Critics’ Picks

View of “Nicola Gobbetto,” 2013–14.

View of “Nicola Gobbetto,” 2013–14.


Nicola Gobbetto

Via Chiaia 229
December 14, 2013–February 28, 2014

Twenty years after his death, Rudolf Nureyev is being celebrated in Nicola Gobbetto’s current exhibition more as a man than as a dancer. Like chapters in a book, the ten pieces on view (all works 2013) tell a linear story of Nureyev’s existence: his alternating periods of success and crisis, strength and weakness, joy and sorrow. Gobbetto’s work here focuses on specific episodes in Nureyev’s life, revealing even its most private aspects.

The show opens with Pork Lake, a short rotoscope animation inspired by an 1978 episode of The Muppet Show in which Nureyev and Miss Piggy stage an ironic version of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Here, Gobbetto brings attention to the profoundly conflictive relationships that exist between male ballet dancers and their female partners, shown here in Nureyev’s continuous attempts to reaffirm his leading role. Miss Piggy I ❤U is also connected to this episode: Four Coca-Cola bottles, a bucket, and a broom are arranged onto a piece of walnut parquet flooring and recall the materials used during the television shoot. (In the show, a dancer who was dressed as Miss Piggy kept falling on the slippery parquet and Nureyev suggested washing the floor with Coca-Cola to make it sticky.) Gobbetto’s investigation continues through an analysis of Nureyev’s physical appearance and character: He considers the seductive nature of the dancer’s face (Rudy), the magnetism of his glance (You Can’t Fail!), the sensuality of his body (Majesty/Fragility and Like a Fish), and the inventiveness of his performances (Gift to Franco Zeffirelli). Finally, with La scala di pane (Stairway of Bread), Gobbetto explores the artist’s subconscious. The photographic composition, inspired by a dream that Nureyev confided to dancer Carla Fracci, depicts a stairway made up of slices of bread. At its apex is a portrait of Anna Udaltsova, the beloved dance teacher with whom he was reunited when he returned to Russia after twenty-five years of exile.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.