All eyes are on Naples as British art dealer Thomas Dane opens his new gallery in a beautifully restored 19th-century palazzo, showing works by artists such as Steve McQueen, Bruce Connor and Catherine Opie. It’s a move that adds gravitas to the whispers that Naples is the burgeoning city of contemporary art in Europe. In fact, despite its much-beleaguered reputation as an unruly land where Camorra feuds rage and rubbish heaps swell, Naples has always been a city of art.
It has been coveted by artists and patrons alike since Greek settlers laid the first tufo stones 3,000 years ago. With the rise and fall of each empire, kingdom and duchy that made the city of Naples its capital, has come the blossoming and subsiding of its importance – but it only takes a leisurely stroll through the backstreets of the historic centre to see its bygone opulence fossilised into sedimentary layers of cultural history. Look out for slices of Greco-Roman columns set within the facade of a gothic church; a five-a-side football pitch wedged within a frescoed cloister or a stone shrine embossed with a Madonna figure alongside a bronze bust of a Camorra soldier framed in neon.
The arrival of Dane is not only a catalyst for Naples’ exciting future, it’s also a confirmation that the city has always been a great bricolage of art to discover.
The genius of the opening show at the second Thomas Dane Gallery (the original is in London) is that it shows that this newcomer to Naples has a true understanding of a city so often misunderstood by outsiders. The exhibition, conceived to “literally or allegorically draw inspiration from the city”, serves as a paean to Naples, celebrating contrasting Neapolitan themes of death and rebirth, decadence and despair. Whether every show will offer such an insightful take on its surroundings remains to be seen, but the gallery space is worth a visit nonetheless: it’s in a stunning Liberty-style building above the seafront, and from the glass veranda, visitors can look out across the glittering bay to Capri and beyond.
• Via Francesco Crispi 69, thomasdanegallery.com