It is a logic more often associated with terrorists or trapped and cornered desperadoes: “Meet my demands or another hostage goes the way of the last.”
Only in this case the hostages are works of art, and they are being sacrificed with the agreement of their creators.
The director of an art museum in the mafia-infested hinterland of Naples was on Wednesday preparing to destroy a work by an Italian painter and sculptor, Rosaria Matarese, on the second day of a protest intended to draw official attention – and funds – to his beleaguered cultural outpost.
Antonio Manfredi of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum (Cam) said the privately sponsored institution risked closure unless it received cash from the regional, national or European authorities.
“There’s no money for upkeep. We were flooded recently. And there are tons of garbage mounting up outside,” Manfredi told the Guardian.
On Tuesday evening, he launched what he termed “an art war to prevent the destruction of culture” by setting light to a painting by a French artist, Séverine Bourguignon, worth up to €10,000 (£8,200).
“This is a war. This is a revolution,” Manfredi said. “And in a revolution, there are winners and losers.”
He vowed to continue destroying works from the permanent collection at the rate of one a day until someone took notice of Cam’s plight.
“There are about 1,000 works, so this could go on for years,” he said.
Bourguignon followed the destruction of her work, Promenade, on a Skype link from Paris.
“I feel as if I am in mourning,” she said. “It is very sad that they burned my painting. We hoped until the very last minute that someone would step in.
“And now I have to fix in my mind that I will never see that work again. But I hope it’ll be worthwhile.
“At least people heard about what is happening in Italy and to culture everywhere. It’s been useful.”
Manfredi said Matarese would herself put a match to one of her works on Wednesday.
“I tell you, it’s not nice setting light to works of art. It’s terrible. Each one has its own story,” he said.
The Cam, which houses works by European, African and Chinese artists, is in the area outside Naples that provided the setting for Roberto Saviano’s nonfiction book Gomorrah, a global best-seller which was made into a film.
Manfredi said he had run into financial difficulties after putting on an exhibition aimed at the local mafia, the Camorra.
“You can’t do that and then go and ask for money from companies in the area that are in the grip of the Camorra,” he said.
“Some pay [the mobsters] protection money. Others are actually controlled by them.”
Manfredi said he wanted not just public money, but official support “because in this area, if you don’t have backing from the authorities, you’re in serious danger”.
Himself an artist, he said that a month ago he had set fire to one of his own works and then sent photocopies of the works in Cam’s collection to the chair of the European parliament’s culture and education commission, the culture minister in Rome and the regional governor in Naples, warning them of what he intended to do. But none had replied.
“My fear is that they’ll let me go ahead and burn the lot,” he said.
Art on fire image via Olinchuk / Shutterstock