If you’re not an habitué, the art scene may look like a sort of parallel world where – like in Matrix – only the craziest can access. This feeling is probably due to the fact that many artists, curators and gallerists are associated to an idea of snobbism and elitism, which is exactly the thing that makes you lose interest if you’re not a millionaire dressed in total linen. Yet, just half a century ago the connection between art and human beings was much deeper: art, as incredible as it seems, was popular. How can we go back to that connection? How to take the Gioconda back to Italy, art back to the people?

This is what Marsèll brand is trying to do with its two spaces in Milan: Marsèlleria, a gallery-showroom, and Marsèll Paradise, a multi-functional concept store with a bookshop, a gallery and a shop just a couple of streets away.

Photo by Alice Gemignani

This place has more than one shape, more than one content, and more than one address. This fact leads to two fundamental consequences: first of all, there’s no use in trying to figure out what it actually is; second, it’s exactly this polymorphous and multi-functional nature that makes it so interesting. “To get to the point, Marsèll Paradise is Marsèll’s concept store, a multi-functional space where different projects are hosted”, explains Sara, photographer in charge of Marsèlleria communication. “Besides the shop where we sell Marsèll products and some other brands (like Canedicoda), there’s an ever-growing art bookshop which allows students, artists, researchers, designers and anyone else, to step by and spend the afternoon exploring the material available for consultation. Some books are on sale – for example those produced by Marsèll or left here by some friends – and there’s a good selection of magazines. Then, in the basement there’s a proper art gallery where all the artistic projects of Marsèlleria Milan and the newly-opened New York branch merge. Mirko Rizzi, our curator, is in charge of the artistic direction, and there are other five or six people working here on the project as a whole.”

The main Marsèlleria location opened in 2009 and in a couple of months managed to define its identity by hosting concerts of performative artists like Nico Vascellari or Invernomuto, and the first exhibition by Lorenzo Senni – the “rave-voyeur” now signed by Warp – who loves Red Bull and 90’s trance. “From the very beginning, the idea was to use the space at Marsèlleria in a creative way, to offer a lateral cultural offer in Milan, to give space to things that wouldn’t have found any space somewhere else”, says Sara. “Now there are four or five exposition a year in the main location, because they match the showroom calendar, while at Marsèll Pardise the activity is much more intense.”

“We try to involve mainly young artists, who aren’t exhibited somewhere else, and offer a kind of contemporary art that often includes performances, installations, and other collateral events. Most of all, we’re interested in artists who use media in the most colloquial way. Recently art – especially contemporary art – has become extremely self-absorbed. Marsèlleria tries to fill that gap with an open approach: maybe someone who’s never been in an art gallery comes here to buy a pair of shoes, looks around and finds other sources of inspiration.”

Photo by Alice Gemignani

To keep this constant dialogue with the city alive, Marsèll Paradise has a very dense calendar of events, happenings, inaugurations and laboratories addressed to any kind of audience. “For example, there are the Trigger Parties – happenings where we invite artists to execute an original performance and then give them the chance to talk to the audience. For us, it’s a way to restore the colloquial dimension that has long been missing in contemporary art. We offer many workshops to those who want to build a fanzine or photo-books, and then free children workshops held by many of the artists that exhibit at Marsèll Paradise – it gives us a lot of satisfaction. These initiatives are designed to bring children closer to the art: every artist, each in his own way, includes them in his show and presents his ideal of art. In a way, these moments give children an emotional imprinting that we hope they will carry along for a long time. For all these reasons, working here gives the feeling of contributing to the development of an artistic identity in Milan – an active circle that supports itself and grows thanks to the interaction of different realities.”

“Besides, this is an example of fashion creating a positive circle, not self-concerned. Marsèlleria is totally no profit: all exhibitions are free and the works aren’t sold unless there’s a direct contact with the artist. This line of conduct reflects the no-promotion approach of Marsèll as a brand, with an exception for the artist collaborations. A large part of the brand’s profit is invested in this place, in the artistic promotion and the space organization. Our work consists in removing the steps that are usually more helpful to the market than to art in itself. This attitude helps the artist feel completely at ease here, also because there is no other no-profit place that supports the artist during the whole process of creating the closest possible version of their ideal exhibition. This environment also inspires us to start researching: it gives the freedom to explore an artistic journey, because we feel protected instead of hindered. At the moment we’re five people working here. Each of us contributes with their own taste to the bookshop, which is very important because it increases the choral points of view that make this place unique”.

This is the reason why Marsèll has become in a few years a landmark for different artistic and musical scenes. A role that extends beyond the city borders: “For example, we have a regular partnership with Live Arts Week in Bologna, and have been hosting their official presentation every year”, says Sara. “We also have a photographic project called “Scatti” which is open to photographers of any age and nationality, not necessarily professionals. Our only request is the work be related to Milan, in order to have a polyphonic narrative of the city. We try to keep an open dialogue with the public, between the artist and the spectator, and it pays off. We can feel an hungry and free creativity in here, a constant ferment which is rare to see in other institutional spaces in Italy.

Photo by Alice Gemignani

*   5 places suggested by Marsèlleria:

BELTRADE CINEMA: Film selection in Milan can be disappointing, and sometimes it takes away the pleasure of going to the cinema. This one offers a selection of interesting titles, and original language screenings.
CLIMA: This is a gallery we regularly collaborate with, one of the most interesting in town.
NONOSTANTE MARRAS: Another place with a great atmosphere, to live in complete freedom.
MACAO: There’s no need to explain why this is a magical place. In particular, the events organized by the Sound Table are a pride for the city, so much that even people coming from abroad are impressed.
CASCINA MARTESANA: The perfect place to drink a beer on a sunny day, and feel on holiday in Milan.

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