Architecture's Links between Old and New / by Jeannine Cook

Back on April 28th, 2012, I.M. Pei, the architect, was quoted by William Cook in The Spectator  as saying, "What interests me about architecture are the links between old and new – art, history and architecture are indeed one."

I found the most wonderful example of this happy marriage between history, art and architecture during my visit to Matera, South Italy.  In amongst the astonishing labyrinth of caves, grottoes, vaulted homes and churches in the golden tufa Sassi area, many inhabited for millennia, is MUSMA, the Contemporary Sculpture Museum of Matera.  The museum of a many fingered series of tamped-earth floored grottoes, full of niches and wells dug deep into the cool tufa limestone, was originally a palace, the Palazzo Pomarici, dating from the 17th century onwards with some outer constructed rooms added on to the caves. The original caves go back, probably, to neolithic times, and have been used as dwellings or places of worship and refuge ever since.

All images courtesy of the Sassiland website

All images courtesy of the Sassiland website

Yet today, the inspired marriage of art, history and architecture has resulted in an amazing structure that houses a really impressive collection of modern sculpture, Italian and international, from 1800 onwards, but mainly from the 20th century.  Imaginatively displayed and placed in these cavernous grottoes or in the more traditional rooms, the collection is broad in scope and of very high quality overall.  To complement the sculpture, there is a collection of prints and drawings, with a few small paintings, by many stars of the international modern art scene, mostly artists whose oeuvre has included some form of sculpture.

I found the links between the old and the new, through this museum of most unusual architecture, to be really memorable.  It was a highlight of my trip to Matera, and well worth a visit for anyone who is in the Basilicata area of Italy.