Pietrasanta, where art lives on... in the squares

On the Versilia Coast of Tuscany there is a place where contemporary art takes shape.

By Lucia Maffei, photos by Giuliano Sargentini

In the Italian region of Tuscany, near the Mediterranean coast of Versilia, there is a place where contemporary art takes shape.

Pietrasanta, a small town not far from the seaside coastline, just a few miles from the renowned beaches of Forte dei Marmi and Viareggio, is today a sort of enclave where the most representative sculptors coming from the entire world meet to sketch up, rough-hew and then create their works. People say there is no better place than a small table outside an open café in Pietrasanta to meet a famous artist. Someone even calls this town "the small Athens of Versilia", and others "the Hollywood of sculpture". But it is actually in these humorous phrases that lies the charm of a magic lieu where live art is created and takes shape. Responsible for this multi-secular synthesis between Versilia and art is ... marble. The precious white statuary marble enclosed within the Alpi Apuane mountains that has for centuries attracted artists here.

In the past, many illustrious artists have spent much of their time in this city of art, founded in 1255 by Guiscardo da Pietrasanta.

The genius of the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo Buonarroti, commissioned by Pope Leone X, lived in Versilia for over three years, opened the quarries of Trambiserra and Cappella and, to transport the beautiful marble pieces cut from the Monte Altissimo, had a road built to connect the mountains to the seaside. But Michelangelo was not the only artist who came here to personally choose the marble blocks for his works. Even Giambologna, Niccolò Pericoli called "Il Tribolo", Vincenzo Danti, Ammannati and Vasari visited these lieus for long periods. And today, among the names of famous modern artists, one can also find that of Henry Moore, who worked in Versilia for a long time, and many others who have a prominent role in the international artistic panorama such as Botero, Cascella, Kan Yasuda, Thimer, Mitoraj, Messina and many others.

For artists, and particularly for sculptors, Pietrasanta is a meeting point, a place of exchange and comparison, and for many of them it has also become their home. But it is also and above all the best and most qualified place in the world where works of monumental sizes can be produced and modelled, both in marble and in bronze. From the hars and surreal landscape of the marble quarries to the artists' laboratories and artisan shops, one breathes Pietrasanta's culture in marble - a mixture of modern technologies and precious antique workmanship that finds a complete and continuous symbiosis in this cosmopolitan community of over 400 artists. A crossroads where technique and creation meet giving rise to a spontaneous cultural centre, a cradle for new ideas, movements and trends in contemporary art.

Alexandra De Lazareff: classical and mechanical art become one

Alexandra arrived in Pietrasanta some years ago, together with her companion - he, too, an artist - looking for a marble block.

They have since settled here and, having learned the secrets of the fusion process, began to create statues not only in marble but also in metal, bronze in particular. With the rebirth of sculpture during the 1950s and '60s, artistic foundries were born in Pietrasanta. Today, this city can rightly be called worldwide leader in the field of artistic fusion both for the quality and the number of foundries present. Alexandra welcomed us in her home-laboratory, connected to a small but efficient foundry. Art is breathable in her home: every piece of furniture, every corner is rich in history and models of her work are everywhere.

Internationally renowned artist, she has received commissions from important French cities for monumental works located in public squares and parks. Fascinated on the one hand by nature and by its perfect functionality and motion, and on the other attracted as if under an incomprehensible spell to machines, machinery, live pieces belonging to man-made devices, she fuses these two elements in sculptures that have the taste of a modern "mechanical bestiary". And so four-meter high bronze horses are born. These have such an expressive power that they bring to mind the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci or the paintings of Paolo Uccello, built with castoff pieces of mechanical devices. Minotaurs, mechanical bulls, wild boars, fish, elephants where the industrial device is fused with mythological images supplying a poetic and modern interpretation of the relationship between man and nature. And all this in an optimistic vision in which, through the integration between man and machine, motion and creative power is expressed with fascinating strength.

The dream of this artist, who was born in Kiev, raised in Germany and subsequently moved to Paris, is in a certain way explained in her latest work, still only a model, an elk with horns designed like the twelve cylinders of a car. Alexandra De Lazareff dreams of creating a monumental work using the mechanical pieces of a famous car or piece of machinery and, why not, maybe even to mould a gigantic "Ferrari horse".

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