‘Venus of the Rags’, one of the most renowned sculptures by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, was destroyed earlier this week in a suspected arson attack in Naples, the city’s mayor Gaetano Manfredi confirmed on Wednesday.
The destruction of the installation, which was on outdoor public display close to the town hall in the southern Italian city, was “an act of great violence which leaves us speechless,” Manfredi said of the fire, which happened in the early hours of Wednesday. He vowed to ensure that the artwork would be rebuilt with the help of a crowd-funding effort.
Following a review of local closed circuit camera systems, a 32-year-old homeless man was arrested on suspicion of arson and destruction of artistic works, Italian newspaper Il Corrierre della Sera said. The artwork features a sculpture of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty and fertility standing beside a large pile of brightly-colored clothes.
It is, according to Pistoletto, an artistic expression designed to “find a balance and harmony” between contrasting worlds of beauty and consumerism, the 90-year-old told the same publication. He added: “The world is going up in flames anyway. The same spirits that are waging war are the ones that set the Venus on fire.”
Meanwhile, Piercamillo Falasca, a Naples-based politician with the Piu Europa party, wrote on social media on Wednesday that the arson attack represents Naples’ “evil plant of incivility that we must all work to eradicate.”
Several versions of the sculpture, which was first created in 1967, are on display in museums and galleries across the world. The latest iteration of the sculpture went on display in Naples’ Piazza del Municipio two weeks ago. Pistoletto is a central figure in Italy’s Arte Povera (poor art) movement, with his work on display across the world including in New York, London and Paris.
The destruction of the iconic artwork comes just a week after a British tourist was threatened with prison time in Rome, after carving his and his girlfriend’s names into a wall of the 2,000-year-old Colosseum.
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