Venetian Red in Tuscany: Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri

Editor’s Note: During the month of June, Venetian Red posts from Italy, as well as from San Francisco.

Daniel Spoerri, Grass Sofa, 1985-93


Daniel Spoerri’s delightful sculpture park lies just past Seggiano on the country road to Castel del Piano. Filled with contemporary art, Il Giardino provides a refreshing respite from the days upon end one spends in Tuscany viewing 13th century altarpieces. Respite, that is, if one has the good fortune to find Il Giardino. Even armed with a detailed map and explicit directions, this visitor nearly missed it. The spider web of poorly-marked roads that criss-crosses the area easily confounds even the most experienced of navigators. On the verge of making what I was sure was another in a sequence of wrong turns, I noticed, less than 100 meters up the road, two large but tasteful signs announcing the garden.  And, of course, the entrance was exactly where the directions said it would be. . .

Spoerri (born 1930) was born Daniel Isaac Feinstein in Romania and emigrated with his mother to Switzerland in 1942.  The artist is best-known for his “snare-pictures,” sets of objects (such as table settings) found in chance positions, which he affixes together on boards for posterity. In fact, Spoerri has produced a wide body of work, which generally has its artistic roots in Dadaism.

He opened the garden in 1997, but it is still off the beaten track for English-speaking visitors (though German and Italians seem to know it). Think of Il Giardino as a scaled-down version of Storm King—a network of paths, fields, and forested knolls punctuated by about 100 pieces of sculpture. Spoerri is of course well-represented by perhaps two dozen works, including the 1991 very clever Circle of Unicorns and Chamber No. 13, Hotel Carcasonne, Rue Mouffetard 24, Paris 1959-1965, a full-size fun-house-like reconstruction in bronze of the room in which he wrote An Anecdoted Topography of Chance. But he has also filled the park with many other artists, most of whom, though well-known in Europe, might be new to American visitors. (Nam June Paik, Jean Tinguely, and Meret Oppenheim are exceptions.) Swiss-born Eve Aeppl is well-represented by scores of her “extraterrestian” busts, but the park also includes “one-offs” from artists like Roberto Barni (figures on seesaw); Olivier Lucerne (whimsical gaggle of concrete geese); and Italian Giampaolo di Cocco (astartling and sobering Ars Moriendi, which consists of elephant carcasses).

My favorite piece at Il Giardino has to be Israeli artist Dani Karavan‘s site work Adam and Eve. The sliced and gilded trunk of an olive tree creates an abstract pas de deux that speaks to deep layers of symbolism, which are all the more enriched by the work’s siting in Tuscany. Perhaps it was just that they had colonized my subconscious, but I couldn’t help but think of Adam and Eve as a contemporary echo of all those 13th century altarpieces.

Wider Connections

Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri
Daniel Spoerri images
Daniel Spoerri: Coincidence As Master

6 Responses to “Venetian Red in Tuscany: Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri”

  1. You bring me something new in this post. To think I was so close and didn’t know it existed. My interest in gardens of every kind continues to develop in my personal life and art. I recently visited Storm King which you referenced and it was a special place and a special day for me. Reading your blog adds to my knowledge of the art world in so many ways.

  2. It has been a pleasure to read about your month in Italy. Some places were old friends. Others I somehow missed on my trips and you gave me ideas for my next visit. Il Giardino is special. Karavan’s Adam & Eve is brilliant on so many levels. Was it chance that the tree was split? Lightning strike? Or the artist altering the tree just enough to keep the tree alive. And then there are the elephant carcasses… Lot’s to think about. Thank you.

    • Joan
      You ask a very good question, which I don’t know the answer to. There’s nothing from the Daniel Spoerri people that indicated any background on the piece. Unfortunately I haven’t figured out a way to contact Dani Karavan or his gallery to see if they can provide an answer. I’m still researching, will keep you posted. If it’s of interest, the tree looked very much alive and the piece has been there since early 2000s I think.

  3. plantingman Says:

    I’ve always liked Daniel Spoerri’s still lives. The idea of a fond breakfast lasting forever is the most we can hope for.

    As a gardener I find his garden hopeless. As we, as a species, continue to destroy the habitats of other creatures, we can at least try to provide recompense in our gardens.

    Spoerri’s garden is the most sterile I’ve seen for some time. His still lives, probably, support more life than his garden. You can never quite still life in a garden, however hard you try. We shouldn’t be trying. As a race. we sorely need. in whatever space is available to us, to grow whatever we can and do what we can to feed the other natural creatures that we have displaced; and ourselves.

  4. Plantingman:
    I am sympathetic to the notion that man too often fouls (and ruins) the habitats he shares with other species. However, I disagree with your observation that Spoerri’s “garden” is “most sterile.” Perhaps the problem is in the Italian designation “giardino,” which, to English-speakers, connotes a more narrowly-defined concept—i.e. a garden or place devoted to the cultivation and display of plants and nature. But let’s not forget that “formal” gardens have traditionally included “park lands” in their design.

    Walking around the Spoerri Giardino for about an hour led me to a resolute believe that the park works as a “natural” setting in which artworks (rather than cultivated plants) are displayed and enjoyed. I did not find it sterile at all! Rather, I appreciated that Spoerri had preserved the landscape in more or less the way he might have found it—i.e. land already cleared for cultivation. Additionally, one might assume that, due to Spoerri’s park, no further “degradation” of this land will be possible.

    Overall, it seemed to me that Spoerri had captured a moment in the “life” of a landscape, which, in this case, includes the manifestation of man. I wonder whether Il Giardino might in some respect be one giant Spoerri “snare piece.”

  5. Thank you for this enlightening post, Liz. I missed going to Tuscany on my last trip to Italy, which was ’97; I spent most of my time in Rome. What a find. I’ve made note of Il Giardino for next time.

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