Eric Reguly, 08/07/08 at 7:00 AM EDT
Daniel Libeskind's architectural creations have been welcomed all over the world, from Toronto (the ROM's new crystal) to Berlin (the Jewish Museum). Looks like the Polish-born American will not be able to add Italy to the list, thanks to the finely tuned artistic sensibilities of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The other day, Mr. Libeskind unveiled plans for an art museum and office tower, called the Fiera Milano exhibition centre, near central Milan, which features a tower bent in the middle. Quoted in Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, Mr. Berlusconi said the building's shape emanated â€œa sense of impotence.â€
Italy's best-known living writer, Umberto Eco, supported the prime minister's views with some light-hearted sexual allusions of his own: â€œMilan is full of people with crooked members. There will be simply one more in need of Viagra.â€
Mr. Libeskind didn't see the humour and escalated the war. Quoted in the same newspaper, he indelicately accused Mr. Berlusconi of harbouring fascist ideology. â€œIn Fascist Italy, everything that is not â€˜straight' was considered â€˜perverse art,'â€ he said. â€œMy tower is inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci and great Italian culture. [Mr. Berlusconi] does not have the time or intellect to study these. As an American and Jew brought up in Poland, I find Berlusconi abominable. His concept of nationalism, of closing borders and denying what's different, is repugnant. He hates foreigners.â€
Milan, Mr. Belusconi's home town, is now full of rumours that planning permission for the Libeskind design will be yanked. Vittorio Sgarbi, a former culture adviser to the City of Milan, told the Italian magazine Il Giornale dell'Arte: â€œI don't think the Prime Minister will let him [Libeskind] proceed with his skyscraper or his museum unless he apologizes.â€
As of this morning, there was no apology from either side. Looks like nothing, not even architectural Viagra, will save Mr. Libeskind's limp tower.