An ever-expanding global encyclopedia of contemporary visual art, Imago Mundi is an ambitious project initiated by Luciano Benetton that invites established and emerging artists to participate on a non-profit and voluntary basis in the creation of a rather unique art collection. Currently counting over 25.000 artworks from 150 countries, the Imago Mundi collection organises its contents by country or ethnic group, without any particular limitation in aesthetics and artistic media — the only rule being that all the works should be created on a canvas measuring 10x12 centimetres. Luciano Benetton and the curators of the Imago Mundi project constantly travel the world to encounter local artistic communities and compose smaller “national” collections that are like kaleidoscopic snapshots of each country’s artistic scene. As a result, this sprawling index of nations, peoples and artists both known and unknown is becoming an alternative mapping of the entire world that is defined by cultures, communities and creativity rather than borders and politics.
In April 2018, Imago Mundi has found its permanent home in Treviso, Italy, inside an early-19th-century prison complex that has lain abandoned since the 1950’s. Through a very careful and discreet renovation led by postmodernist Italian architect Tobia Scarpa (the son of Carlo Scarpa), the Habsburg-built prison complex is now transformed into the Gallerie delle Prigioni, where the Imago Mundi collections are to be kept, exhibited and more in-depth research can be conducted into their contents. The Gallerie opened with the exhibition Sahara: What Is Written Will Remain, focusing on calligraphy and the written work and featuring Imago Mundi collections from Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger and the nomadic Tuareg people. The exhibition was curated by Nicolas Vamvouklis and also included works by twelve artists from other collections whose practice involves the written word.
As Vamvouklis explains, the opening of the Gallerie delle Prigioni marks a new chapter in the Imago Mundi saga: “The opening of the Gallerie is important because we now have the chance to study in more depth this encyclopedia we have created, and direct our study beyond geography in order to identify other themes. We have a huge archive of objects and people in our hands, and now we can take a second look, to find connections, to go back to our contributors and the artists and examine their practice more closely and on a bigger scale.”
Vamvouklis is also the curator of the most recent Imago Mundi collection dedicated to Cyprus. He visited the island in September 2017 to do studio visits and map the local art scene before inviting artists to participate. The Cypriot collection hasn’t been published yet, but it is complete and is now being exhibited for the first time at the Imago Mundi exhibition Join The Dots / Unire le distanze, currently on display in Trieste, Italy. Featuring no less than 6,354 artworks that comprise forty national collections, it is the largest Imago Mundi exhibition to date.
“Trieste became the epicentre of the exhibition”, says Vamvouklis, “because it has been a very important port and the meeting point for many cultures. Playing with the concept of centre and periphery, we drew a very wide circle around Trieste which included forty collections. We chose the name after the well-known game where one has to connect the dots to create the outline of an image. Our concept is also linked to the work of Israeli psychologist Reuven Feuerstein, who used a ‘connect the dots’ approach as a tool to understand the world’s complexities.” Indeed, the scope of the exhibition is extremely wide, including works from as diverse regions as the Maghreb, North Europe, the Mediterranean, the Balkans and the Middle East.
To accommodate the sheer number of artworks, Imago Mundi decided to host the exhibition inside the sprawling Salone degli Incanti, a vast space on Trieste’s seafront that used to house the local fish market. The artworks are exhibited inside the custom-designed cases created specially for the project by Tobia Scarpa and which are used to transport the collections around the world. “It’s challenging to find a unifying concept for so many artworks”, say Vamvouklis. “Each collection has been created by a different curator at a different moment in time.” But as the exhibition in Trieste shows, it’s not difficult to connect the dots after all and imagine the world coming together in peace, even if just for the sake of art.
Discover all artworks, more exhibitions and events by Imago Mundi on their official website.