When you visit, don’t be alarmed if you see people climbing into it… When creating this piece, Rodolfo was adamant visitors be like Moby Dick and go inside the belly of the beast to better admire the intricate cohesion of the recycled pieces and their steel frame skeleton.

Inside the whale. Photo: artist

‘Balena’ is the perfect inaugural piece for this exhibition space. Naturally, a sculpture the size of four small cars wouldn’t fit into your traditional white-walled gallery. But the Strada del Contemporaneo takes its name from its surroundings – a peaceful strip of cleared forest just outside the city.

The road was once a route connecting Macchiascandona and Ponti di Badia, but has been long abandoned. In part, this museum endeavours to transform an abandoned space into beautiful tourist attractions. But mostly, it’s a fittingly grand end to the La Città Visible tour that was held throughout the Maremma late last year.

As part of the tour, a handful of towns hosted an exhibition of paintings, some from their own artists and some from out-of-towers. At the end of their turn, the tour would move onto another town, where a whole new set of paintings would be on display.

Rodolfo’s whale is a nod to the museum’s environmental message. The Maremma’s drawcard is its untouched and unspoiled landscape, and recycling is something most residents do religiously.

Beyond this, the Strada del Contemporaneo is, partially, the brainchild of Rodolfo himself. It was his idea to create an outdoor art gallery immersed in the landscape of Castiglione della Pescaia. With a little help from the Provincia di Grosseto and the local city council, he joined forces with three Castiglione architects who hoped to build a monument to modern art. And so the Strada del Contemporaneo was born.

View of Rodolfo’s Garden. Photo: Alexandra Korey

The  ‘Balena‘ is the first stop on a path that will eventually connect Rodolfo’s garden with these architects’ dream – the yet-to-be-built Centro di Documentazione per Architettura Contemporanea della Provincia di Grosseto. Along the way, curators will constantly add and change installations to ensure visitors feel like they’re at a new gallery every time.

For now, there is no specific calendar, or even idea, of what’s to come. ‘La Balena’ will remain where she is until the start of summer at least. But chances are whatever joins her will reflect the museum’s perchance for unusual, experimental installations, which are as far removed from the traditional Maremma notion of art as you can get.

The Strada del Contemporaneo is in Castiglione della Pescaia, Provincia di Grosseto. It’s open all the time and is free to visit. For more information, call +39 0564 484323.

Elisa is an Australian journalist who came to Tuscany for a year, fell in love ( how cliché?) and decided to stick around. Not one to keep paradisiacal holiday destinations to herself, she now writes a blog and online travel guide about the infinitely beautiful Tuscan Maremma, so that others can get a taste of la dolce vita.

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