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Fausto Melotti and Thea Djordjadze

La Triennale di Milano
Viale Alemagna 6
July 7–August 27

View of “Fausto Melotti and Thea Djordjadze,” 2017.

Fausto Melotti’s little theaters, some of his least known work, seem to represent instances when the artist felt most free in his practice. These miniature dioramas create safe spaces in which stories unfold, both lighthearted and profound, delimited by their architecture. Paesaggio Dimenticato (Forgotten Landscape), 1934, exists in dialogue with La Cattiveria (The Malice), 1978, as does Il diavolo che tenta gli intellettuali (The Devil That Tempts Intellectuals), 1939, with Il Gregge Ť fuggito (The Crowd Has Gone), 1984, forming extremely compelling mental exercises of sorts. They are constructed from very diverse materials: terra-cotta, brass, copper, fabric, Plexiglas, wood, ceramic, plaster, glass, and even tissue paper.

The same rigor and freedom can be seen in Thea Djordjadze’s site-specific installation, in which sculptural elements, smeared with paint, simultaneously support and serve as a meta-backdrop for Melotti’s little theaters, creating a profound relationship between the space and the works. Melotti’s fantasies are anchored and interconnected, thanks to Djordjadze’s simple, but not minimalist, work, which concertedly allows visitors access and close-up views of everything. Meanwhile, drawings and preparatory sketches carry equal weight as works themselves. Architectures within architectures, the physical and mental regions delineated by the artists’ pieces multiply with great energy and are, in turn, contained within the architecture of the triennale, designed by Giovanni Muzio, which Djordjaze highlights. Harmony, luminosity, and breadth are the result of this fortunate encounter between two artists whose processes are characterized by the assemblage of everyday materials. Djordjadze chose the show’s title, “Abbandonando un’era che abbiamo trovato invivibile” (“Abandoning an Era That We Found Unlivable”), evoking a comment Jean Cocteau wrote in 1941 upon the death of Jean-Michel Frank, an iconic Art Deco designer and man of theater. The words’ loaded meaning encourages viewers to look further.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Michela Moro

Simon Fujiwara

GiÚ Marconi
via Tadino 20
May 31–September 30

Simon Fujiwara, Masks (Merkel A5-6.1), 2016, makeup on canvas, 89 x 49 1/2 x 2 1/2".

Simon Fujiwara’s heaven is obviously clear and orderly. A labyrinth dominates the gallery, while background music lures viewers toward a secret chamber at the heart of the installation. As one traverses the space, lights are activated in recognition of bodies in motion. Passages within are punctuated by large paintings of Angela Merkel, a project titled “Masks (Merkel)” that Fujiwara has been working on since 2015. The series features sections of the chancellor’s face that the artist paints with the makeup products that Merkel actually uses. Working from a portrait of the political figure created by her own makeup artist, enlarged a thousand times, Fujiwara renders her as abstract details in large-scale pasty works. Along the way through the maze, one reaches Heaven, 2017, where blonde hair cascades down both sides of a corridor. Though at first resembling gates to paradise, after further considering their bifurcation, the piece hints at detachment from possibilities.

When visitors arrive at the core of the labyrinth, the source of the music is revealed to be a video (Edelweis, 1991/2017) that shows the artist at the age of ten, singing the iconic song from The Sound of Music (1959) at a school concert. Emphasizing the incongruity of an ethnically Japanese man singing a ditty related to the Nazi threat, the work would seem to pose the question of whether an ironic bliss is possible. Or does it promise a dead end at the next corner?

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Michela Moro

Pae White

kaufmann repetto
Via di Porta Tenaglia, 7
May 8–September 9

View of “Pae White: Demimondaine,” 2017.

The interstices that Pae White’s work occupies become monumental in this exhibition, where familiar objects warp, encouraging other associations. The show’s title declaims “Demimondaine,” but more than in just the nineteenth-century sense of women living at the fringes of affluent society, as participants without proper qualifications. This mondo di mezzo, or in-between world, is substantial in and of itself—as a choice, with a sidelong, insect-like gaze.

In the gallery’s courtyard, visitors confront abstract marble sculptures: explosions of gigantic popcorn with a familiarity that dilutes any feeling of danger. Inside, the rooms are luminous and filled with color. Large-scale tapestries—recurrent objects in the artist’s output—are woven with elements foreign to Jacquard looms, such as flat and wide pieces of Lurex, which forced the Flemish weavers who produced these works to modify their machines. But such technical details fade into the background as the vividness of the depicted insects, marijuana plants, and opium poppies (in Bugz & Drugs – Indian Summer and Bugz & Drugs – Mid-Winter, both 2017) gain the upper hand in the sumptuous fabric, perhaps provoking an appeasement of inner chaos through alternative substances.

White blends contemporary technologies with ancient artisanal practices, addressing, with a non-neutral lightness, key issues such as our relationship with food. For instance, she transforms avocados and crabs into 3-D sculptures, using sandstone in a way that brings to mind eighteenth-century porcelains and vivid still lifes. An enormous chandelier made of colored glass stamped with runes, bees, and logos designed by Paul Rand generates a personal alphabet and illuminates our most hidden impulses. When she presses on with mobiles that are exceedingly friendly and elegant, one intuits just how highly evolved her sense of the elsewhere is.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Michela Moro

Karl Holmqvist and Klara Liden

Via dei Mille, 6
May 4–September 9

View of “Karl Holmqvist and Klara Liden,” 2017.

In a large Roman apartment on Via dei Mille, the Indipendenza gallery hosts “Lavoro” (Work), a collaboration between Karl Holmqvist and Klara Liden. This project, originally exhibited in 2016 at the Kunstverein Braunschweig, now includes a new combination of works, some on view for the first time, as well as older installations and videos, such as Nhite Woice, 2015, in which Holmqvist and Liden improvise a synchronized dance. The dialogue underlying the exhibition, activated by twenty-nine works overall, opens with the interaction between Linden’s emblematic Poster Painting, 2012—layered, painted sheets of paper—and Holmqvist’s Untitled (Arena), 2016, a carpet held to the floor by four stuffed animals placed at the corners. In the maze of rooms are new site-specific environments, including Untitled (ŅQUE?), 2017, a structure by both artists comprising two suspended cardboard boxes covered with black magic marker, and Untitled (Divisorio), 2017, a wood fence by Liden that extends toward the city, creating a private corner for reading and reflection. Liden’s homage to Rome continues with two works made on-site: Untitled (Trash Can), 2017, a cast-iron trash basket holding images of the capital city, and Untitled (When in Rome), 2017, whose polystyrene bench is a replica of the marble seating in a city piazza. Throughout, Holmqvist’s pieces dialogue with the exhibition space itself via canvases that depict the room and a long wall-drawing with the phrase “The Whole World.” The show also features a collaboration between Holmqvist and Icelandic artist Mundi Vondi that consists of two wool blankets, Untitled (Putin Blanket) and Untitled (Persian Blanket), both 2016.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Maria Chiara Valacchi

Valerio Nicolai

smART – polo per l’arte
Piazza Crati, 6/7
May 30–September 29

View of “Prospettiva di una matrioska” (Perspective of a Matryoshka), 2017.

Prospettiva di una matrioska” (Perspective of a Matryoshka) showcases Valerio Nicolai’s propensity for producing multimedia works that cohere as if they were a single piece. Offering a blend of installations, sculptures, and paintings, the show was inspired by a system: the Chinese nesting box. It is an approach that verges on narration, almost turning the entire exhibition into a large work.

Upon entering, visitors encounter Matrioska con spacca finestra (Matryoshka with Broken Window) (all works 2017), a faded brick-red mattress covered in canvas and surmounted by a ceramic object that, while abstract, resembles an animal skull. Proceeding through the show, viewers encounter more installations that incorporate canvases and appear to be three-dimensional paintings.

Nicolai’s point of departure is always a found object, which he then re-creates. Holding the object in his hand, the artist lets his imagination wander, repeatedly testing out positions for the item—for instance, by resting it on the floor, then remaking the floor as a work, as in Matrioska con occhi a 8 (Matryoshka with Eight Eyes). Here, Nicolai drew two eyes, close together, on a household iron; he then reconstructed the iron in ceramic, with two ceramic eyes. Throughout the show it becomes clear that Nicolai paints from reality and chance occurrences, revamping both via a unique form of three-dimensional painting and thus yielding spontaneous narrations among the various items he engages with.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Marco Tagliafierro

Stephen Prina

Palazzo Donnaregina, via Settembrini, 79
May 15–October 16

View of “Stephen Prina: English for Foreigners,” 2017.

In 1923 Stephen Prina’s father, Pietro Prina, was seventeen years old and played the clarinet in a band in Canischio, his family’s small hometown in Piedmont. The sound of this musical instrument draws visitors across a threshold into the large room where the younger Prina’s solo show is installed. Dense and stratified, the exhibition is a visual story of a century’s worth of his family’s history. For instance, we learn how Pietro was confronted by a group of Mussolini’s Blackshirts who forced his band to play “Giovinezza” (Youth), the Fascist National Party anthem. This event provided the impetus for his emigration to the United States. A cover of the memorable tune can be heard merging with a song the artist composed—English for Foreigners. Ode to Canischio, 2016—broadcast over speakers mounted on a wooden grid, which is completely carpeted by a light-brown fabric covered in faded red writing. This motif, both visual and linguistic, is taken from the front and back covers of a book titled Second Book in English for Foreigners in Evening Schools (1917), which the artist’s father studied to learn English.

Recontextualized within a space where Pantone’s 2017 color of the year (“Greenery”) appears in lithographs, promotional materials for the exhibition, and on gallery exits, the aforementioned fabric functions as a palimpsest of memory. Texts, paintings, photographs, sculptures, and an autobiography of Prina’s family all speak to a universal story of fathers and sons, countries and cities, migrations and uprootings, public spaces and private interiors, and all that it takes to finally feel like a “citizen.”

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Paola Nicolin

Micol AssaŽl

Riso, Museo d'Arte Contemporanea della Sicilia
Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 365
June 20–September 10

View of “Micol AssaŽl,” 2017.

Micol AssaŽl’s solo exhibition “Lettura Di Un’Onda” (Interpretation of a Wave), curated by Bruno Corŗ and Valentino Catricalŗ, presents new work across the entire top floor of the Palazzo Belmonte Riso. The Roman artist activates a discrete dialogue with a large permanent installation by Jannis Kounellis composed of old wardrobes suspended from the ceiling. In three adjacent rooms, AssaŽl has installed four works made from paper and magnets that hang on accordion folding supports which are mounted on horizontal planks built from old windows (typical of working class Sicilian architecture) and held up by sawhorses befitting construction sites. Actual books, deconstructed and rebound in accordion format, are stretched open with the help of two sturdy covers made of 120 small magnetic blocks, and intermittently punctured and interrupted by small sections of power cords. The complex electrical configurations accompanying each book shift into the two-dimensionality of eleven ink drawings the artist created over the years. Each unique work features three elements that are signatures of AssaŽl’s work: physical matter, sound, and light. The latter is intentionally natural, so the time of day affects one’s experience of the work. In an aural installation, noises sampled throughout the city during the show’s preparation—the pattering of water drops, a seagull’s cry—subtly radiate outward from the cavities of two fireplaces, almost creating a necklace of sonic events along the exhibition path. AssaŽl invites visitors to imagine a wave: a vehicle through which energy propagates, ephemeral yet capable of uniting luminous, acoustic, and electromagnetic elements.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Maria Chiara Valacchi

Domenico Gnoli

The Marignoli di Montecorona Foundation
Piazza Fratelli Cairoli, 1
July 2–October 1

Donemico Gnoli, As You Like It (Banished Duke), 1955, ballpoint pen, India ink, and watercolor on paper, 13 3/4 x 10".

Curated by Michele Drascek and Duccio K. Marignoli, and realized for the Festival dei Due Mondi, this show pays tribute to Domenico Gnoli and, in particular, the extraordinary technical skills that characterize his production, beginning with his set designs.

Constructed as an all-encompassing archive of his drawings for the theater, the installation features anthracite-gray walls hung with sketches in museum-style passe-partouts. The exhibition (the design of which was produced by Giovanni di Natale with Giorgio Gentili) and its catalogue (by di Natale) have an interdependent relationship and are best experienced synergistically. For example, a notebook in a display case becomes significant next to its drawings reproduced in the catalogue. The book also contains images of Gnoli’s notes on everything from Pantone codes to the fabrics for his costumes to the names of actors for whom the outfits were intended.

Gnoli, who made work in the spirit of the “non-eloquent” tradition that emerged in Italy in the 1400s, was in many ways faithful to classicism. For example, he took up Flemish painters’ predilection for an elevated viewpoint, a practice he continued even after 1964, when he arrived at the visual approach—marked by the highlighting and enlargement of image fragments—that came to characterize his compositions. Though he turned his back on assured success in the theater to concentrate on painting, this exhibition, by focusing on his theatrical work, reveals a artist gifted with extraordinary cultural expertise.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Marco Tagliafierro

“The Boat Is Leaking. The Captain Lied”

Fondazione Prada | Venice
Calle de Ca’ Corner, Santa Croce 2215
May 13–November 26

Thomas Demand, Klause II (Tavern II), 2006, C-print, 70 x 96". Installation view.

Spread across three floors of an eighteenth-century palazzo, this exhibition visualizes a broad question: What happens when falsehoods stand in for the truth? For this collaboration, curator Udo Kittelmann, artist Thomas Demand, set designer Anna Viebrock, and filmmaker Alexander Kluge look to the eternal worry over art’s duplicity. This time around, at issue are not the objects themselves as much as the walls that support them.

The design of the show is provocative, blurring distinctions between discrete works and a single massive installation piece. Viebrock’s stage sets from previous theatrical productions have been appropriated throughout, providing a physical frame of contingency for the other artists’ work. The ground floor offers a straightforward introduction to the artists and demonstrates how their practices address the deception of vision. First is Demand, whose video Ampel (Stoplight), 2016, features an animated replica of the titular device, nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. Nearby, Kluge’s film Die sanfte Schminke des Lichts (The Soft Makeup of Lighting), 2007, subjects actors to various lighting effects, revealing the trickery of high-definition cinema. Two doors designed by Viebrock flank the projection, one of which is an astonishingly realistic hotel lobby entryway. Seemingly accessible, both doors are locked.

The upper floors slip fully into fabrication, with Viebrock’s previously impenetrable sets now accessible as they fill entire rooms. A counterfeit cinema plays Kluge’s films; its exit leads to a courtroom where Demand’s photograph of a model of a building covered in ivy—Klause II (Tavern II), 2006—faces the stand. Wall texts are virtually absent throughout, except in one room: a facsimile museum gallery (Viebrock’s Exhibition Room, 2017) stocked with social realist paintings. Although the labels state that Angelo Morbelli painted the works in the 1880s, amid so much fraudulence they feel fake. In reality, he did paint them, but the resulting feelings of uncertainty are all too frightening in a sinking city.

Lucas Matheson

“Philip Guston and the Poets”

Gallerie dell'Accademia
Campo della Caritŗ, Dorsoduro 1050
May 10–September 3

Philip Guston, East Coker-Tse, 1979, oil on canvas, 42 x 48".

It is a small wonder to see Titian’s final statement, the anxious, sepulchral Pietŗ, 1576, only a few rooms away from Philip Guston’s late meditation on frailty and death, East Coker-Tse, 1979. The latter painting depicts an emaciated, red-tinged visage with lips peeled back in a rictus and eyes staring listlessly upward. Drawing on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (1943), Guston finished the work shortly before his death in 1980, conflating the poet’s contemplation of looming inexistence with the rough, painterly economy, lack of ornament, and representational directness that had become synonymous with the artist’s late style. Emblematic of each artist’s confrontation with their respective ends, Pietŗ and East Coker-Tse echo one another’s angst, terror, and sense of inevitability.

This exhibition makes clear that Guston’s return to figuration was mediated not only by his appreciation of Italian Cinquecento masters, but also by his enthusiastic readings of modern poets including Eliot, W. B. Yeats, and Wallace Stevens. Yeats’s sensuous contemplations of bare reality and its shadow twin, representation, exerted a particular gravitational torsion on the painter’s mature vision. One wall text even quotes Yeats’s 1930 poem “Byzantium”: “Those images that yet Fresh images beget.” One could do worse for a description of Guston’s late style. Imagery wrestled its way back into his practice in myriad forms, from the dark portrait of Promethian creativity in Flame, 1979, to the eschatological flood of Ocean, 1976, or the congealed, sanguinary surface of Sunrise, 1979, in which the illuminating sun is almost blotted out by the muddy, overworked horizon.

Dan Jakubowski