The Museum of Cultures of Milan (Mudec) is a museum and exhibition center inaugurated in 2014 , dedicated to the enhancement and interdisciplinary research on the cultures of the world. In the Mudec the finds and collections of the ethnographic and anthropological collections of the Municipality of Milan have found their place . The museum spaces also constitute an exhibition center for exhibitions and temporary events.
The Museum of Cultures of Milan is a center dedicated to the interdisciplinary research on the world cultures. Taking inspirations from the civic ethnographic collections and in partnership with our communities, we intend to create a place where to dialogue on contemporary themes by the medium of visual, performing and sound art, design and costume.
In line with constant efforts on the part of the municipal authorities to preserve the memory of the economic and social processes that have shaped the city’s identity, the Milan City Council took steps in 1990 to buy the old Ansaldo industrial plant at Porta Genova and use it for cultural services. The disused factories, authentic monuments of industrial archaeology, have been converted into studios, workshops and new creative spaces.
In continuity with its original vocation but also in response to the need for recognition and revaluation manifested by the foreign communities that have found opportunities to develop and put down roots in the city, the Milan Council decided to create the Mudec Museum of Cultures in the old Ansaldo area to house and display the municipal collections of ethnographic material.
Born out of a salvage operation of industrial archaeology on the site of the old Ansaldo factory in the Tortona area, the Mudec is a meeting place for cultures and communities. The complex comprises different spaces to offer visitors and the city a whole range of cultural events and facilities spread out over an area of 17,000 square metres. The display area is laid out around a large, covered central plaza on the first floor, which hosts the section of the museum with the works of the permanent collection and the rooms used for major exhibitions as well as the auditorium, a theatre with three hundred seats devoted to performances and the visual arts.
The ground-floor reception area includes a bistro, design store, ticket office, cloakroom, the Forum of Cultures, a conference hall/multifunctional space, educational facility, restoration workshop and repositories open to small groups for guided visits. Mudec Junior is a space specially designed for kids, where children too can come into contact with the world’s different cultures through games, multimedia equipment and manual workshops.
The permanent exhibition of Mudec collects 7,000 works of art, everyday objects, fabrics and musical instruments from all continents of the world and aims to provide a representation of the diversity assumed by human cultures in time and space.
Thus are housed finds from the primitive nucleus of the original ethnographic and archaeological collections established in 1858 by the Civic Museum of Natural History , with objects from explorations and missions of some religious orders, both from journeys made in colonial times (such as the collection collected by Giuseppe Vigoni , senator of the Kingdom of Italy and mayor of the city of Milan , in his travels), of which the museum explicitly recognizes the works of dispossession.
The core of the museum’s heritage are the collections of art and culture of the Far East (especially from Japan ), Africa and pre-Columbian America . Integrated and enlarged in the post-war period through a policy of targeted acquisitions, these collections include valuable finds relating to the cultural and artistic production of non-European peoples and civilizations in a chronological span from the first centuries before Christ to the twentieth century. Inside the room dedicated to African cultures there is also a painting, Femme nue (1902), which Pablo Picasso created after visiting the ethnographic collections of the Trocadero in Paris, a work intended to show the multiple connections between European art and the artistic productions of other continents.
Finally, the objects of the museum include a selection from the collection of Manfredo Settala (1600-1680) – one of the first examples of collecting of non-European artifacts in Italy, coming from the Ambrosiana Library – which contains valuable examples relating to both the collectors of naturalia ( curiosities and finds from the animal, vegetable and mineral world), artificialia (naturalia transformed by man in a monstrous or artistic way) and mirabilia and exotica (naturalia and artificialia capable of arousing amazement and wonder, expression of distant and unknown cultures) .
Permanent exhibition: Objects of Encounter
For the first time since the post-war period visitors can admire a selection of this valuable heritage in the rooms on the first floor of the Museum of Cultures, in an organic and carefully considered exhibition, presenting a fully restored collection of material and the results of new, in-depth research that has revealed previously unknown aspects of numerous masterpieces, some of which are being displayed for the first time.
The many core groups that make up the collection of MUDEC have come into the possession of the City of Milan at different historical moments and in different ways: The display tells the story of the constitution of this civic heritage, not only reconstructing the chronology of its formation, but also clarifying
How and why this patrimony – so vast and apparently inhomogeneous in terms of content and provenance – came to Milan, evealing the multiple approaches that have conditioned the research and curiosity of collectors with respect to far-off worlds.
The exhibition is a journey across time and space through encounter/conflict with the ‘other’, starting with the seventeenth century and continuing up to the present day, presenting in the four rooms on the first floor of MUDEC more than 200 works of art, objects and documents selected not only for their extraordinary cultural and aesthetic value, but also as evidence of our society’s ever-changing way of viewing unknown cultures: the sense of wonder inspired by the exotic (Section 1), the drive to evangelise and towards scientific discovery
(Section 2), the desire for conquest (Section 3), and pressing trade motivations (Sections 4 and 5) have compelled people to travel and collect the most diverse range of artefacts, documenting the spirit of the age.
After World War II, which was a dark period for the collection, with much of it being destroyed (Section 6), the City Museums of the Castello Sforzesco launched a targeted acquisitions programme that has continued to the present day and expanded with the decision to found the new museum in 1999. During the post-war period, a different approach to ethnographic collecting gained ground in Milan, the fruit of a more mature and complex vision of the material and production of the ‘other’. This marked the rebirth of the city collections (Section 7), which are today housed in the Museum of Cultures.
With objects from the collection of the canonist Manfredo Settala (1600–1680), the example of a baroque chamber of art and miracles is presented, in which the objects are classified according to the categories Naturalia , Artificialia (objects man-made) and Mirabilia et Exotica (admiring and strange objects) were classified.
The exhibition begins with broad selection from the collection of Canon Manfredo Settala (1600–1680), an eclectic and voracious Milanese collector who, over the course of the seventeenth century, built a rich collection of naturalia (curiosities and finds from the animal, vegetable and mineral worlds), artificialia (naturalia monstrously or artistically transformed by humans) and mirabilia and exotica (naturalia and artificialia that elicit wonder and astonishment and are expressive of far-off and unknown cultures): all pieces that came from places that were almost inaccessible at the time: the Americas, the Near East, sub-Saharan Africa, India and China, documenting the fascination felt for unknown and far-off civilisations.
The Settala Collection, one of the earliest examples of the collecting of non-European artefacts, largely comprises precious works on loan from the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana and is an emblematic case of the Wunderkammer, of ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’, that spread throughout Europe starting in the sixteenth century, for the preservation and display of extraordinary objects from the world of nature or created by human hands in different countries and cultures, for many representing the first ‘draft’, in conceptual and aesthetic terms, of the modern museum.
The second section shows objects collected by missionaries and researchers and marks the growing scientific interest in the 19th century.
The second section presents the early nucleus of the original palaeontology and ethnography collection founded in 1858 by the City Museum of Natural History, gathering together objects collected by explorers and missionaries, including the Missionary Fathers of San Calocero.
Among the explorers, we find the names of a few of the history-making figures in Italian science: travellers like Gaetano Osculati and Paolo Mantegazza, the consul of the Kingdom of Italy, Cristoforo Robecchi and the political exile Antonio Raimondi, an expert on Peru and one of the first to study it in-depth.
There follows a room with exhibits that were added to the collection from the perspective of colonialism.
In the same room, the third section is dedicated to the colonial period. A new breed of travellers, like Giuseppe Vigoni (1846–1914), senator of the Kingdom of Italy and mayor of Milan, headed towards far-off lands, no longer with scientific or religious aims, but with the goal of identifying exploitable resources in view of actual conquest.
This section displays what remains of his collection, which was briefly on view in the 1930s in a room at the Castello Sforzesco along with other ‘colonial trophies’, such as the set-like panoply, a trophy made up of animal horns and African weaponry of various provenance, which has been reconstructed in the final case in the room.
Section 4 highlights the interest of Milan art collectors in the art of the Far East, not least in their textiles from the point of view of the Milanese silk trade.
Section 4 is dedicated to one of the most interesting and curious moments in collecting in Lombardy. In the middle of the nineteenth century, driven by an epidemic that struck the silkworm, a few textile merchants went to various areas of eastern Asia in search of silkworms for the production of the precious thread. Fascinated by eastern craftsmanship, technical expertise and fine materials,
longside the insects these pioneers also brought back to Europe, including Milan, important collections of Chinese and Japanese art objects, which are displayed here: silks, textiles, kimonos, theatrical masks, calligraphy boxes, sceptres, painted porcelain and fined chased bronzes.
Section 5 is devoted to the role of the world exhibitions in the rapid expansion of world trade and the increasing appreciation of foreign cultures, exemplified at the 1906 Milan World Exhibition .
Increasing intellectual interest in and curiosity about the east was also manifest in the Great Expos, which were organised with increasing frequency during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, reaching their apex, in Italy, at the International Exposition in Milan in 1906: the Expositions were an effective means of circulating non-European cultures and art in the west and an excellent vehicle for fine eastern artistic production,
To the point of creating a true fashion for eastern products. At the same time, objects began to be produced in Japan and China specifically for the Expositions and the western market, many examples of which are preserved in the MUDEC collections.
Section 6 reports on the outsourcing and destruction during the Second World War, the subsequent restorations and shows some particularly valuable individual pieces.
This room opens with a video-narrative of the bombardments that struck Milan in 1943, destroying part of the civic collections that had been gathered in the early twentieth century in the Castello Sforzesco, restored by Luca Beltrami to serve as the new seat for all of the City Museums. Unfortunately, a considerable part of the African and Pacific collections was destroyed or damaged, while the Native American and Asian collections were spared,
Having been brought along with materials considered ‘prized’ to the storage facilities in Sondalo, near Sondrio, before the conflict ignited.
This section is completed by a selection of surviving works still bearing traces of damage from the war, including a precious Sino-Tibetan bronze statue of Yamantaka that was restored for this occasion.
The final section of the exhibition is dedicated to private collecting during the post-war period, influenced by the interest of the Avant-Gardes in non-European art.
The selection includes a work from the Museo del Novecento, Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue, which is one of the artist’s studies for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), produced after visiting the ethnographic collections of the Trocadero in Paris, a visit that made a permanent impression on the artist, leading him to develop a new expressive mode indebted to African art, distinguished by simplifying and taking forms to the extreme.
The collections of African art that had been already acquired (Bassani) or previously given on loan (Passarè) have been joined and displayed, in dialogue with Picasso, with the important collection of African art belonging to the Monti family.
In keeping with the same criteria, an abstract work by the historical exponent of the Bauhaus, Anni Albers, on loan from the Albers Foundation, is also on display, presented in comparison with pre-Colombian textiles from the Balzarotti Collection.
Alongside the permanent collections, the Mudec hosts temporary exhibitions and exhibitions aimed at enriching the cultural offer of the museum center and its vocation to give visibility to the various manifestations of cultural diversity. Among the exhibitions held in the first two years of activity we mention:
Worlds in Milan , cultures and exhibitions, 1874-1940 (2015)
Africa, the land of spirits (2015)
Barbie – The Icon (2015)
Gauguin , Tales from Paradise (2015)
Joan Miró , the power of matter (2016)
Italians on the ocean. Stories of artists in modern and indigenous Brazil in the mid-1900s (2016)
Homo sapiens . The new stories of human evolution (2017)
The library of the Museum of Cultures represents a reference point for the research and the studies on non European arts. The heritage counts more than 4000 titles, growing constantly. The bibliographic funds are open to the public by appointment.
Recently the Library of the Museum of Cultures has acquired a number of private donations, which have greatly enriched its heritage. Among these the most important are: the Aldo Lo Curto archive, with more than 600 items (books and multimedia material); the Segre fund (more than 100 books); The Sauro Baldi fund (almost 1000 texts, mainly on Latin American civilizations); The Ricci fund (via Amici Sala delle Asse Association) with more than 100 books on the arts of India, China and Japan. Recently, a book exchange program with other museums and institutions has been developed, so the library collections are constantly increasing.
The MUDEC hosts temporary bookshops dedicated to the shows running and where catalogues, merchandising products and books dedicated to the theme dealt with in the exhibitions can be purchased. The bookshops will also offer unique design items, bijoux, accessories, articles for children (toys and books), souvenirs, that renew constantly drawing inspiration from the various moods of the shows hosted. The bookshops are accessible from the outside even without a ticket and have the same opening hours as the shows I bookshop sono accessibili dall’esterno anche senza biglietto e rispettano gli orari di apertura delle mostre.
The MUDEC Design Store, on the ground floor with large outward looking windows, aims to be a reference point for trends in contemporary design. It draws inspiration from the permanent collections of the Museum of Cultures and in this regard has been conceived as a “Wunderkammer” collecting items that are new and spectacular and that appear to come from a fantastic repertoire. Items that are “Wonderful” from the whole world with the aim of sparking the curiosity of guests or visitors to the Museum. Iconographic repertories drawn from nature and the animal world, new and ancient materials, artisanship and technology, in a cross fertilisation between recovery of traditions and new knowledge, masters of Design and emerging youngsters. Classics of Modern design will also be exhibited, even refined limited edition items. Jewellery, accessories, items for the home and the table, furnishings, books and music. Special new editions commissioned and made specifically to the MUDEC brand will not be missing.
Mudec Bistrot is under the management responsibility of Enrico Bartolini. A smart offer, from breakfast to gourmet lunch and a contemporary classic aperitive, traditional with innovative touches that everyone can appreciate. The dinner time is carachterized by a special proposal inspired to the BISTEKKA concept.
The MUDEC presents an innovative form of governance with a partnership between the public and private sectors involving the Milan City Council and 24 ORE Cultura – Gruppo 24 Ore. Developed through a selection procedure of public transparency, this partnership constitutes an important and pioneering structure capable of respecting the identity of the cultural system and meeting the needs of efficiency and sustainability at the same time. The Milan City Council is responsible for the management, preservation and promotion of the cultural assets as well as supervision of the activities of the Forum of Cultures, while 24 ORE Cultura handles the organization of major exhibitions and additional services.
The significant experience thus developed between the profit and non-profit sectors, the first of its kind in Italy, is based on the sharing of know-how. Generating virtuous dynamics of cultural management, it has led in Milan to the birth of a new cultural hub comprising not only the museum and its exhibitions but also a range of facilities including a cafeteria, design store, restaurant and public car park.