Fendi’s Gift to Rome: A Sculpture Shaped Like a Tree


The public art piece is also a way for the company to further bind its name “to Rome and to Italian beauty because we believe the Fendi brand is 100 percent made in Italy,” Mr. Beccari added. He said that when he arrived at Fendi in 2012, he changed the packaging logo from Fendi to Fendi Roma.

Photo

Mr. Penone inside the foundry where part of his sculpture was cast.

Credit
Clara Vannucci for The New York Times

Two years ago, Fendi moved its headquarters to a Mussolini-era building in Eur, a suburb of Rome, restoring the renowned but abandoned Fascist landmark known as the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. Ground-floor exhibitions there have drawn more than 100,000 visitors.

“We must overturn ugliness with beauty,” Mr. Beccari said, noting that Rome has been in the headlines lately for its filth and decay. “That is our small contribution.”

As perhaps befalls an Eternal City, Rome has struggled to embrace modernity. It took decades for Maxxi, a national museum of contemporary art, to take root, and years for William Kentridge’s 2016 “Triumphs and Laments,” an ambitious public art project along the banks of the Tiber River, to receive the appropriate permits.

By contrast, Mr. Penone’s work was quickly approved after Fendi set up a commission with public officials, who supervised and facilitated the process.

The Penone sculpture is the most recent example of Fendi’s art and cultural binge. The fashion house restored several fountains in Rome, including the Trevi Fountain, and is the main sponsor for the Italian pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year. Later this month, Fendi will inaugurate the Spazio Fendi, a laboratory at the national Institute for Conservation and Restoration, which was founded in 1939 to preserve Italian heritage.

Other Italian fashion brands have also helped spruce up Italy’s tattered territory, in some cases encouraged by the so-called Art Bonus, a 2014 law that offers tax credits for arts funding.

Last December, Prada opened a second exhibition space, on top of one of Milan’s most prestigious landmarks, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The space showcases photography and complements the Rem Koolhaas-designed Fondazione Prada, aiding Milan’s claim as a vibrant hub for contemporary art.

Ermenegildo Zegna, through its foundation, has taken a multiprong approach to supporting contemporary art, including sponsoring works by artists for museum shows.

And throughout Italy, fashion houses have been buttressing their brands by sponsoring A-list monuments, including Tod’s restoration of the Colosseum, Bulgari’s revamp of the Spanish Steps and Diesel’s cleanup of the Rialto Bridge in Venice.

But “Leaves of Stone” was commissioned to complement Rome’s millennial artistic tradition — all art, of course, was contemporary at some point.

The sculpture uses a common leitmotif — trees and stones — in Mr. Penone’s vocabulary. “I use the tree as a sculpting material,” he said. “You think of the tree as something solid, but in reality, it is fluid in its growth, and thus malleable, interacting with the environment.” The carved marble block is a nod to Rome’s history and rich architecture, much of it built of marble.

Pepi Marchetti Franchi, director of the Gagosian Gallery in Rome, which is hosting an exhibition of Mr. Penone’s works, said the new pieces went “in a new direction,” indicating how Mr. Penone’s work continued to evolve.

While Romans have not always embraced contemporary art, Mr. Penone is not concerned about how “Leaves of Stone” will be received. “I am more fearful of the reaction of the art world than the reaction of the population,” he said.

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