With the Palai Project, the Art World Stages Its Comeback
The southern Italian hamlet of Lecce is sweltering in July, but the Apulian heat didn’t stop more than a hundred artists, gallerists, curators, and art critics from packing the decadent Palazzo Tamborino Cezzi to the brim for the opening night of Palai. Conceived by Parisian gallerists Daniele Balice and Nerina Ciaccia, the one-of-a-kind palazzo project is the lovechild of a collaboration among ten European galleries (including the duo’s eponymous Balice Hertling and Ciaccia Levi galleries). The group exhibition, which runs through the 15th of September in Balice’s and Ciaccia’s native region of Puglia, was the source of much excitement after a year in isolation. The palace courtyard, lit by the warm glow of Klara Liden’s fuel-canister-turned-chandelier, buzzed with excitement as art world dignitaries mingled and toasted to the event’s coming success. In the days that followed, a cast of characters assembled over late dinners, beach visits, and farmhouse parties.
This convivial spirit is exactly what the Balice and Ciaccia hoped to cultivate with Palai, which came to life during dreary lockdown days in Paris this spring. With their sights set on resuscitating the joyful creative spirit of Puglia, the duo assembled a cadre of international curators and local Leccesian artists to explore new forms of site-specific exhibition-making. The result, a sprawling, multi-generational offering from over forty artists, has been installed in the Palazzo Tamborino Cezzi. Positioned along dusty staircases, in crumbling doorways, and at the center of empty ballroom floors, the works breathe new life into the palace’s 16th-century architecture, which has fallen into disrepair in the intervening centuries.
Palai is a celebration of reunion, expressed through contrasts—contemporary pieces, set against torn wallpaper, corroded light fixtures, and faded frescoes introduce the textures of daily life into a timeless space. Upon entering the courtyard of the palazzo—or “palai,” in the regional Griko dialect— visitors are greeted by a site-specific sculpture of two men locked in an embrace, courtesy of the New York artist Louis Fratino. Physical touch is also a central focus for the Georgian artist Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, whose abstract digital prints—made by placing objects like acrylic nails on negative film— line the halls. At the foot of the grand staircase, collaborative screen prints by the American artist Eric Heist and the late polyphonic genius BREYER P-ORRIDGE (he/r final body of work) echo similar corporeal themes. The upstairs loggia is filled with small tarot card-inspired oil paintings by the French painter Julie Beaufils, which bring to mind Salentine traditions of ritual and magic, adding new depth to the washed-out ochre hues of the palazzo’s frescoes.
As Palai‘s opening weekend unfolded, guests fell in love with the art on display and the town of Lecce in equal measure. The village’s baroque architecture, crafted from local limestone, is the backdrop to a burgeoning regional art scene— one that Palai’s organizers were eager to spotlight in the exhibition. Central to this effort was P.I.A., a local research center and educational program for artists and curators. Among Lecce’s many innovative art spaces, Progetto—an international residency space that invites international artists to engage with the region’s history—echoes the exhibition’s dedication to site-specific creative work. Palai will continue to host events and welcome visitors through mid-December. In the meantime, Balice Hertling and Ciaccia Levi are already hard at work on the second iteration of Palai, which will welcome visitors next summer.
PALAI’S PARTICIPATING GALLERIES: Antenna Space, Shanghai; Balice Hertling, Paris; Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo; Ciaccia Levi, Paris; Sadie Coles HQ, London; Bill Cournoyer / The Meeting, New York; Layr, Vienna/Rome; LC Queisser, Tbilisi; Veda, Florence; and ZERO…Milan.
PALAI’S PARTICIPATING ARTISTS: Theodora Allen, Alma Allen, Amber Andrews, March Avery, Alex Ayed, Julie Beaufils, Anna-Sophie Berger, Jonathan Binet, Camille Blatrix, Regina Bogat, Xinyi Cheng, Isabelle Cornaro, Morgan Courtois, Horacio Alcolea Crespo, Enzo Cucchi, Alfred D’Ursel, Simone Fattal, Louis Fratino, Owen Fu, Anya Gallaccio, Francesco Gennari, Breyer P-Orridge / Eric Heist, Benjamin Hirte, Yu Honglei, Yukie Ishikawa, Jutta Koether, Friedrich Kunath, Mimi Lauter, Klara Liden, Florian Maier-Aichen, Jonatah Manno, Beaux Mendes, Ketuta Alexi Meskhishvili, Monique Mouton, Chalisée Naamani, Kayode Ojo, Ser Serpas, Aviva Silverman, Martine Syms, Alexander Tovborg, Damon Zucconi.