Ettore Spalletti

The rooms of the MUHKA in Antwerp, which are painted entirely white, including the floors, are perhaps the most appropriate setting for the works of Ettore Spalletti, which often seem to float in space, even when they are exhibited in rooms laden with architectural detail. For this exhibition the artist chose to heighten this floating effect by exhibiting only wall pieces. The single exception was Acquasantiera (Holy water basin, 1986), a marble sculpture in the form of an overturned cone, that did touch the ground. This slight transgression revealed the formal subtlety of Spalletti’s work: the piece had to lean against the wall to remain balanced, as the only part of the cone to make contact with the floor was its pointed tip.

Thus there were only “paintings,” if one could call them that, and perhaps one cannot, as they lack any of the traditional hallmarks of that genre. The diptychs and triptychs that Spalletti constructs often open up to the spaces in which they are installed: they are typically split in such a way that they literally slide away from the wall and become three-dimensional. In this way the austere white spaces of the museum were dramatically punctuated by these pieces, each appearing to attempt flight.

The emotional intensity of the work—in which color and light become one with abstract forms—is derived above all from the varying temperatures of its saturated coloration. Spalletti doesn’t “paint”; rather, he spreads a kind of colored impasto, made from pure pigment, over his supports—which include geometric solids formed out of marble or alabaster. This colored paste is applied in multiple layers until a certain thickness has been achieved. After the “paint” has been allowed to dry, Spalletti abrades it in such a way that a fine layer of colored dust is produced, which he leaves resting on the surface. In examining these pieces one can also find barely legible traces of brushstrokes.

In this show, Spalletti paid homage to the blue-white-gray skies of Northern Europe. Pieces that had been covered with an intense blue and a luminous gray appeared in a triangular room that opens to the outside air by way of a long, vertical aperture, while in another room a monumental piece transformed the neutrality of its white coloration into something weighty and grandiose.

The artist has also, however, spoken of his desire to summon through his work the light and warmth of central Italy, while incorporating the solidity of form that is the legacy of Giotto and Piero della Francesca. Here, one room was dedicated to pieces with extremely beautiful reddish-purple surfaces in various tonalities, while the newest work in this exhibition, Stanza, Giallo Oro (Room, yellow gold), 1995—shown here for the first time—was an intensely luminous yellow triptych that made the large wall on which it was installed appear to glow, as though bathed in sunlight.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.