Gaetano Sgambati

It was a kind of artificial forest. The gallery was transformed into an itinerary delineated by oily-gray columns, and there was also a stainless steel bar, flanked by stools that could be reached only with a certain effort. Gaetano Sgambati put the ball back in the viewer’s court, constructing an unusual and surprising set in which the everyday and the unreal, the banal and the disturbing, met and exasperated each other.

But let’s begin at the beginning. One hundred polyurethane columns made expressly for this exhibition, according to the artist’s design, were placed in the rectangular space of the gallery. The columns, a bit over two meters high, were arranged in five rows, about one pace apart. To reach the back of the gallery, one had to take about 20 or 21 steps. Making one’s way through this mass of columns, one could see, albeit with some difficulty, about two-thirds of the way back, the sparkling bar with three stools. Thus, the installation brought out certain paired concepts: polyurethane and stainless steel, the soft and the resistant, oily-gray and sparkling-metallic sheen. More than a forest, the columns were a metropolitan space, crowded with people bumping into and meeting up with each other, people who formed a line in front of a bar counter. And when this sort of place, be it in real life or in the gallery, is uninhabited, it becomes real.

Sgambati worked with the idea of the artificial and the object. He designed and built the columns and the bar, rather than adapting already existing ones; but he was not making a statement about ready-mades. The beautiful and existing object didn’t offer him new ideas. It is the object to be constructed that enticed him—the object that is so polished it is like a real-life bar or column. Thus the object and the relationships that it established with the space, the modification that the object underwent when it came into contact with other objects and with the public, became the thread that ran through Sgambati’s work. There was an interweaving of threads to stage an anonymous and banal frontier, one that was empty and unreal, but also a theater of desires and fantasies. It was a perverse game, where the real and the unreal blended and ate away at each other, where the full and the empty, noise and silence, the crowd and the individual were all actors with equal billing, in this final, neither cheerful nor desperate, act.

Angelo Trimarco

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.