Luxury fashion houses seem to have, for better or worse, become the de facto custodians of art and culture, a fact supported by Fendi’s recent decision to gift a massive, site-specific sculpture to the city of Rome. Sure, it’ll sit immediately outside the brand’s lush flagship store, but it’s still a major public artwork coming from the same brand that also spent $2.4 million on restorations to the Trevi Fountain in 2015. The sculpture, created by Italian artist Giuseppe Penone and curated by art star Massimiliano Gioni, depicts two spindly trees jointly supporting a large block — a metaphor, perhaps, for the city itself.
“It’s Cyclopean, and it may look natural but this is achieved with great effort,” Gioni told WWD. “[Penone] is the most important living sculptor today in Italy, and I am not exaggerating. He is transgressive but rooted, to employ a botanical pun and connected to the local context and history. He reflects on Rome, its history and the weight of time.”
Foglie di Pietra or “leaves of stone” employs 11 tons of marble plus deceptively realistic-looking bronze trees that reach up to 60 feet high at their tallest point. While the materials have a rich history and connection to the city, the sculpture itself feels distinctly modern. Simultaneously beautiful and thought-provoking, it also represents an artistic evolution for 70-year-old Penone, who is best known as a part of the Arte Povera movement of 1960s and ’70s Italy, which emphasized the use of “humble” materials and the challenging of established institutions.
“I am more fearful of the reaction of the art world than the reaction of the population,” he told the New York Times with regards to the sculpture. “You think of the tree as something solid, but in reality, it is fluid in its growth, and thus malleable, interacting with the environment.”