Contemporary artist Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Venere degli Stracci (“Venus of the Rags”) will be re-installed in Piazza Municipio in Naples early next year, in what local leaders are calling a “symbol of rebirth” for the city after the monument’s destruction by arson this past summer.
One of Pistoletto’s most noted artworks, the original Venere degli Stracci dates to 1967 and features a cement sculpture of the goddess of beauty, love and fertility leaning against a mountain of discarded rags, in an interrogation of the relationship between the classical world and contemporary consumerism.
A monumental polythene version of Venus of the Rags was commissioned specifically for Piazza Municipio and inaugurated on June 28, 2023 as part of the Napoli Contemporanea (Contemporary Naples) revitalization project. But in the early morning hours of July 12, the new statue was burned to the ground; a 32-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of arson shortly thereafter.
Rising from the ashes
In the wake of the fire, the city launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance a replacement statue. Pistoletto, however, decided to self-finance the new work and permanently donate it to the City of Naples. Collected funds will therefore be reallocated to associations representing marginalized communities.
The arson incident reportedly “embittered and hurt” the 90-year-old Pistoletto, but inspired him to recreate Venus of the Rags with renewed vigor (and fire-proof materials). The new artwork incorporates portions of the original installation that survived the blaze to underscore the message of Venus “rising from the ashes.”
“Venus was not annihilated, but regenerated in the same place,” Pistoletto said in a statement. “An episode of degeneration triggered important dynamics of reflection on the devastation of our days. My feeling for Naples has remained unchanged: It will be a great joy for everyone to see suffering transformed into a new opportunity for vitality and rebirth.”
Mayor of Naples Gaetano Manfredi added, “The reconstruction of Pistoletto’s work represents [Naples’] ability to regenerate itself through beauty, art and the positive energies of its citizens. Thanks to the public art projects we are carrying out, Naples is becoming an open-air, democratic, free museum for everyone to enjoy.”
Inauguration of the new Venus of the Rags is scheduled for January 22,, 2024 in Piazza Municipio, where it will remain on display for four months.