FORMA in Milan

Fondazione FORMA per la fotografia, Milan

We discovered this photography space by chance – or rather, by the recommendation of the Lomography store in Milan (which deserves a separate post). It is a really cool initiative dubbing itself a “photography house”: equal parts conceptual exhibit space, a secondary market gallery of important names and a photography education and promotion venue. One of its coolest features is the location, in the historic former warehouse of the Milan public transportation authority, still headquartered next door.

This kind of architectural reuse makes a huge difference in the contextualization of new venues in established cities. Even as they are born, they already have a memory, an adoptive pedigree. In this case, FORMA symbolically takes on the vital role of urban transport in the building of a community and ultimately, the dissemination of ideas. It also has a tiny restaurant where discussions  bubble, just next to the bookstore, where we found images by photographers I’ve been looking for a long time. You can bet it will be one of my favorite places in Milan when I move there in the future.

I like especially the fact that its orientation is an interweaving of big names and emerging ones. For example, the gallery is selling prints by such stars as Elliott Erwitt, Sebastiao Salgado and Robert Doisneau. The exhibit space currently hosts an show titled Milano, un minuto prima, mostly by emerging artists, aiming at a new definition of what Milan is. As multifaceted as the city, the exhibit is equally multi-angled. It has been put together by several curators, each of whom has chosen different photographers to make up an extremely varied puzzle of the big picture that is Milan. Nicolo Degiorgis, for example, presents a project on the Islamic spaces of the city, often ignored by most of its residents. Giovanni Hanninen (from Helsinki originally) shows the dead big hopes of Milan: buildings that have remained unfinished and abandoned. Francesco Zanot presents a series of the postcard kiosks in the city, symbolically a mirror in which we are invited to recognize the face it tries to present to outsiders.

What’s not to like in such an artistic community partnership? Nothing, but there is still something bugging, something that feels wrong in it all. The ever so slight condescension FORMA lets show in its communication materials towards the public. Their role is to learn, is the clear message; the flow of creative energy is supposed to be unidirectional. Even the open contest for a best photo that’s currently announced on the website promises a prize that’s not a participation in an exhibit or any other recognition, but the opportunity to shadow a real reporter for a day. No open calls for juried shows, for example; no assumption of an open community.  Very different from the open and egalitarian photography initiatives I’ve seen on the other side of the Big Pond such as FotoFest. But, alas, that’s a feature of the social existence of art in Europe…

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