Critics’ Picks

Luigi Ghirri, Modena 1978, vintage print, 12 x 20".

Luigi Ghirri, Modena 1978, vintage print, 12 x 20".


“La Bella Figura”

Max Wigram Gallery
106 New Bond Street
February 14–March 22, 2014

Curated by Bjorn Stern, “La Bella Figura” is an exhibition with an aptly chosen title––an idiomatic double entendre implying either a beautiful form or a good impression, hitting the mark on two of Italy’s most charming and beguiling preoccupations: ideal proportions and a virtuous appearance. Coinciding with the recent rise in the market value of Arte Povera, Stern’s gathering of works from sixteen postwar Italian artists goes beyond la dolce vita of Italy’s “economic miracle” of the 1950s and ’60s into an investigation of the country’s “unresolved malignant violence” during an era still fresh with the bloodstained lynching of its Fascist head of state. Literal yet poignant is Luciano Fabro’s Italia feticcio, 1981––an upside down wire frame of the peninsula engulfed in a cancerous vortex of copper bands; threateningly hung from the ceiling of the gallery’s entrée, it bears both the admonition of a Damoclean sword and the dead weight of a factionally dissevered nation that has produced sixty-seven failed governments in nearly six decades.

Italy’s enduring and most infamous feudal institutions—the Church and the Mafia—form the parallel threads that run throughout the exhibition, and suggestively throughout the country’s politically troubled history. Luigi Ghirri’s lithograph Mondena 1978, offers the promise of violence: A devotional fresco appears ruptured by a torn newspaper fragment that reads “nella pattugli” (in patrol), while a crucifix precariously balanced on the edge of the profane indicates a psychic ambivalence between these two analogous power structures that thrive on equal parts devotion and fear.

Pier Paolo Calzolari’s poetic Scalea (mi rfea pra), 1968, consists of three steps of frozen, floor-laid lead. Pertinent to this exhibition is Calzolari’s circumvention of the heavy discourse of painting to comment on the painterly: He uses the frosty white of ice to search for a purer form of pigment, but needs an entire mechanical contrivance to do so. Gracing this sculpture are votive offerings: a nearly expired candle and two columbine feathers anchored by a metal bar, evoking, perhaps, an icy Icarian cenotaph for those who seek to ascend the pinnacles of nature through artifice, only to be doomed to fail.