Saying Goodbye to a Legendary Milanese Palazzo

An interior decorator’s family inhabited the sprawling building for six generations. Now, as they leave, he and his partner offer a final look inside.

Article by Nick Haramis

The living room.In the living room of the interior designer Nicolò Castellini Baldissera and the writer and editor Christopher Garis’s apartment within the Casa degli Atellani in Milan, a Tancredi Parmeggiani painting inherited from Castellini Baldissera’s mother, Patrizia, hangs over a sofa and coffee table he designed for his brand, Casa Tosca; a console signed by Jean-Baptiste Gamichon; and a rug by Fedora Design. Photographs by Guido Taroni.

Secreats aren’t easily kept at Casa degli Atellani. From his pied-à-terre on the top floor of his family’s three-storey Milanese palazzo, the Italian interior designer Nicolò Castellini Baldissera, who lives there with his partner of eight years, the American writer and editor Christopher Garis, can see past the courtyard into his aunt Anna’s apartment. His aunt Letizia resides in a different wing. Castellini Baldissera’s father, Piero Castellini Baldissera, an architect and co-founder of the textile company C&C Milano, occupies the ground floor of the rambling 15th-century building, which was once the residence of Piero’s maternal grandparents, the influential rationalist architect Piero Portaluppi and his wife, Lia, the daughter of the industrialist Ettore Conti, who had commissioned Portaluppi to restore and renovate it — tearing down walls to combine two Neoclassical buildings — beginning in 1919. Long before that, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, had gifted the land to his squire Giacometto di Lucia dell’Atella, whose family held onto it for generations and from whom Casa degli Atellani got its name; Leonardo da Vinci spent time there in the late 1490s while painting “The Last Supper” across the street.

Over lunch at the property’s on-site cafe — parts of the estate became a museum in 2015 — Garis says, “It took a little while to adapt to this sort of communal feeling.” Castellini Baldissera offers a blunter assessment. “The walls have ears,” he says. “But you can let them know what you want them to know.”

When Castellini Baldissera left Milan at 18, he thought he’d never return. As a child, he didn’t quite fit in. He collected antiques and listened to waltzes by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II; his classmates at school — “too vulgar”, he says archly, to even locate Vienna on a map — preferred the pop songs of Olivia Newton-John. London, where Castellini Baldissera eventually settled down with his then-wife, Allegra Di Carpegna, an art therapist and former actress (with whom he has two sons), offered an antidote to such provincialism. “I wasn’t running from Milan because I was the son of the king,” he says. “But it is such a small place.”

In the kitchen.
In the kitchen, a Baroque South Tyrolean armoire and a pair of 18th-century giltwood-and-brass chairs flank a bistro table topped with an 1890s Sicilian panel. Photographs by Guido Taroni.

In 2019, owing in part to Britain’s looming exit from the European Union, Castellini Baldissera — who also has residences in Tuscany and in Tangier, Morocco, where he met Garis — returned to a city that had become so vibrant it felt almost foreign. But if Milan had evolved, so had he. “What I hated as a teenager is now reassuring,” he says. “I don’t mind that people know my business. It’s easier.” One thing that hadn’t changed in his three-decade absence was the house itself. When the pair moved into Casa degli Atellani two years ago, they took over an 86-square-metre one-bedroom apartment previously occupied by Castellini Baldissera’s nanny — a woman he refers to as “very religious and particularly pious”. During the 12 years she lived there, the walls remained white and sparingly decorated with dried flowers and crosses; today, the entrance is covered in leopard-print wallpaper. A 12-inch alabaster penis has been prominently positioned on a side table next to a ceramic pig and some preserved monkeys. “Every time my aunt peers out her window at night, she must think she’s looking into an Amsterdam brothel,” says Castellini Baldissera. Partly as a gesture of kindness, Garis frequently draws the curtains.

A collection of souvenirs.
A collection of souvenirs and family portraits, including a drawing of Patrizia by Guido Tallone, surround an 18th-century Genovese bed and a 17th-century northern Italian chest of drawers. Photographs by Guido Taroni.
In the bedroom, a 17th-century oil-painted portrait and a 19th-century taxidermy platypus sit on an Italian Egyptian Revival secretary from 1810.
In the bedroom, a 17th-century oil-painted portrait and a 19th-century taxidermy platypus sit on an Italian Egyptian Revival secretary from 1810. Photographs by Guido Taroni.

In some ways, Castellini Baldissera and Garis — who co-own Casa Tosca, a custom furniture line, and have collaborated on design books — are perfect foils. Castellini Baldissera describes himself as neurotic, creative and moody; Garis, on the other hand, “takes care of the logistics and finances — all the stuff I’m hopeless with”. When they were deciding how to decorate the space, the couple happened to rewatch the 1993 film adaptation of John Guare’s play “Six Degrees of Separation” (1990). Although aspects of the story reflect their own — a gay outsider descends on an extravagant New York apartment — one scene especially captures their dynamic: as an art collector presents both sides of a bilateral work attributed to Kandinsky, one wilder than the other, his wife replies, “Chaos, control. Chaos, control.” Garis, who suggested they paint their walls red and pink like those in the movie, says, “It’s a lot of fun to propose something to Nicolò and see how he interprets it.”

From the narrow foyer, whose floor and ceiling are also covered with leopard print — “That one-square-foot entrance was of no interest whatsoever until we made it ridiculous,” says Castellini Baldissera — one descends a few stairs into the warm dining room, which is just spacious enough for a few potted palms and a circular wood-and-marble table made by Portaluppi. (The marble-panelled bathroom behind the dining room was also his design.) Castellini Baldissera, who ate at that table every Thursday afternoon from the age of six until his great-grandmother’s death in 1978, says he sometimes yearns for those Venetian recipes. As he looks out of a window onto the garden below, he recalls childhood birthday parties with potato-sack races and white peacocks roaming about.

Across from the dining room, most of the furniture in the living area has been designed by Castellini Baldissera: a mustard velvet sofa with purple piping (the scalloped edges of the Castellino, as it’s called, evoke Portaluppi’s signature style), a round poplar coffee table with a rosewood veneer (also inspired by Portaluppi) and an octagonal rattan side table. The space’s assorted objects and artworks create the illusion of having stumbled into a wunderkammer: amid plenty of taxidermy, there’s a pink wool rug with bursts of purple by Fedora Design; a Picasso drawing; a malachite obelisk; and a stack of books by Oscar Wilde.

The walls of the bedroom, which can barely contain the couple’s 18th-century Genovese wrought-iron bed, are painted the colour of a sun-faded plum. “The bedroom was green initially, but it was just too intense,” says Garis. “Not that purple is any less so. But somehow it just works.” Hanging above the headboard is another example of Castellini Baldissera’s theatrical rebellion: a marble fragment of a beefy male nude that could be mistaken, at first, for a crucifix.

The dining room.
A 1950s bronze chandelier purchased from a Paris flea market and a ceramic-framed mirror hang over a dining table that once belonged to the renowned architect Piero Portaluppi, Castellini Baldissera’s paternal great-grandfather, who renovated Casa degli Atellani starting in 1919. Photographs by Guido Taroni.
The courtyard.
In Casa degli Atellani’s courtyard entrance, a 16th-century northern Italian walnut door framed by Roman antiquities and medieval and Renaissance statues, which the family has been collecting for more than six generations. Photographs by Guido Taroni.

This past September, Casa degli Atellani closed its doors to visitors for good. For about a year, there’d been rumours that the French luxury tycoon Bernard Arnault was buying the landmark building. At first, the family implied that the property, which had belonged to them for over a century, wasn’t for sale. But it wasn’t long before the museum closed, and residents — including Castellini Baldissera and Garis — began to vacate the premises.

In November, from his townhouse in Tangier, Castellini Baldissera sounds relieved. “Look, that house had no future,” he says over the phone. “It wasn’t a place that could be divided up more than it already had been. We were lucky to have held on to it for six generations.” According to Castellini Baldissera, the Paris-based billionaire made them an offer too “astronomical” to refuse. Although Arnault’s plans for the property aren’t clear (he declined to comment), popular theories are that it’ll become either a private home or a hotel. For his part, Castellini Baldissera hopes that Arnault will restore his great-great-grandfather’s apartment to its original splendour. 

Shortly before the deal went through, Castellini Baldissera and Garis rented a slightly bigger home two kilometres away, on Via Borgonuovo, next to Giorgio Armani’s place. Meanwhile, many of their former neighbours — Castellini Baldissera’s aunts, along with three of their adult children and some grandchildren — have moved around the corner from Casa degli Atellani into Casa Portaluppi, a severe six-storey structure built by the architect in the 1930s. “They’re all crammed up in there,” says Castellini Baldissera. “For me, it’s a nightmare.” But for them, it’s business — everybody’s business — as usual.

Everything You Need to Know About the 2024 Met Gala

What’s the dress code, who’s hosting, who’s going and how to watch.

Article by Vanessa Friedman

Rihanna, a dizzyingly late arrival at last year’s Met Gala, has confirmed that she will be returning for this year’s event. Photography by Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York Times

First things first: What is the Met Gala?

Officially, it’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit, a black-tie extravaganza held the first Monday in May to raise money for the museum’s fashion wing, the only curatorial department at the Met that has to pay for itself.

Unofficially, it’s the party of the year, the Oscars of the East Coast and “an ATM for the Met” (the last according to publicist Paul Wilmot). Consider that last year’s event raised almost $22 million, while the Met’s Art & Artists Gala raised $4.4 million.

How is that possible? What is the secret sauce?

Two words: Anna Wintour.

Wintour, the global editorial director of Condé Nast and the editor-in-chief of its marquee fashion magazine, Vogue, has been the gala’s chief mastermind since 1999 after first signing on in 1995, and has transformed the event from a run-of-the-mill charity gala into a mega-showcase for Vogue’s view of the world — the ultimate celebrity-power cocktail of famous names from fashion, film, tech, politics, sports and, increasingly, social media. Every brand scratches every other brand’s back.

We think of it as the Fashion X Games or the All-Star Game of Entrances.

When is it?

The big day is Monday, May 6. In theory, the timed arrivals — each guest is allotted a slot — start at 5:30 p.m., usually with the evening’s hosts, and end around 8 p.m. But you try telling Rihanna when to show up. (Last year she came so late, other guests had already begun to leave.)

Is there a theme?

The party signals the opening of the Costume Institute’s annual blockbuster show, and the benefit is usually themed to the exhibition. Last year, that was easy — Karl Lagerfeld, the designer of Chanel, Fendi and his own brand, was both subject and dress code. But this year the show is called “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion,” and it is a lot more convoluted.

It will be built around not fairy tales or Disney, but rather treasures in the museum’s fashion collection so old and delicate that they cannot be displayed on mannequins. Instead, the exhibit will involve AI and 3D recreations of the work, as well as sound and, um … smell. But that’s not all.

The idea of decaying dresses — in total, the show will include about 250 pieces from four centuries — led Andrew Bolton, the Costume Institute’s curator in charge, to think about the ephemerality of nature, which led to gardens … which ultimately led to the party’s dress code.

OK, what is the dress code?

It’s as potentially confusing as the exhibit. Guests have been instructed to dress for “The Garden of Time,” so named after a 1962 short story by J.G. Ballard about an aristocratic couple living in a walled estate with a magical garden while an encroaching mob threatens to end their peaceful existence. To keep the crowd at bay, the husband tries to turn back time by breaking off flower after flower, until there are no more blooms left. The mob arrives and ransacks the estate, and the two aristocrats turn to stone.

Just what comes to mind when you think “fashion,” right?

How this parable will be expressed in fabulousness has left many scratching their heads, but for anyone in doubt, roses are the most likely default. Also corsets, drapery and — hopefully — a great vintage gown or two; given his recent popularity, the smart money is on old Galliano resurfacing.

Still, there may be some surprises. Last year, Jared Leto came dressed as Lagerfeld’s cat, Choupette, in full kitty glory. (After weeks of speculation, the look’s inspiration ultimately did not attend.) Given that Loewe is one of the sponsors of the evening and exhibit, you can expect a lot of Jonathan Anderson creations. He did once make a coat that sprouted real grass. That would look terrific as a formal sheath, don’t you think?

Who are the hosts?

Joining Wintour as the 2024 gala’s co-chairs are Jennifer Lopez, Zendaya, Chris Hemsworth and Bad Bunny, while the honorary chairs are Anderson of Loewe and Shou Chew, the CEO of TikTok. (TikTok is sponsoring alongside Loewe and Condé Nast, though given what is currently happening in Washington with that social media company, whether he shows up at all is a question.) Like the party itself, the combination of hosts is all about the mix: music, film, fashion and social media.

Who are the livestream hosts?

To give an inside look at the gala, Vogue will be livestreaming the event for the fourth year in a row. Hosts have not yet been announced, but last year they included La La Anthony, Derek Blasberg, Emma Chamberlain and Chloe Fineman.

Who’s invited?

The guest list is a closely guarded secret. Unlike other cultural fundraisers, like the Metropolitan Opera gala or the Frick Collection Young Fellows Ball, the Met Gala is invitation-only. Entry is not just about price — which this year is a whopping $75,000 for one ticket ($25,000 more than last year), with tables beginning at $350,000. Qualifications for inclusion have more to do with buzz, achievement and beauty — the gospel according to Anna — than money. Wintour has the final say over every invitation and attendee.

That means that even if you give tons of money to the museum, you won’t necessarily qualify; and even if a company buys a table, it cannot choose everyone who will sit at that table. It must clear any guests with Wintour and Vogue and pray for approval. This year, as in 2023, there are about 400 Chosen Ones, according to a spokesperson for the Costume Institute.

Rihanna has confirmed her presence. Given the hosts, it’s also a pretty safe bet that Ben Affleck, Lopez’s husband, will be there; ditto Elsa Pataky, Hemsworth’s wife. Chances are likewise high that Loewe faces such as Greta Lee, Josh O’Connor, Taylor Russell and Jamie Dornan may also show. There will probably also be a Kardashian/Jenner or two, judging from years past, and odds are good that Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez will step out — though the hottest speculation is around such names as Caitlin Clarke, Sam Altman and the current celebrity royal couple, Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce.

Last year a cockroach made a surprise, and very New York, appearance.

Follow the Footsteps of Icons From Hollywood’s Golden Age

Nowhere but Palm Springs allows visitors to so closely retrace the movements of America’s greatest actors and artists — and live as they did.

Article by Craig Tansley

A house in Palm Springs.A house typical of the style known as Desert Modernism, which makes Palm Springs, California, a magnet for architecture fans. Photograph courtesy of Visit Greater Palm Springs.

Towards the end of his long life, Palm Springs architect Donald Wexler was invited to spend time at one of his finest creations: the former home of the 1940s and ’50s singer and TV icon Dinah Shore, which Wexler designed in 1964. He sat for hours in the property’s deep sunken lounge studying his masterpiece, created in the unique Midcentury style he helped pioneer — Desert Modernism.

Leonardo DiCaprio owns the house now (he bought it in 2014 for $US5.2 million [$AU8 million]), but when Shore was in residence, her parties — just like her pal Frank Sinatra’s — were Palm Springs’s most anticipated. Poolside soirees attended by Hollywood’s elite in 1960s and ’70s Palm Springs are now immortalised on walls around the world thanks to the photographer Slim Aarons’s iconic prints.

The home has some 700 square metres of living space, including six bedrooms and seven and a half bathrooms, each decorated a different colour (forest green was Shore’s favourite). There are deep soaking tubs and a Finnish sauna, a grand piano and a huge stone fireplace. As well as half a hectare of lawn, there’s a pool and a casita for guests beside a tennis court that has an extra gate, added so Shore’s neighbour Kirk Douglas didn’t have to walk the long way around to visit. It may be DiCaprio’s holiday home, but anyone with the means to rent it can do so, at $US3,750 ($AU5,750) per night.

Located at 432 Hermosa Drive, a few hundred metres off Palm Springs’s main drag, the Dinah Shore Palm Springs Estate is part of the Old Las Palmas neighbourhood, around the corner from Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s glass-dome honeymoon home. The house that Marilyn Monroe is rumoured to have rented is 200 metres away. At the end of the street, Elizabeth Taylor’s former place — a low-slung structure on a pretty 2,300-square-metre block colloquially known as “Casa Elizabeth” — just sold for $US3.5 million ($AU5.4 million).

As I ride through Old Las Palmas, I’m surrounded by low green hedges and boulevards of tall fan palm trees and endless rows of flowering pink and purple bougainvillea under blue skies. Dean Martin’s home, on my left, is swiftly falling into disrepair, the only one like it on this otherwise manicured street. Howard Hughes’s house is close by, and Liberace’s, too — he often waved to fans through his bedroom window as they lined the street outside during his last days, in 1987. All these homes — all this history, like a living museum — are all so, so close to the street. Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Malibu hide their stars within mega-estates behind patrolled gates, but in Palm Springs, anyone can walk in the footsteps of Hollywood’s greatest artists.

Marilyn Statue.
Artist Seward Johnson’s “Forever Marilyn” statue, which depicts Marilyn Monroe’s famous moment in the 1955 film “The Seven Year Itch”, was created in 2011 and is now a Palm Springs landmark. Photograph by Tara Howard.

The appeal doesn’t just lie in the accessibility to the homes of the icons of Hollywood’s golden age — anyone with the means can live as they did. For $US3,300 ($AU5,060) a night, one can rent out Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms home, completed in 1947, with its piano-shaped pool and the two palm trees after which the property was named. Apparently, Sinatra used to raise a Jack Daniel’s flag between the trees to let his neighbours know drinks were on.

But visitors to Palm Springs don’t need to go to such extravagant lengths to experience the town’s golden history. I’m staying at the late-1940s-era Villa Royale, just off the main road, tucked away behind walls of green vegetation. Like a lot of Palm Springs’s overnight options, it’s more time capsule than accommodation. It’s said that Irving Shulman came up with the idea for the screenplay of “Rebel Without a Cause” while lounging by the pool outside my room, looking over palm trees to the snow-covered San Jacinto Mountains behind (I can’t think of anywhere else on earth where palms and snow coexist quite like this). Tiny hummingbirds with amethyst helmets and dusky green tail feathers hover among the citrus trees that line the path to my room. Dinner is served at the intimate bar and eatery Del Rey, a labyrinth of oak and marble set deep inside stucco walls. Afterwards, guests can retire to chairs around a firepit on the cobblestones, beneath the other stars of this town. There’s a black and white photo of the Beatles on the wall in the reception area; I don’t ask if they stayed here, preferring it to remain a mystery. Because in this town, who knows?

The Palm Springs Visitor Information Center
The Palm Springs Visitor Information Center, designed in 1965 by Albert Frey as a service station. Photograph courtesy of Visit Greater Palm Springs.
The pool area at Frank Sinatra’s former estate Twin Palms
The pool area at Frank Sinatra’s former estate Twin Palms, designed by E Stewart Williams, which can now be rented. Photograph courtesy of Visit Greater Palm Springs.

In the heart of Palm Springs, guests still dress to the nines at Melvyn’s Restaurant, a classic American steakhouse inside the 100-year-old hotel Ingleside Estate. There are white tablecloths and waiters in bow ties, and nightly jazz around the grand piano in the Casablanca Lounge. It was Sinatra’s favourite restaurant in town for decades; diners would stop talking when he showed up to eat. His table is the one in the corner, table 13. His order was steak Diane — he’d have it flambéed by his table.

Even the hotspots for the stars of today hark back to this golden age. The resort and hotel the Parker Palm Springs, which has attracted the likes of Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr, was originally the estate of the Western movie star Gene Autry, also known as the Singing Cowboy. The Parker’s restaurant is so discreet I can barely find the place: there’s no signage except a neon “open” sign out the front. Downstairs at Mister Parker’s there’s a “jacket required” dress code for men, and soft velvet seating with lighting so dim I need the torch on my phone to read the menu. Leonardo DiCaprio occasionally rents out the restaurant on his visits.

Hollywood came to Palm Springs in the 1930s when the heads of the film industry passed a directive that talent had to stay within a two-hour drive of Hollywood while working on productions. But Palm Springs was a haven for artists long before it was a town of movie stars. Drawn by the stark desert landscape and the rich yellow light in a place where the sun shines 350 days a year, some of America’s greatest artists came here to live — painters such as Maynard Dixon and Conrad Buff. Most were unknown when they arrived; now, Dixon’s work sells for millions.

Art is all over Palm Springs if you take the time to look for it. There are murals and sculptures across Greater Palm Springs (the ArtsGPS app shows all the sites, exhibitions and art-related events) and there are even arts districts, like the Backstreet Art District on the drive out to Cathedral City, where studios of contemporary painters, sculptors and lithographers still carry the flame.

If it wasn’t for the Hollywood takeover, bus tours might be going to the homes and studios of Palm Springs’s best artists instead of the film stars’. There is an art trail of sorts: the Smoketree Art Trail includes the living and working spaces of some of the 20th century’s best-known artists. Many buildings have been torn down, and I have to look hard for those that still stand. My favourite is Korakia Pensione, three blocks west from Palm Springs’s downtown area. Originally called Dar Marroc, it was modelled on a Moorish castle. Scottish artist Gordon Coutts built it in the 1920s for the property’s unimpeded views of the snowcapped mountains above. Among the guests who visited — some to paint with Coutts — were Errol Flynn, Rudolph Valentino and Winston Churchill. The home has since been turned into a Mediterranean-style resort surrounded by half a hectare of citrus and olive trees and date palms. It’s still a popular gathering place for artists. There’s a studio on the upper level with an unobstructed view of the mountains that Coutts immortalised on canvas.

Even former US president Dwight Eisenhower came to Palm Springs to create art. Inspired by Churchill’s passion for painting, Eisenhower learned techniques from the famed local artist Paul Grimm, in a studio a short walk from one of the first hotels in town, the Desert Inn.

The poolside Biscayne Villa at Villa Royale
The poolside Biscayne Villa at Villa Royale, a Palm Springs fixture built in 1947. Photograph courtesy of Villa at Villa Royale / Matt Gush.
A view of downtown Palm Springs with its signature palm trees and backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains.
A view of downtown Palm Springs with its signature palm trees and backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains. Photograph courtesy of Visit Greater Palm Springs.

Despite Palm Springs’s storied history as a gathering place for the powerful and famous, the city’s architecture is the real star here. The iconic buildings are still standing, perfectly preserved in this high, dry desert air. Desert Modernism may live on forever, emulated as it is all over the world. There’s not one unsightly street in the entire place — Walt Disney’s house looks no different from his neighbours’ in this most egalitarian of Californian high societies — and the artistry begins the moment you arrive.

Donald Wexler designed the Palm Springs Airport in 1965 so that visitors arriving from wintry places could marvel immediately at the beauty of the desert through nearly 10-metre-high windows framing the San Jacinto Mountains. Palm Springs has one of the highest concentrations of preserved Midcentury modern architecture anywhere in the world. A cross-town drive here is a tourist attraction in itself: every hedge has been trimmed immaculately and flowers bloom even in the depths of winter.

Travel by car proves too fast to pick up the subtleties in the designs around me. Some days I walk the streets for hours. For 11 days each February during Modernism Week (and four days in October), visitors can go beyond the streets and into hundreds of homes.

Young architects with fresh ideas arrived here in the years after WWII — people like E Stewart Williams, who was commissioned by Sinatra to build a Georgian-style mansion to flaunt his wealth. He convinced the star to instead allow him to experiment with minimal lines, long low rooflines and floor-to-ceiling windows, bringing the outside of Palm Springs inside. Williams, Wexler, John Lautner and company created a whole new world in the desert.

These creations, the architects who conceived them and the other luminaries of canvas and screen who lived out here in the high desert stay alive through careful preservation. Palm Springs is not Beverly Hills. The point of being here is not to ogle, it’s to imitate: to follow in the footsteps of those who helped create one of the greatest little desert communities on earth.

This article first appeared in our nineteenth edition, page 90 of T Australia with the headline: “In the Footsteps of Giants”
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The Artist Andres Valencia Has Been Compared to Picasso. He’s Only 12 Years Old.

“Some days I paint, other days I don’t,” he says. “It just depends on how much homework I get.”

Article by Lance Richardson

The artist Andres Valencia with his painting “Lourdes” in his home studio in San Diego.The artist Andres Valencia with his painting “Lourdes” in his home studio in San Diego. Photograph by Elsa Valencia.

In 1889, Pablo Picasso painted “Le petit picador jaune”, a small work in oil inspired by visits he made with his father to the bullfights in Spain. In the centre of the painting is a bullfighter on horseback, his pants and jacket, or “chaquetilla”, a blazing yellow. It is an extraordinary effort for an artist who was only eight years old at the time — a sign of budding genius.

Earlier this year, Andres Valencia painted “Romero”, a medium-sized work inspired by nothing but his own imagination and perhaps a picture he saw somewhere. It shows a bullfighter surrounded by blazing yellow, his chaquetilla embroidered with flowers and jewels, his face a swirl of Cubist abstraction. It is a dazzling effort for an artist who is only 12 years old — a reincarnation, one can’t help but wonder, of Picasso in modern-day San Diego?

Andres's artwork tiled “Romero”.
Andres's artwork tiled “Romero”. Image courtesy of the artist.

Over Zoom, Valencia seems a typical American boy. He squirms and yawns and sighs, shy and maybe a little bored by the adult conversation going on around him (and who could blame him?). He plays with his dog, Nieva, a rescue, who pops in and out of frame on his lap. What inspired him to start painting at age five? “Painting was always something that made me calm, something that was always fun for me,” he says in a way that suggests it was no big deal, just his life, whatever. “So I would do it, like, a lot.”

The fact that Valencia’s paintings sell for up to $US230,000 ($AU350,000) doesn’t seem to faze him very much. His debut show in New York sold out on the opening day. Collectors including Sofía Vergara, Tommy Mottola and Jessica Goldman Srebnick have acquired his work. In 2022, when he was 11, he became a media sensation at Art Miami in Florida, where Forbes suggests he made $US1.3 million ($AU1.96 million) in a matter of days. He has also raised more than a million dollars for charities including amfAR and UNICEF. The artist has some 261,000 fans on Instagram, where he can be seen serenely painting canvas in real-time videos filmed in his art studio (i.e. his parents’ basement). His career would be considered accomplished for any artist, let alone one still years away from qualifying for a driver’s licence.

His classmates were the first to notice there was a prodigy in their ranks. They were drawing “smiley faces and stuff”, Valencia says, while he was doing “an eye here, an eye here, a mouth there”, surrealist elements that are, again, very Picasso-like in character. When Valencia was in first year at school, his mother, Elsa Valencia, stopped by to take photographs (“I was the mum who always went in and took pictures during Halloween, Valentine’s and so forth”), and was shocked to see her son’s classmates all rushing over to see what he had drawn. Then the other mothers started telling her that they couldn’t believe his talent. “And so that was the beginning of me thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh,’ ” she says.

Elsa and her husband, Lupe, encouraged their son by supplying him with paints and canvases. One day, towards the end of the pandemic, a family friend noticed a particularly impressive canvas and announced his intention to buy it. Elsa resisted initially, but the friend was Bernie Chase, a New York art dealer with a gallery in SoHo named Chase Contemporary. “Bernie convinced us to allow him to take 10 canvases to New York,” Lupe says. “Bernie said, ‘Look, this is real serious art. This is not just kids’ art.’ ” Chase’s clients seemed to agree. The paintings got so much attention in New York that Chase decided to take Valencia to the Art Miami fair. “What are you talking about?” his parents recall asking. The idea was absurd. “His line to us was, ‘This is beautiful art and the world has to see it.’ ”

Valencia had just turned 10 when he found himself with his own booth at one of the biggest art fairs in the world. By day two, every painting had sold. The director of Art Miami, Nick Korniloff, invited Valencia to do a demonstration. Crowds crushed in to watch the curious spectacle of a 10-year-old making art in a hall filled with artists who had spent decades honing their craft. “I don’t really get stage fright,” Valencia says. “It was really fun knowing all those people were there just to see me paint.”

In production is a coffee table art book to be published by DK Penguin Random House in early 2025. Valencia’s work will also be auctioned by the international auction house Phillips on May 14 (in New York) and June 1 (in Hong Kong), following Phillips’ earlier sales of four of his paintings, one of which went for $US160,000 ($AU245,000). And Valencia will be at Frieze Seoul in South Korea in September. But Elsa is a tough manager, careful not to let her son get pulled in too many directions. Even interviews like this one are carefully negotiated so he is never overwhelmed by the spotlight. “I control the whole situation,” Elsa says. “I always tell people he has to be a little boy first. He goes to public school. He has friends who go on bike rides, play outside. That is our priority before anything else.”

What does Valencia himself think about being a global art sensation? How does he balance fame with life as a boy in Southern California? The other kids at school saw him on TV, which was “really cool”, he says proudly, but the idea of having to balance anything seems never to have crossed his mind until now. “Some days I paint, other days I don’t,” he says. “It just depends on how much homework I get.”

This article first appeared in our nineteenth edition, page 24 of T Australia with the headline: “The Prodigy”
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The Man on a Mission to Catch a Thief

Anthony Amore has dedicated his career to catching the culprits behind a 1990 art heist that remains the biggest property theft in history.

Article by Viola Raikhel

The stolen artwork.Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (1633) was among 13 artworks stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Photograph courtesy of Isabella Stewart / Gardner Museum, Boston.

In the hallways of the world’s most esteemed galleries, the threat of lawbreakers is ever present. The world of art crime – involving theft, forgery and fraud – is a shadowy place where beauty and betrayal collide, and decades-old mysteries remain unsolved.

One man working tirelessly in this space is Anthony Amore, the director of security and the chief investigator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. He’s also the author of bestsellers such as “Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists” and “The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World”. Art crime is Amore’s world: he lives and breathes it and has even found friendship with former underworld figures. But make no mistake, he is driven by justice and a desire to uncover the truth. His ultimate aim is to restore stolen treasures to their rightful owners and preserve the integrity of the art world for generations to come.

Amore was appointed to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 2005, 15 years after the institution was rocked by a heist — one that is still the biggest property theft in modern history.

In the early hours of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers walked into the museum, famed for its collection of Renaissance art. After tying up the guards, the pair announced, “Gentlemen, this is a robbery”, then made their way through the institution, stealing 13 artworks, now estimated to be worth at least half a billion dollars. Only the gilded frames remained where three Rembrandts, five Degas sketches, one Vermeer, a Manet and a landscape by Flinck once hung. A relatively valueless Chinese vessel and a French Imperial eagle finial were also stolen.

Amore and his partner in the investigation, Geoff Kelly of the FBI Art Crimes Task Force, believe they know who did it, but without recovering any of the art, the case remains unsolved.

Anthony Amore
Anthony Amore has spent the past two decades investigating the largest art heist in modern history. Photograph courtesy of Anthony Amore .

Amore and I sit down to talk about the heist that has haunted him for years. He also sets the record straight when he reveals that the dashing billionaire Thomas Crown (played by Pierce Brosnan in the 1999 film “The Thomas Crown Affair”) is not an archetypal art thief. (Admittedly, I may have been swept up in the romanticised movie narrative, which depicts a stolen masterpiece being admired in exotic locales before its safe return.)

They say it takes a thief to catch a thief, so it makes sense that Amore is friends with the likes of Myles Connor Jr, said to be the world’s greatest art thief (he stole a Rembrandt from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1975, which he later returned, and claims to have been involved in about 30 other heists, many of which he says the authorities know little about); Florian “Al” Monday, the first person to steal a masterpiece at gunpoint when he took two Gauguins, one Rembrandt and a Picasso from the Worcester Art Museum in Boston in 1972; and Octave “Oky” Durham, who stole two Van Gogh paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002.

Amore isn’t one to shy away from the controversy that his unconventional friendships bring. “I took a little heat for it, but I don’t care — I mean, it’s part of the job,” he says. “If I have the opportunity to pick the brain of the greatest art thief in history, I’m certainly going to. We just happened to have formed an affection for each other.”

Of course, Amore has made friends on the other side of crime, too. His dear friend and mentor was the late former Scotland Yard detective sergeant Jurek “Rocky” Rokoszynski, who in 2002 recovered the Turners belonging to the Tate in London, which were stolen during a loan to a museum in Germany in 1994.

The 34-year mystery behind the theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has experienced renewed interest of late, with the release of documentaries such as Netflix’s 2021 program “This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist”.

“Pragmatically speaking, we know that these are going to be made with co-operation or not,” Amore says. “I’m happy whenever the images are shown to the public. Exposure of the items to the public can lead to a recovery.”

Amore works tirelessly to protect the existing collection at the museum while he continues the ongoing investigation. “One of the reasons that the museum was interested in me, I have this unique experience where I did security for large, busy facilities, but also investigations, which don’t always intersect in the federal government,” he says. “I just happened to do both. So the museum needed someone to secure the collection, which is my number-one priority — protecting what we have in place — and number two, work on this investigation.

“The first day after the robbery, one of our board members worked to get Christie’s and Sotheby’s to put up the money,” Amore continues, referring to the global fine art brokers. “So we had a $1 million [$AU3.6 million in today’s money] reward right from the get-go. The museum took over that reward in 1997 and raised it to $5 million. It became the biggest private reward ever offered. In 2017, we doubled it to $10 million.”

Amore consulted his crew of art thief friends, who told him $5 million was more than enough. “The reward is prorated based on the condition and value of the work we get back,” he says.

The investigator has delved deep into the psychology of art thieves by working with behavioural assessment specialists and building a heist database. “I have something like 1,500 heists in this database,” he says, “and you’ll find a good number of instances in history, especially in Europe, where a museum is robbed of very valuable paintings, and the thieves are quickly apprehended, convicted, serve their sentences and are released without the art being recovered.” He adds that in art theft, “knowing who stole paintings and knowing where the paintings are years later are two vastly different things. And that’s where we are in this investigation. The only thing we care about is putting paintings back in frames. That’s it.”

In the penultimate scene in “The Thomas Crown Affair”, the pulsing rhythm of Nina Simone’s classic song “Sinnerman” mirrors the cat-and-mouse game at the heart of the film. Similarly, Amore’s investigation reminds us that sometimes the greatest thrills in life lie in the shadows, waiting to be uncovered.

This article first appeared in our nineteenth edition, page 50 of T Australia with the headline: “To Catch a Thief”
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The 10 Best Things at Salone del Mobile

From an exhibition in a 1940s-era Modernist house to a blood-red sofa, the highlights of Milan’s annual design fair.

Article by Monica Khemsurov

A Mario Bellini for Tacchini Le Mura sofa remade in Gucci’s new signature shade of red, Ancora Rosso, on view in the fashion brand’s Milan flagship store. Photograph courtesy of Gucci.

The annual Salone del Mobile furniture fair has always been big — it’s the event of the year for the international design world, drawing hundreds of thousands of makers, curators, editors and buyers to Milan each April for a week’s worth of inspiration, shop talk and aperitivi. Even more so than fashion week, the fair consumes the city. But this year’s edition seemed to buzz with a new level of excitement, with more people from outside the design industry joining the throngs and hourlong lines forming outside events like the launch of the French luxury brand Hermès’s interiors collection, the annual installation by the Milanese architecture firm Dimorestudio and the satellite fair Alcova’s takeover of the Modernist architect Osvaldo Borsani’s former home — this despite the house being a 45-minute drive north of the city centre. Luckily, there were so many interesting presentations on view that braving the crowds felt well worth it. Here, 10 standouts.

Formafantasma’s Floral Chairs and Futuristic Lights
Left: Formafantasma’s new furniture for Giustini/Stagetti gallery, exhibited at the Fondazione ICA Milano. Right: the duo’s Superwire lights for Flos. Photograph courtesy of Formafantasma. Photograph by Andrea Rossetti; Fondazione ICA Milano. Photo by Nicolò Panzeri.

One of the most talked-about openings of the week was the Milan-based design duo Formafantasma’s solo show at the Fondazione ICA Milano, for which the pair — Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin — drew on memories of their childhood homes in Italy to create surprising hybrid chairs and lamps that pair steel armatures with colourful wood, frilly fabrics and hand-painted or embroidered floral motifs. The aesthetic was institutional furniture meets Italian grandma’s house. Formafantasma also debuted a new series of utilitarian but delicate lights for Flos made from LED strips enclosed in thick glass panels.

A New Furniture Line From Dimorestudio
Pieces from Britt Moran and Emiliano Salci’s new furniture brand, Interni Venosta, displayed inside a plaster workshop in Milan’s Chinatown. Photograph by © Andrea Ferrari.

Once people began posting photos on social media of the launch of Interni Venosta, a new furniture brand from Britt Moran and Emiliano Salci, the founders of Dimorestudio, the line’s exhibition quickly became a must-see — partly for its pairing of bold minimalist forms with luxe materials like walnut and steel, and partly because it was presented in an extremely photogenic local plaster workshop. The brand’s name pays homage to the cult Italian designer Carla Venosta, who created modernist furniture and interiors in the 1970s and ’80s.

Gucci’s Blood-Red Design Icons
A Gae Aulenti and Piero Castiglioni Parola lamp, left, and a set of Nanda Vigo for Acerbis Storet drawers, right, both in Gucci’s Ancora Rosso, at the brand’s Milan flagship store. Photograph courtesy of Gucci.

Having recently redone part of Gucci’s Milan flagship store entirely in a deep oxblood red, the brand’s creative director, Sabato De Sarno, partnered with five Italian design companies to reimagine some of their classic pieces in the house’s new signature colour, Ancora Rosso. The lineup, installed for the week on the store’s second floor — inside a lime-green carpet maze created by the Spanish designer Guillermo Santomà — included Gae Aulenti and Piero Castiglioni’s Parola lamp, Nanda Vigo’s Storet cabinet, Mario Bellini’s Le Mura sofa, Tobia Scarpa’s Opatchi vase and a new rug created by Nicolò Castellini Baldissera based on motifs by his great-grandfather Piero Portaluppi. Each item will be produced in a limited edition of 100.

A Takeover of a Modernist Architect’s Fomer Home
At the Alcova fair’s Villa Borsani location, from left: a marble table by Agglomerati and Tino Seubert, and steel office furniture by Supaform. Photograph courtesy © Giulio Ghirardi; © Sean Davidson.

Since its inception in 2018, the Alcova satellite fair has become the place to discover new talent during Salone. This year, it occupied two historic mansions outside the city: the 19th-century Villa Balgatti Valsecchi and the 1945 Villa Borsani. The latter venue, the former residence of the architect Osvaldo Borsani, was the hotter ticket and featured pieces like a two-tone wood room divider by Anthony Guerrée for Atelier de Troupe, a family of marble tables with columnar legs by Agglomerati and Tino Seubert and a suite of galvanized-steel office furniture by the Russian designer Supaform, which was exhibited in Borsani’s onetime home office.

A Dispatch From the Americas
At Unno Gallery’s presentation, from left, brown lacquer furniture by Mark Grattan, a minimalist mirror and chair by Estudio Persona and a mirror and stool made with seashells by Andrea Vargas Dieppa. Photograph by © Alejandro Ramirez Orozco.

Hidden down a long, dark hallway directly next door to Hermès’s big Salone presentation was “Origen,” a comparatively understated show of works by four up-and-coming Latin American(-ish) designers for the New York- and Mexico City-based Unno Gallery. Among the pieces on display were brown lacquer desks and shelves with reverse-waterfall legs by Mark Grattan, an American designer who was based in Mexico City for many years, and a series of glittering stools and mirrors, covered in crushed iridescent seashells, by the Colombian designer Andrea Vargas Dieppa (a co-founder of the 2010s-era shoe brand Dieppa Restrepo).

Unusual Lamps Commissioned by Loewe
Lights commissioned by Loewe and made by Anthea Hamilton, left, and Alvaro Barrington, right. Photograph courtesy of Loewe.

For its eighth and biggest Salone exhibition, the Spanish luxury house Loewe commissioned 24 artists and designers from around the world to create lamps in materials and styles of their own choosing. The results range from the futuristic (a tangle of neon tubes by the London-based artist Cerith Wyn Evans) to the eccentric (a miniature storefront with metal shutters and a pull cord by the London-based painter Alvaro Barrington) to the rustic (an ancient-looking ceramic vessel punched with holes, and lit from within, by the Japanese artist Kazunori Hamana).

Two of six beds designed and exhibited by the Georgian interiors firm Rooms Studio
Two of six beds designed and exhibited by the Georgian interiors firm Rooms Studio. Photograph by Lile Revishvili; Levan Maisuradze.

Eye-catching beds are a true rarity in the design world, which is why there was so much interest this week in an exhibition of six of them, all produced by the Tbilisi, Georgia-based firm Rooms Studio — founded by Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia — in materials ranging from chunky wood to thin steel tubes with steer-head finials. The design duo were inspired to focus on the oft-overlooked category by their struggles to source great bed frames for their own interiors projects.

Dolce & Gabbana’s Next Generation of Design Talents
Works from Dolce & Gabbana’s Gen D show, from left: enameled vessels by Jie Wu and a crab-shaped mosaic table by Mestiz. Photographs courtesy of Dolce & Gabbana.

The Italian fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana’s second annual Gen D project reflects the company’s commitment to supporting young talent both within and beyond the fashion world. For the ambitious group exhibition, the house enlisted the Italian curator Federica Sala to pair 10 international designers with sixteen Italian craft workshops. Among the resulting pieces are interesting stylistic and cultural mash-ups like the Chinese designer Jie Wu’s wild, squiggly vessels, which feature Chinese and Sicilian good-luck motifs and are coated in classical Venetian enamel.

Two photos of Modernist architectural details, from the more than 3,000 images exhibited in Adam Štěch’s “Elements” show.
Two photos of Modernist architectural details, from the more than 3,000 images exhibited in Adam Štěch’s “Elements” show. Photograph by© Adam Štěch.

In a simple but memorable exhibition mounted in one of the tunnels that flanks Milan’s central train station, the Czech writer, curator and photographer Adam Štěch — along with his colleagues Matěj Činčera and Jan Kloss — displayed over 3,000 photos of details from famed Modernist homes and buildings. In shooting the photos, which he’s shared on his Instagram account, @okolo_architecture, over the years, Štěch focused on interiors and furnishings that were custom-made for each project by their architects. It was easy to get lost in the show, poring over doorknobs, stair rails and lamps from around the world.

Works from a show of furniture made from the acrylic-resin material Fenix.
Works from a show of furniture made from the acrylic-resin material Fenix. From left: a Ping-Pong table by Martinelli Venezia and a double-sided rocking chair by Zanellato/Bortotto. Photograph by Claudia Zalla.

The exhibition “Design Duo Double Feature,” also curated by Federica Sala, was a thoughtful example of a materials brand commissioning designers to show off the potential of its products: The six pieces in the show were all made from the acrylic-resin surface material Fenix and designed by up-and-coming Italian studios like Cara \ Davide, Mist-O and Zanellato/Bortotto. A standout was the Match table by Martinelli Venezia, a circular two-tone Ping-Pong table whose “net” is formed from a tenting of its top.