Vittorio Messina

La Nuova Pesa

Vittorio Messina’s work—site-specific sculpture and installations that engage various questions about architecture and scale—is rooted, both formally and conceptually, in the intersection between the languages of Minimalism and arte povera. Rather than merely synthesizing these vocabularies, however, Messina achieves a highly inventive stance, one that is extremely personal and poetic.

In his recent exhibition, each space of the gallery contained one work that was made specifically for the show. A stylized human silhouette, constructed from blocks of a prefab material called “ytong,” welcomed the visitor with an enigmatic gesture. The surface of this silhouette was covered with red stucco, scratched in a grid pattern that exposed the white background and created the illusion of a brick elevation. The spectator thus encountered a complex, multilayered metaphor for construction, one that has often driven Messina’s work. A piece entitled Cinque celle a schiera per una casa fuori citta, ma abbastanza vicina (Five grouped cells for a house outside the city, but quite near; all works 1996), leant against an entire wall of another room of the gallery, integrating into its own composition a partially decorated column that forms part of the actual gallery space. The “cells” were divided by white cement panels supporting pieces of wood, as well as by sheets of polystyrene held immobile by clamps, and the piece’s back panels were covered with modest, kitschy wallpaper. All the materials were brand new—still bearing commercial seals and stamps. Six neon fixtures emitted a strong light revealing the various fragments that made up the piece. This total visibility is a distinguishing feature of Messina’s work: even the electrical cables and plugs are presented unadorned.

Piccolo portico in una regione piovosa (Small portico in a rainy region) brought to mind classical architecture through its use of fragments—blocks of Carrara marble; sheets draped around cement piers, causing them to look like fluted columns—that were assembled in the center of the space, seeming to create a sacred enclosure. Two small umbrellas placed above, one green and the other pink, added a humorous note while introducing a palette typical of sixteenth-century Mannerist painting.

In the last room of the gallery, Messina installed a very different type of work. Leaving a large wooden cube open on one side, he arranged within it a selection of items: an old, worn-out chair; a wooden pallet covered by a sheet; a warrior’s breastplate; a refrigerator; some flowers that were left to die over the course of the exhibition; and a fan blowing a rag. A small tape recorder played an aria from Gioacchino Rossini’s Semiramide. This piece, entitled In morte di Patroclo (On the death of Patroclus), is an elegy to absence: the hero is dead; only the lament of those who remember him remains. Seeming to exist at the limits of form, it embraces a universe of ambiguity and contradictions.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.