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The Mysterious Baths Fountain

A snapshot of Giorgio de Chirico's childhood memories, a glimpse of that sea and beach missing in Milan

The Mysterious Baths Fountain by Giorgio de Chirico is simply marvelous. And that is not enough: extraordinary, surprising. The Triennale is one of the major museums of the city, dating from 1923, characterized by candid and imposing architecture of the time, it houses the most important exhibitions of contemporary art and that’s not all. Within, there is also a restaurant and a super stocked library.

But today we are going to have a look behind the museum. “Behind?!” You say. “You mean where you hide the brooms and mops and the odds and ends you don’t want anyone to see?” Not all places are the same. Sometimes the back is an intimate and surprising place that we reserve for a select few. I had been there once, and another time I had seen it from the height of Torre Branca. So I don’t really know how to get in, I wander around the yards of a Milan that is still packed up getting more beautiful everyday and I find the entrance to the building. At first glance no clues. A little disoriented and even embarrassed caught in the line for the exhibitions, I ask the first person I see who kindly shows me to keep going all the way down to the end, but all the way down and then to the right.

I make my way among people and exhibition panels. Displays with a gastronomy theme, windows that show the Mc Donalds collection by Jeremy Scott for Moschino, windows that house era type packages of Barilla pasta and the first images of the Pavesi Autogrill on the Laghi Highway. I hesitantly follow the directions, already ready to make a mistake and turn around. But no: in front of me is a wooden staircase that opens up into a brilliantly green garden framed by an intensely blue sky, like a clear morning after a storm. In front of me is an imposing giant inflatable in the form of a ketchup bottle. But I quickly look beyond, towards what I was looking for, and before my eyes I see in all its magnificent colors: the restored Mysterious Baths Fountain by Giorgio de Chirico.

Two torsos, a brunette and a blonde, emerge from the waters and satisfy all preferences. A Swan whose outline reminds us of the floating boats at the amusement park. A multicolor fish and a colored beach ball take us right to the shore. You’ve even got a real cabin for swimmers with wind flags. Marvelous. The work was inaugurated in November of 1973, in occasion of the fifteenth Triennale for that year. It was constructed in record time, 35 days, funded by the Count Paolo Marzotto, using Vicenza marble. When he was presented with the idea of constructing a monument for the inaugurations of the Milan Triennale of ’73 Giorgio de Chirico proposed to give the city a snapshot of his childhood memories, a glimpse of that sea and of that beach that were missing in Milan.

In fact, even though De Chirico is a builder of enigmas, the Mysterious Baths Fountain is one of the easiest and most joyful. In a manuscript the artist confesses that: “the idea for the mysterious bath fountain came to me while I was in a house whose floor had been polished with wax. I saw a man walking ahead of me whose legs were reflected on the floor. I had the impression that he could have sunk, like in a pool. That he could move and swim. So I imagined strange pools with men immersed in that sort of water parquet, who moved and played and sometimes even stopped to converse with other men who were outside of the pavement pool”.

After several years of neglect the work was restored and brought back to the bright acrylic colors, just as the artist had wanted. And 10cm of water were added to give that liquid effect. I look around and see numerous sculptures in the open air, by important artists and associations. Starting with the ketchup bottle by Paul McCarthy all the way to the Pebbles in the Park by Ettore Sottsass. My joy is amplified by the music and the narrated fairytale: there is a beautiful puppet theater that would be infinitely more hypnotizing for adults than for kids. The climate is serene and calm, of the sort “do what makes you happy”: read a newspaper, make bubbles, look around. And it’s with this spirit that we take a seat in the corner bar at Cova. Here too, as usual, I am met by kind and helpful waiters: “Please, may I have a toast and an ice cold coke with lemon!” Simple things, that make me happy.


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