Five years ago, in an interview for La Repubblica, Stella Cervasio asked Giorgio Agamben – a guest of the Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies and presenting the complete edition of his well-known Homo Sacer – why he hadn’t set foot in Naples since 1996. I’ve always found the philosopher’s pithy reply enlightening. He casually stated that he hadn’t had the opportunity. A simple answer that nonetheless has a special meaning for me, given that I chose Via Monte di Dio, and the building right next door to the 18th-century Serra di Cassano, to expand and support my vision of the gallery and gallerist.
The 18th-century palazzo, designed by architect Ferdinando San Felice, is named after the family that owned it, Serra Di Cassano, often mentioned in connection with the events of the Neapolitan Republic of 1799. In fact, Gennaro Serra, rhetorically remembered as the first person to be beheaded in the aftermath of the revolution, dictated the fate of the family and its memory. Therefore, the choice of the palazzo as the headquartersof the Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies, as emphasized in an essay by Domenico Losurdo, who quotes the Institute’s founder Gerardo Marotta, stands as a specific political and constitutive act, in opposition to parasitic stances, but maintaining a continuity with the history of a European capital, often the protagonist of founding historical events for the country. Therefore, the Institute, directly in line with the intellectual tradition of Naples, defines and pursues renewed prestige through research, study and cultural involvement, both nationally and internationally.
For me, that palazzo and the neighborhood where it stands represent an opportunity. It is undoubtedly a victim of facile rhetoric, of a legitimizing history made up of executed revolutionaries, of Parthenopean firsts and breath-taking views. But beyond historiographical allusions and Virgilian historical eschatologies, which in my view are not even that interesting, it bears the signs, the gestures – to quote Agamben again – of a Naples that is not culturally poor, but disorganized, alive; a Naples that fails to see opportunities for willingness, opportunities to achieve an end, a Naples whose gestures of idleness provide an interesting and particular interpretative key. It is a neighborhood with a name bordering on the blasphemous, a building that is not just a container of anxieties about preserving old stuff, but one that houses an institute that writes important pages of research on contemporary life.