THE WORLDS OF PRIMO LEVI A Controversial Train, and a Quest for the Writer’s Sculptures

trainBy Ada Treves

The opening of the exhibition “The worlds of Primo Levi – A strenuous clarity”, the is hosted in the Medieval Court of Palazzo Madama, in Turin, proved a great success, with hundreds of people queuing with patience in the entrance and outside, in the big historical square.
But the beautiful square, Piazza Castello, has been the centre of a harsh controversy when the Superintendent of Fine Arts made clear that the train that has been placed in front of Palazzo Madama was not allowed to stay more than a couple of weeks, not to “disturb the aesthetics of the square.” But the object of the controversy is a historical wagon, lent by the local railway museum, identical to those used to transport prisoners to Auschwitz, placed in the square to mark the place of the exhibition.

butterflyAfter appearing on national newspaper, the position of the Superintendent has been disavowed by the Minister of Fine Arts himself, Dario Franceschini, who explained that “there are symbols that have a value much grater than any bureaucratic issue.” So the train will stay where it is not, until the beginning of April, when the exhibition will change location to start its travel through the many venues that have asked for it.

Fabio Levi, curator of the exhibition with Peppino Ortoleva, and President of the Primo Levi research centre that has promoted it, has made a request: “Do not raise the tone, not create a controversy, it would do wrong to the exhibition. It would do an injustice to Primo Levi himself, and it would do wrong even to our work. The wagon is not the most important thing of the exhibition. It is an important symbol, not only visually, but our intention was not to speak of Auschwitz. Not only. Inside the Medieval Court of Palazzo Madama we wanted to show much more, to have people remember, to learn and maybe go back to Primo Levi’s books.”

And an important piece of news came out the day of the opening: in the exhibition there is, available for the first time to the public, there is the sculpture of a big butterfly, meant to represent all those beautifully made animals in copper wire that Primo Levi used to make out of the remnants of the one of the objects of his work as a chemist.

And now the Primo Levi research Centre, together with the family of the writer, is trying to organize a census of all the sculptures ever made by Levi. Made since the Fifties and often given to family members and friends as a gift, they will be catalogued and photographed and, hopefully, will become the object of another exhibition, on the sculptures of a writer. For this reason all those who have news – even inaccurate – of the sculptures are kindly requested to contact the centre at