Aldo Mondino

David Gill, Leighton House

The tacky yet pristine surfaces of Aldo Mondino’s portraits on linoleum lend a squeaky, crisp, culinary look to his images. Less homages to bourgeois domesticity than cunning icons in which the marriage of private and public realms exposes the raw vulnerability of the individual subject, they posess all the humour and savagery of an Isaac Bashevis Singer short story. It is no surprise, then, to find Mondino photographed in front of his spirited painting of a cock fight. Red splashes and pools of viscous oil pigment add a peculiarly corporeal reality to these pictures, subverting the mass-produced mundanity of their support. Their subjects are true to Germano Celant’s prescription for arte povera, they “run over the whole keyboard”—Turks, Jews, Christians, Englishmen and Scotsmen—a sort of inverted anthropological cruise that leaves the viewer breathless and at a loss to understand.

On a more rarefied level, Mondino’s decision to show in one of London’s most unlikely venues for his work succeeds, if for no other reason than that the visual “noise” is so great. Leighton House was the private residence and studio of England’s most successful late-19-century painter, Frederic, Lord Leighton (President of the Royal Academy, 1830-1896) who lived in Caliph-like splendour in his Arab Hall based on the Banquet Hall at the Moorish Palace, La Zisa, in Palermo. Mondino’s irreverent triptych Architteto e L’Imperatore (The architect and the emperor, 1990) not only cocks a snoop at Britain’s imperialist history but also looks askance at the xenophobic imagery of Western post-Modern art.

At the same time, there is a self-deprecating mood to Mondino’s word and image play, especially in Darwings, 1990, where Darwin, a biblical patriarch, is framed by a series of ape to humanoid portrait drawings that get progressively more “modern” as they recede in time. The idea of progress in art, or anything else, is nicely pilloried in the show’s iconic work, Biron, 1990, a lavish and inept pastiche of Thomas Phillips’ swashbuckling 1813 portrait of Lord Byron, turbanned, moustached, his long black locks set-off by oriental plumes—the picture of the artist as Brother at Arms. Only Mondino frames his version with nasty plastic black and green biros. Byron—mad, arrogant, and died for nothing. The sheer degradation of cultural difference is playfully displayed by Mecca Mokka, 1990, a coffee-bean carpet laid out on the floor in nice color grades of unroasted, medium, and dark beans.

The legacy of arte povera is becoming ever clearer, in that it presaged the most significant and innovative strategies of the last two decades. Mondino gave the London art world a taste of its roots and a breath of an “art of the mountain top” in his attempt to destroy the myth which, as Celant put it, “continues to create superthings, while reality and life call not for superthings, but for obvious, commonplace and nameless things.” Mondino succeeds in putting these together in ingeneous and inept ways which make the idea worth thinking about and the thing worth looking at.

Marjorie Althorpe-Guyton