Omar Galliani

Galleria Weber

Omar Galliani’s recent paintings and drawings shift the focus of the work some critics have called “neomannerist painting” to the edges of the Italian Renaissance. So-called neomannerist work displays an academically rigorous drawing style and a traditional painting technique; its inspiration derives from the historical period of Mannerism. It is not a markedly different phenomenon from neo-expressionism, nor does it show a different attitude toward problems of figuration. It simply refers to a different tradition. The result is a flood of allegories in chiaroscuro, falsely dramatic and falsely allusive, recalling Surrealism at its most trite and tired. The work seems justified only when its excessiveness suggests a parodic intention, or when it is so close to the appearance of its model as to raise the questions of photographic reproduction.

A problem arises when this art genre is taken as seriously as, unfortunately, seems to be the case with Galliani. His preoccupation with style causes him to lose a sense of the difference between esthetics and estheticism. Galliani’s winged half-gods and youthful warriors appear amid clouds of rich color—usually ochers, grays, and bloody reds, often treated as darting bursts of flame or evanescent vapors. The figures always seem to be emerging from or about to fall into a chasm, but the handling is affectionately indulgent and the color is lovely, guaranteeing a “beautiful death.” What risk does the figure run? None. What is the relationship between Galliani’s Renaissance manner and his color? None. The result is painting that has not clarified the difference between narrative and description. Galliani lingers over details (in this he is a true mannerist), allowing displays of craftsmanly bravura, but diminishing the strength of his images. In Cavaliere d’ellissi (Knight of the ellipsis, 1983), the figurative, chromatic, and mythic presence of the large whale at the center of the picture is weakened by the lateral scenes that surround it. The result is not an ironical or critical stance toward myth; rather, it is mythology drained of meaning, used purely rhetorically. Consequently, the image is bankrupt; what should be an exemplary force is fragmented.

Since there is never any sense in Galliani’s work of truly threatening catastrophe, the ostentatious painterly displays to which he resorts lie only on the surface, evoking only phantasmagoria and an estheticizing nostalgia for a lost age. Lightning may strike, volcanoes erupt, streams of wind and water burst forth, but these events have no paradisiacal or infernal justification; they are pure apology for a decorative style. In this there is neither a Renaissance obsessive scope nor a Mannerist awareness of death.

Luciana Rogozinski

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.