5 POINTS TO DISCOVER THE LIFE OF THE GREAT CRITIC (AND HIS EXTRAORDINARY COLLECTION)
Arturo Schwarz and his gallery in Milan were a reference point for Dadaists, Surrealists, and historical avant-gardes across the world. Considered to be the last surrealist, his name is linked to Marcel Duchamp’s
Arturo Schwarz is born in 1924 to a Jewish-German father and a Jewish-Milanese mother in Alexandria, Egypt. His mother is the daughter of an Italian military stationed in Egypt. There she meets Arturo’s father, a chemist, who achieves a certain financial and professional success by developing a new method for food preservation. The couple splits up after a few years, Arturo is placed in his mother’s custody but his mother mistreats him, resentful as she is towards her former partner. The father gains custody of Arturo, who attends the best international schools in the city throughout high school and university, and, once finished with his studies, opens a bookstore.
Politics and imprisonment
In his youth, his greatest passion is politics, which leads him to establish a section of the Fourth International in Alexandria. The enormous respect he has for Trotsky brings him to plan to embark on a journey to Mexico in 1940 with the sole purpose of meeting him. However, the Bolshevik rebel is murdered that same year. In January 1947, due to his political activism and to his Jewish status, he is arrested for subversion and sentenced to death. He is imprisoned for 2 years waiting for a sentence; in prison he is even subject to torture. His death by hanging is sentenced for May ‘49, but in February he is released thanks to the armistice between Egypt and Israel.
His arrival in Italy
During the war, he loses both his German and his Italian citizenships due to being Jewish. Expelled from Egypt after his imprisonment, he decides to regain Italian citizenship and reaches Genova, then Milan. Thanks to a cousin of his who is a banking executive, he obtains credit to start a small publishing company. He also publishes books by Trotsky, Stalin’s enemy, and PCI books. His bank credit is revoked shortly after, for no apparent reason.
The shocking encounter with the surrealist world occurs in the early 1940s, after reading André Breton’s manifesto. The two begin to exchange letters in which Arturo sends poems to the French art critic, who encourages him to pursue writing. It is so that Arturo decides to join the Surrealist group. He begins to spend time with artists such as Duchamp, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, Dalì. During this time, he acquires several works by his colleagues and friends, thus becoming, over the 1950s and 1960s, the greatest collector of Surrealist art in the world.
The Arturo Schwarz collection
Arturo Schwarz owns an important Surrealist art gallery in Milan up to 1974, when he puts an end to his business as an art dealer and decides to donate the majority of his collection. Over 500 pieces, among which 80 works by Duchamp, are donated to the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome: it is the largest donation ever made for contemporary art. The only thing Schwarz always believed to be essential is that the works have to be documented and catalogued, in order to give them scientific dignity. In addition to the donations, he also puts together significant charity auctions with works from his collection.