From the various terraces that protrude from the pastel-hued vertical heights of Positano on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, it’s potential to make out a darkish, rocky outcropping rising from the Gulf of Salerno. Many travellers will probably be too engaged with their spaghetti alle vongole to discover it. Those that move in a ship can see that it’s a trio of small islands, considered one of them marked by an medieval stone tower and two villas. Only some, nonetheless, know Li Galli, and the way legendary this tiny archipelago is.
“Li Galli should be essentially the most magical place within the Mediterranean,” stated the London-based gallerist Leopold Thun, son of architect Matteo Thun, who first visited the non-public island in his teenagers. “In historic occasions, these had been the Sirenuse, the islands of the sirens,” wrote the Cypriot artist Christodoulos Panayiotou. “That is the place the sirens had been stated to make use of their enchanted voices to lure mariners into sure loss of life.” Panayiotou, identified for his research-based conceptual work, has spent weeks on Li Galli as a visitor of its present homeowners, the artwork patron Nicoletta Fiorucci and her husband, hotelier Giovanni Russo.
The sirens of Homer’s epic poem haven’t been the islands’ solely illustrious residents. Within the final years of the Roman Empire a chic villa stood on Gallo Lungo, apparently a favorite vacation spot of Tiberius. Following the autumn of Rome, Li Galli grew to become a hideout for privateers. On the finish of the Center Ages, to guard the shoreline from Saracen pirates, a sequence of stone watchtowers was constructed from Vietri sul Mare to Positano, together with one on Gallo Lungo.
It wasn’t till Italian unification in 1861, when the coastal towers had been formally redundant, that Li Galli was offered into non-public fingers. Within the Twenties, after recognizing the islands from Positano, the famed Russian choreographer and dancer Léonide Massine fell for and bought them, and started what would turn out to be a 50-year-long obsession with remodeling Gallo Lungo – then a 14-acre rock with the stays of the watchtower, a cistern and an historic touchdown place – into the extraordinary property it’s at present. Locals referred to him because the “loopy Russian who had purchased a rocky island the place solely rabbits might dwell”, however Massine proved all of them improper, finally even beginning a dance college on the island. In his e-book The Siren Isles, the Italian author-academic Romolo Ercolino posited that the villas on the biggest of the three islands, Gallo Lungo, constructed within the Thirties, had been conceived by Le Corbusier.
“I take into consideration Massine daily,” says Giovanni Russo, seated on a terrace at a large marble desk custom-designed for the location by the Cypriot-born, London-based designer Michael Anastassiades. Behind him is the porticoed veranda of the highest flooring of the primary villa (the decrease two flooring disappear down the aspect of the island); in entrance of us, a mesmerising view of the opposite two islets and the glistening sea. “With out Massine this island wouldn’t exist because it does now. He spent all his fortune and power on it. He rebuilt the watchtower and constructed the walkways and villas.” Russo factors to the pine bushes that cling to the rocky slopes. “He had all the bushes planted, and had a whole bunch of metres of terracing created for gardens and grapevines.”
Russo himself acquired Li Galli virtually 30 years in the past from the Rudolf Nureyev Basis; the legendary dancer had purchased Li Galli within the late Nineteen Eighties, only a few years after being identified with HIV. In photographs from the interval, Nureyev is usually portrayed posing bare on the island’s rocks, considering the ocean. A collector of Anatolian kilims, he was stated to have lined its paths and terraces with rugs. His main contribution to Li Galli – one which endures and dazzles to today – was to clad the central villa in Islamic-style patterned tiles imported from Istanbul; one room, which he used as a eating room, was barrel-vaulted and tiled on each floor, resembling the inside sanctum of a mosque. It’s additionally rumoured that he had a large bathtub helicoptered in from Paris.
By the point Russo – who grew up in close by Sorrento, the son of hospitality professionals – bought Li Galli, Gallo Lungo’s buildings had fallen into some disrepair. His first activity was to revive the tower and each villas; then the walkways that weave throughout the island, connecting them to one another in addition to to the touchdown and terraced gardens.
“This island is sort of a massive boat,” he says. “It requires fixed upkeep.” Though he reworked a water tank right into a small chapel devoted to San Giovanni (they desalinate sea water for the island’s provide), Russo’s main contribution to the island has been restorations of the buildings’ interiors, which embrace two public flooring and two visitor bedrooms within the tower, two bedrooms and a number of other lounges in the primary villa, and the main bedroom.
Initially, Russo sought the enter of his cousin Marco DeLuca, one of many homeowners of the beautiful boutique lodge La Minervetta in Sorrento. A mustard-yellow La Cornue kitchen was put in on the bottom flooring of the watchtower; in its primary front room – used as a ballroom in Massine’s time – Russo framed the fireside with repurposed majolica tiles and hung over it an ornate gilded mirror. Right now, a bit of a wall is roofed with drawings and images by artists who have visited Li Galli, amongst them Julian Schnabel and Mimmo Paladino. A visitor room within the tower – painted white, with sunflower-yellow furnishings, a lacquered desk with a picture of the solar, and cabinets stuffed with vintage Buddhist providing vessels – is devoted to Russo’s buddy, the photographer Pat Fok.
Giovanni and Nicoletta met in 2003, when she was a visitor at a celebration he threw on the island. “She arrived right here swimming, like a mermaid” – having jumped off her boat, he remembers, smiling on the reminiscence. Shortly afterwards (they didn’t formally marry till 2018), Nicoletta began planting each botanical species – exchanging the roses in the gardens for white oleander and blue plumbago – and concepts; collectively the pair continued so as to add extra artwork to Gallo Lungo. Their master suite is outlined by a towering white-and-turquoise Ettore Sottsass totem and an summary fresco by Emil Michael Klein (Nicoletta commissioned him to color straight onto the ceiling); within the toilet, two vibrant mosaic works by the Italian designer Cinzia Ruggeri dangle on the partitions.
Right now, she invitations artists and designers to return to remain on the island and make site-specific works; her imaginative and prescient for it’s of a spot for artists to fulfill, be impressed and disconnect from the world. In one of many primary sitting rooms, a reflective gold triptych by Panayiotou enhances the Islamic-patterned tiles; one other, additionally lined in Nureyev’s tiles, includes a joyful portrait of Fiorucci and Russo by the painter Patrizio Di Massimo. Most just lately, she invited the Greek designer Savvas Laz to reinvent Li Galli’s boat home with furnishings and mirrors produced along with his signature strategy of discovered Styrofoam lined in layers of Plexiglas.
Fiorucci started amassing with a give attention to Previous Masters; when her focus shifted to modern artwork in her 50s, she began actively to have interaction with artists she collected. In 2010, after shopping for Marina Abramović’s Casa Monte on the island of Stromboli, she, together with the Italian curator Milovan Farronato, informally based the Volcano Extravaganza, an avant-garde pageant described as a sequence of “wild” and ephemeral thematic interventions, which led to 2019. Final 12 months, in dialog with the gallerist Thun, Fiorucci started a brand new site-specific inventive challenge referred to as Traces: artists are invited to spend a number of weeks on Gallo Lungo to assume, work and disconnect. They’re required to go away solely a hint behind – “the very last thing I would like is a sculpture backyard”, she says. As a substitute it’s all about “being near the inventive course of, observing it, having conversations about concepts”.
For the few months a 12 months that Fiorucci and Russo are primarily based on Li Galli, there’s a fixed stream of tourists. Sooner or later in late Might, Fiorucci despatched a ship to Sorrento to choose up the Liberian-British artist Lina Iris Viktor, who had just lately moved to the coast, together with the London-based artist and scientist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, who was on vacation in Positano. After a lunch of Russo’s favorite gnocchi, Viktor, Ginsberg and her husband chatted by the saltwater infinity pool, constructed into the rocks of the primary terrace. Later, Fiorucci led Ginsberg to the opposite finish of the island, an space lined in native wildflowers, to fulfill the island’s beekeeper. They mentioned the opportunity of creating a piece alongside the traces of Ginsberg’s Pollinator Pathmaker – an 745ft-long flowerbed planted on the Serpentine final summer season, supported by Fiorucci’s not-for-profit Artwork Belief – at Li Galli.
Even at present, it’s nature that calls the photographs on this exceptional place. The Italian artist Giangiacomo Rossetti, who had been invited to the island for 3 weeks to participate within the Traces challenge, was delayed greater than per week by storms. “I used to be trapped in a type of limbo,” he says, “simply ready, and getting nervous concerning the thought of being faraway from the world. After which, as soon as I lastly arrived, all of the nervousness lifted. I might keep right here for months.” It’s late afternoon, and he’s seated at a small desk beneath a pine tree on one of many tower’s terraces. Out of nowhere, a sudden wind kicks up; a haunting sound – half whistle, half howl – fills the air for at the very least a minute. Rossetti seems to be concurrently startled and thrilled. “Lastly!” he laughs. “I’ve heard the music of the sirens.”