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Michele Zaza

FM Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea
Via G.B. Piranesi 10
October 27–December 23

View of “Michele Zaza. Opere / Works 1970–2016,” 2016.

This retrospective is a journey into the personal motivations behind the work of Michele Zaza. The show begins with Simulazione d’incendio (Simulation of Fire), 1970, which Zaza shot to document an action he created in Molfetta (in southern Italy): exploding smoke bombs close to a town park, in an unexpected and incomprehensible event. People scattered about, unaware and in disbelief of what was taking place. Here, Zaza brings the social tensions of that period into the rural world of his native Puglia.

In Naufragio euforico (Euphoric Shipwreck), 1974, and Dissoluzione e mimesi (Dissolution and Mimesis), 1975, the focus is narrower and deals with his family. In the former, a monitor that Zaza placed in a meager bedroom reverberates with scenes from a newscast; in the latter, the artist shows himself hung upside down at the family table, in the presence of his mother, disturbing the calmness of the family scene.

There is a sense of suspension throughout this show, and the silence leaves room for the noise of ideas, for the beating of the heart, for life. Perhaps this is precisely what fascinated Yvon Lambert when he saw Zaza’s work in 1975, when the young artist arrived in Paris. Mimesi (Mimesis), 1975, captures the artist and his father as they gravitate toward one another in an empty and silent space: an interior, their house, in Molfetta. The addition or subtraction of elements, while following a rhythm of condensation and rarefaction, has persisted throughout Zaza’s career.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Marco Tagliafierro

Giulio Turcato

Galleria Milano
via Manin 13
October 26–January 30

Giulio Turcato, Tranquillanti (Tranquilizers), 1968, pills, oil, mixed media on canvas on wood, 19 x 23".

This show—which focuses on Giulio Turcato’s “Superfici lunari” (Lunar Surfaces) and “Tranquillanti” (Tranquilizers), two series emblematic of his 1960s production—reveals the nuances in a body of surprisingly poetic work that alternates between pure abstraction and Art Informel. The nine pieces on view from “Superfici lunari,” dating from 1965 to 1970, suggest an imaginary spatial realm while reinforcing the physicality of their “canvases.” Turcato painted in oil and mixed media on foam rubber, and thanks to these materials, his surfaces are never flat but appear rich in variations, signs, hollows, and reliefs: a vibrant field of events, a living skin. Superficie lunare, 1969, is a vast fragment of a starry night, slashed by a red blade on the right and marked by equally scorching craters elsewhere. A rough, irregular expanse and deep colors—blues, reds, browns—also typify the “Tranquillanti” series, represented here by four works from 1961 to 1970. Pill tablets placed against a colorful plane shine like stars. The works’ formal compositions seem interrupted by small events; they move beyond the physical evidence of their materials, resulting in paintings that resemble windows into the cosmos, with all its mystery and depth. The artist seems to become restless in the four pieces from the series “Itinerari” (Itineraries), 1970, wherein the freer gestural quality of the hand captures the form of nervous mental pathways.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Alessandra Pioselli

Marc Camille Chaimowicz

Palazzo della Triennale
Viale Alemagna 6
October 14–January 8

View of “Marc Camille Chaimowicz,” 2016.

French artist Marc Camille Chaimowicz, one of the early proponents of a multidisciplinary approach to art that dovetailed performance and installation, now orchestrates a project devoted to the architecture of its venue, La Triennale di Milano. Chaimowicz compares the aesthetic affinities of this space to the oneiric aspects of metaphysics. “Maybe Metafisica,” curated by Eva Fabbris, follows a circular trajectory that—beginning with Giorgio de Chirico’s painting Figliol Prodigo (Prodigal Son), 1973—retraces in stages Chaimowicz’s expressive forms, seen in decorative panels, furniture, and highly theatrical installations, all either created or restaged for the occasion. The first work comprises a curtain draped over an installation of various objects––three small gashes in the fabric reveal a fox stole, flowers, lights, and architectural elements—accompanied by a perpetually gushing fountain (We Chose Our Words with Care, That Neon-Moonlit Evening; It Was As If We Were, Party to a Wonderful Alchemy, 1975–2008). In the melancholically monumental space of the main room, visitors encounter two sections of wallpaper with graphic elements that evoke Jean Cocteau. Three large arches (Arches, 1975–2016), similar to those in the museum’s vestibule but which cut off midway, rest defenselessly on the walls and floor, and lead to a space occupied by stairs with treads (Two-Speed Staircase, 1975–2016), as well as desks and floodlights in blue and red.

Visitors move on to encounter Rope Vase(s), 2014, ten glazed pastel-hued ceramics created in Italy with the help of a ceramics workshop in Faenza. The exhibition then concludes with nine empty bronze shelves (Venezia, Venice, 2016) made in collaboration with the Milan Battaglia Foundry. The work is made up of supports that hold nothing but instead function as demarcations of space, punctuating eight drawings on paper.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Maria Chiara Valacchi

Adriana Varejăo

Gagosian | Rome
Via Francesco Crispi 16
October 1–January 14

Adriana Varejăo, Azulejăo (voluta) [Big Tile (volute)], 2016, oil and plaster on canvas, 70 7/8 × 70 7/8".

For “Azulejăo” (Big Tile), Adriana Varejăo has covered the gallery’s curved walls with enormous pieces inspired by traditional Portuguese tilework. Square tiles of enameled terra-cotta have served a dual function since the Middle Ages—they’re ornamental but also practical for cladding and waterproofing buildings. Here, Varejăo, who is interested in the history and culture of Brazil, employs the highly recognizable material to represent her native land’s ties to Portugal, ties established through the vicissitudes of trade and colonialism. She allowed a layer of plaster on each of her large canvases to dry until it yielded cracks and rifts. She then applied blue and white oil paint, creating resolutely enlarged details (an angel’s head, a Doric column, a rose, a shell) that approach a gestural abstraction evoking the works of Franz Kline or Emilio Vedova. The show opens with Monocromo Roma II (Rome Monochrome II), 2016. With a paucity of color that seemingly pays homage to Alberto Burri’s “Cretti” series, it serves as a tabula rasa that launches the rest of the work conceived specifically for the show.

A single totemic sculpture destabilizes the viewer’s gaze. It, too, is clad in majolica tiles, but tangles of bloody viscera emerge, like a trompe l’oeil that verges on splatter. The show concludes with Transbarroco, 2014, a unique multichannel video installation. Wide-angled shots present the spectacular interiors of Baroque churches in the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais and Bahia, and a captivating recording of a Candomblé ritual is interspersed with readings of texts that examine Brazilian identity.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Marta Silvi

Carol Rama

GAM - Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea
Via Magenta 31
October 12–February 5

Carol Rama, C'č un altro metodo per finire (There Is Another Method to Finish), 1967, mixed media, 13 x 19''.

Carol Rama’s traveling retrospective concludes in Turin, the artist’s native city, where she lived and worked. One of the most significant presences in twentieth-century Italian art, Rama was honored with the Golden Lion award at the 2003 Venice Biennale. This show, the most comprehensive exhibition of her work to date, retraces the salient moments and series of her production, with approximately two hundred works dating from 1936 until her death in 2005.

Rama was self-taught as an artist, and early on, during the years of Fascism in the 1930s and 1940s, she already was addressing the thorny subject of the body, depicting, with pronounced sensuality, amputated limbs or erect tongues. A decade after participating in the MAC (Movimento Arte Concrete) during the ’50s, she adopted her characteristic bricolage technique, putting together on canvas letters and mathematical signs, porcelain dolls’ eyes and stuffed animals, as well as fingernails, metal threads, and other well-worn objects, all laden with experience. She also included other heterogeneous materials such as biological elements connected to the body, creating organisms that are both abstract and organic. In the ’70s her experimentation with materials evolved through the creation of two-dimensional assemblages, where she focused exclusively on the use of rubber from bicycle tires, a direct reference to her father’s work as a bicycle manufacturer (her childhood was marked by his suicide). In the ’80s she returned to surreal and unconventional figuration tied to the body, culminating in her notorious “La mucca pazza” (Mad Cow) series, ca. 1996–2001. This work once again conjoins identity and politics, where a contorted and post-human anatomy reconfirms the central focus of her research on the topicality of contemporary poetics that reflect on the feminine.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Francesca Pola

Wael Shawky

Castello di Rivoli
Piazza Mafalda di Savoia
November 3–February 5

View of “Wael Shawky,” 2016–17.

Wael Shawky’s serial film project “Cabaret Crusades,” first presented in its complete form in 2015 at MoMA PS1, maintains its macabre ability to fascinate and horrify at the Castello di Rivoli. For his one-man show at the Castello, Shawky produced an entirely new site-specific environment for the films, with two of the three projected in bubble-gum pink facsimiles of medieval fortresses that forcefully occupy the venue’s cavernous top floor. Grotesque in appearance but comically subdued in their dramatic presence, the puppets that populate Shawky’s films commiserate, betray, and murder their way through the artist’s phantasmagoric retelling of the Crusades. Many of the puppets of the third film, The Secrets of Karbala, 2014, are also exhibited at the Castello. Specially produced for Secrets by glass workers in Murano, the marionettes evince a monstrous fragility, combining human and animal features in chimerical concoctions. The puppets that play the part of the treacherous Venetians in Shawky’s film are especially fantastical, chthonic fusions of doge and crustacean that reflect the gallery lights with their glossy shells.

New to this show are three large-scale wooden relief sculptures that appropriate Crusades-related painterly compositions by Eugčne Delacroix, Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen, and Alexandre Jean-Baptiste Hesse. Collaborating with woodworkers from the Veneto, Shawky has reimagined these artists’ works by inserting bizarre additions, such as a colossal leviathan that squats on the horizon of van Wieringen’s naval battle and a cane-wielding aberration that perches on a balcony in Hesse’s court scene. As the final stage of Shawky’s engagement with the Crusades, which brought together artistic traditions from throughout the Levant and beyond in a truly cosmopolitan, utopian vision, the reliefs mark a triumphant conclusion to his artistic dialogue with the material and visual cultures of the medieval Mediterranean world.

Dan Jakubowski