Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Mimmo Rotella Manifesto,” 2018.

    Mimmo Rotella

    Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea
    Viale delle Belle Arti 131
    October 30 - February 10

    In the early 1950s, to escape the trap of geometric abstraction and art informel, which were then dominant modes, Mimmo Rotella invented his own personal language, one inspired by his contemporaries’ experimentations—from Lucio Fontana’s trademark slashes to the use of “improper” art materials, as in Alberto Burri’s sacchi (burlap sack pieces). As apparent from the garish advertising plastered across city walls, postwar Italy had become driven by consumerism. Fascinated by these posters, Rotella appropriated them, scraping them from the walls of Rome at night and then, in his studio, assembling recto and verso portions on canvas to create his décollages. His mapping of the urban visual landscape conveys—through fragments inspired by cinema, television, and commercial photography—the social and cultural context of the time. For approximately fifty years, the artist remained absorbed by street posters, which offered him a steady supply of materials and imagery that he inflected across different stylistic phases. Maintaining a chromatic intensity, a propensity for experimentation, and an attention to the strategies of visual communication, Rotella continued to reflect on themes as diverse as food, fashion, sex, entertainment, and politics in an explosive short circuit between the territories of art and advertising.

    This retrospective, titled “Mimmo Rotella Manifesto,” hews closely to the artist’s creative chronology thanks to a spectacular installation conceived by curators Germano Celant and Antonella Soldaini, who present more than one hundred and sixty works hung salon-style. Six gigantic billboards make it possible to retrace at a glance all phases of Rotella’s vast production, and exude the grimy glamour of the streets Rotella so loved to scavenge.

    Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

  • Jaanus Samma, Outhouse by the Church, 2018, wooden outhouse, metal structure. Installation view.

    Jaanus Samma

    Nomas Foundation
    Viale Somalia 33
    September 28 - December 14

    In “Outhouse by the Church,” Jaanus Samma examines the public urinal as a site of past and present gay cruising. Flaminio Station 1–4, 2016–18, based on archival research and a map of Roman public baths, focuses on one such facility near Piazza del Popolo, which has not yet been rendered anachronistic by dating apps and remains a cruising site. In this series, four panels of yellow ceramic tiles evoke public bathrooms; graffiti with offers and requests for sexual services and the inevitable tones of trash talk contribute to the work’s extroverted and rambunctiously Pop-y nature.

    In contrast, Outhouse by the Church, 2018—for which Samma reconstructed the remnants of an old wooden outhouse from outside Saint Michael’s Church in Kodavere, eastern Estonia—is coarse, dry, and silent. Here, he displays the same passion for investigation and anthropological curiosity as he did at the 2015 Venice Biennale’s Estonian pavilion, in which he exhibited a case study in how male homosexuality was treated with ostracism and cruelty under the repressive Soviet regime of the 1960s. Scatological innuendos are carved into wood, some dating back to the 1920s, and sexual norms exploding next door to the church create a pointed proximity between the sacred and profane.

    The sober presentation of this archeology-like piece contrasts with Study of a Toilet, 2016–18, a series of fourteen ink drawings with an exhilarating mix of ornate details and utterly irreverent subjects: urinals, squat toilets, pulls, drains, toilet paper. But if, in this instance, Samma softens his philological and rigorous approach with a tone of mordant irony, his reflection on queer subjects favors the direct gaze and terse truth of history.

    Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.