Lucca Center of Contemporary Art Review – Meeting Museums’ Future in a Roman-born Town


Lucca Center of Contemporary Art (Lu.C.C.A.) Executive Director Dr. Maurizio Vanni is very clear and determined about how to make art and museums thrive now and in the future. 


The only thing confusing about him is wondering when he finds time to sleep.  Perhaps it is on planes as he jets between his gigs in Lucca (Italy), Seoul (Korea), and Buenos Aires (Argentina).  Vanni says, and not with any noticeable regret, “I have no private life.  Culture is all my life.”


As we spoke we were standing in the midst of Lu.C.C.A.’s current exhibit, “Elliott Erwitt Retrospective”.   The 136 pictures selected from Erwitt’s 60-year career were not only an excellent portrait of Italian film’s influence on his work but a delightful selection packed with humor. 


This is the most accessible exhibit of contemporary art in memory, which is EXACTLY what Vanni has in mind—not just for this exhibit but for all.  It’s his idea, for example, to make sure this exhibit is open from 10 p.m. to midnight and that there are flute of champagne events to boot.  A long range planner and man with vision, Vanni is targeting the younger demographic.   He explains, “Many people coming to our late night hours have never been in a museum before and we offer special events to help cultivate this new audience.  Sometimes it’s a theater piece such as an actor portraying Erwitt…We want to close the gap between ordinary people and contemporary art.”


It’s clear that there isn’t any aspect of museum purpose or management that Vanni hasn’t thought about in great detail.  Lu.C.C.A. is a private company, not publicly funded, and there doesn’t seem to be the equivalent of 501c3 status in Italy to help it achieve the zero debt that is Vanni’s goal.   There are three photo exhibits each year and eight other contemporary art exhibits.  These exhibits, combined with the museum’s break-the-mold restaurant (see below) pay for themselves. 



Vanni says, “We hope to demonstrate that museums have not only cultural and ethical social value but economic value too.  Our country hasn’t used culture as a marketing instrument adequately.  We believe that culture, and especially contemporary culture, can help private companies and tourism.”


Vanni continued explaining that he sees France as the capital of European marketing for design and fashion, which he would like to change to Italy.  He laments, “When a country believes in culture, it has to create relationships with universities.  Here in Italy the most important academics are leaving the country.  We believe that art—modern and historical, and culture—is something that can be invested in to help the economy.”


To make this point, and to ensure the zero debt of their private museum, Vanni brought in a seeming kindred spirit, Chef Cristiano Tomei, whose culinary creations are as visually outstanding as they are tasty.  This is probably the most “modern” cuisine we have ever sampled.




In talking with Tomei it became clear that he is as thoughtful as Dr. Vanni about what he does. 



He started us off with a champagne, and as the meal progressed he brought out several different wine pairings and even a Belgian beer.



 The first course was an amberjack, sourced nearby, cooked in gin, with wild herbs and extra virgin olive oil.  Extraordinary as that might sound, it was also the fried seaweed with mayonnaise that made it so unusual.



Then came a seasonal soup, in which Chef Tomei set his mind on mixing the countryside with seafood—a mixture of monkfish, sea urchin and vegetables like carrots.  Tomei explained, “I like to mix the sea taste with that of the garden, to make it a tide pool dish.  I grew up on the Coast and it is very important to my way of thinking on being free, in open space with freedom.  For a chef that feeling is very important. 


Tomei continues, “My grandfather was a farmer on the hills.  I was growing up in the seaport of a summer resort on the Coast, watching ships come in to the shore.  Then in the afternoon I’d work with my grandfather in the fields.  So I was killing rabbits and seeing the shore.  These came together.



“It’s most important for a chef to follow nature—the change of seasons—it’s fundamental, every day is new.  This is one of the primary truths--that a chef has to have an open mind and curiosity to learn day by day.  Most importantly, food must be a pleasure—something joyful and fun. 



“For me there are three things:  food; wine; and having a shower.  My approach to food must be like primitive sex—totally free.  Like sex, food has no instructions.  One day it can be like this and another day it is like that..



“… I like to share my food and when I cook I want you to feel my soul…When you come here it must be joyful, a pleasure…” 



There is no menu and there never will be. 



You will taste delicious things you have likely never tasted such as a flan like dessert with the secret ingredient of liver in its crust or tobacco used as a spice.




This was not a meal but an experience, and that experience went way beyond joy to awe. 


The chef bids us farewell


This restaurant is reason enough to put Lucca on your Tuscan trip itinerary.   Come for the food and stay for the museum, whose tagline is “the living museum”—just as Dr. Vanni would want you to.


For more information on the Lucca Center of Contemporary Art—it’s exhibits, the restaurant and more—visit the Lu.C.C.A. website.


Lucca Center of Contemporary Art

Via della Fratta, 36

55100 Lucca, Italy


(+39) 0583 492180













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