In his first speech to parliament, Mario Draghi defined Italy as a “great cultural power, and in the aftermath of this weird pandemic we find ourselves valuing our culture and tourism assets as never before. One such asset is certainly Portofino, the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian, famous for its beauty and historical association with celebrated artistic visitors, and a popular resort since the Romans, who knew it as Portus Delfini.

The words to describe the unique charm of this place have been bequeathed us over the centuries by poets and writers, and in times closer to our own by those who have made culture the focus of their lives. One such is Daniele Crippa, who in the ‘seventies founded and directed the Civic Gallery of Portofino in the enchanting Castello Brown aided by a panel of the most prestigious experts of the time, including Argan, Ballo, Briganti, Maltese, Marchiori, Strehler and Restany, presenting artists they considered interesting and who have since become part of art history: Manzoni, Agnetti, Arman, Rotella, Venet, Parmiggiani, Pomodoro and Mitoraj, to name but a few.

Another of his playgrounds is the garden of Castle Mumm where MuPa – Museo del Parco – Centro Internazionale di Scultura all’Aperto was born more than thirty years ago.

F.1.M.: How did MuPa come to be?

D.C.: For its sheer beauty. At the inaugurations of the exhibitions held at Castello Brown, visitors were always struck by the intriguing view over Portofino from the magnificent Castle, fascinated by the sight of the terraces as they drop to embrace the sea creating one of the world’s most incredible gardens. It took years but I finally managed to separate the activities of the castle and the garden with the idea of hosting sculptures by contemporary masters, and naturally to celebrate the immense passion the garden’s original owner, Baron von Mumm lavished on it (as well as his champagne) collecting rare plants from around the world to establish the extraordinary microclimate we see today. At the time the Civic Gallery had suspended its activities while restorations were going on in the old villa, and I took that as the stimulus for a new challenge.

It certainly wasn’t easy at the start. The artists were a little sceptical at first, but given the power of the name Portofino and I think a little out of respect for my own history, they came to see the space and immediately imagined their works set in the gardens facing onto the port, one of the world’s most glamorous, offering views of the sculptures to the luxurious yachts that line up to moor in this incredible natural haven.

F.1.M.: How are the various works selected?

D.C.: The collection we present to the public isn’t deliberately intended to lean toward any particular artistic style, whether abstract, figurative or informal, but to be a veritable excursus into the world of international sculpture. This is one of the great values of a museum that hosts works in a variety of materials ranging classic marble, ceramic and bronze to new experimental ones like plastics and resin.

F.1.M.: Do the works presented cover a particular period?

D.C.: No, they cover most of the twentieth century, from De Fiori’s work of 1911 to the Fontana (1944) and on to the present with Parra. All the works are by major internationally acknowledged sculptors, like Beuys, Pomodoro, Kosice, Ferrari, Marchegiani, Man Ray, Oppenheim, Spoerri, Cucchi, Cuttica, Tolomeo, Cacciola, Dorfles, Vigo and many others in a dialogue with future masters including Mustica, Costa, Galliani, Micheletti and Hart. And they’re just the best known, given that the list goes on. The park has more than two hundred, all interacting with each other thanks to the juxtaposition offered by the terraces, and the luxuriant vegetation tended by the capable hands of Mumm Castle’s gardeners that protects them from a backdrop that could be more chaotic than harmonious. The figurative works seem to dance and converse with the abstract forms and conceptual creations creating one of the many fascinating aspects of this magical place.

F.1.M.: Does the museum organise other events, as well as exhibitions?

D.C.: It’s such a fascinating space that sometimes, but very rarely, some events appropriate for the place have been held. One such even I remember was the presentation of Ferrè’s “black and gold” perfume, alongside an exhibition of works from Burri to Fontana, all black and gold obviously; others include the three evenings of classical music organised by Publitalia and the “volumes” days, sculptures in dialogue with Azimut’s wonderful yachts. The latest great success for the whole town was the presentation of the new Portofino Red Ferrari. That was when the Panoramic Art Gallery was born. Ferrari wanted a space at the top of the museum from where customers could admire the sculptural beauty of Ferrari Design’s director Flavio Manzoni’s creation, set amongst other works of art.

F.1.M.: Different sculptural forms in a kind of symbiotic dialogue…

D.C.: Very much so. That’s why through its president Daniele Crippa, MuPa is always acquiring new works to enrich the collection further, all chosen with a view to acknowledging international creativity and creating a global vision of how contemporary sculpture can interact with the space, developing a dialogue with the visitors admiring the works.

This unique museum boasts a prologue written by Jorge Luis Borges in 1983, part of which reads “Each statue is a Golem. Psychoanalysts have popularised a parlour game which consists of asking each person what a given word suggests to them. Here I leave written what the word sculpture suggests to me”.

F.1.M.: Future projects?

D.C.: New synergies are developing thanks to this latest municipal council which, in addition to having brilliantly overcome the devastating storm that destroyed the seafront road and isolated the village, and taking on the pandemic with great courage and care, is showing given greater attention to culture. The Museum and the Municipality are working together toward the same goal in the vast world of culture, alongside Castello Brown and the Strehler Theatre.

For the Puri Negri regattas, the Theatre will be putting on an event that I leave you in suspense about for the time being, MuPa will be hosting a sculpture by Edi Rama and the Mayor will be opening the Civic Gallery of Portofino, risen like a phoenix after so many years, with an exhibition of one of the greatest living Italian artists: Elio Marchegiani. 

Everyone’s invited. And who knows what other fireworks the future has in store.