Milan

Pia Stadtbäumer

In Pia Stadtbäumer’s sculptures, the human form is modeled in a classical manner, but with various abnormalities incorporated—some barely perceptible, others blatant. In the past she has created wax bas-reliefs that scrupulously reproduce the physiognomies of her friends and acquaintances, but with the features deformed in ways that are either horrifying or merely psychologically suggestive. She typically works from a photograph of a particular person; and the three figures in the show, her first in Milan, were based on a snapshot of her nephew Max. To create the sculptures on view, she first made a clay model for each (as she does when she works in wax), cast the final pieces in zellan, a mixture of porcelain and plaster, then painted each with acrylic.

One of the boys referenced in the show’s title, “Tre Regazzi” (Three boys), stood at the center of a room. A black cord hanging from the ceiling was attached to a hook embedded in his head, and a necklace of wooden pearls, also black, encircled his neck. In this piece, Max, screaming (all works 1997–98), the figure’s naked body is painted yellow, and the face expresses a strong but unidentifiable emotion. The eyes are shut and the mouth open, presumably in a scream, but whether the figure is experiencing pain or pleasure is unclear. On the walls of the same room, hanging at eye level, were three close-up photographs of the boy’s face that captured his ambiguous expression.

In another room, two variations on the same figure highlighted the strong spatial relationships the artist sometimes establishes when she installs her sculptures. In Little boy with big black head, the child—whose head is painted black and is much larger than the rest of the body—bends over, resting its forehead against the wall. Max, beating, the most elaborate and expressive piece in the show, holds a block of wood and stands upright on a pedestal. In contrast to the realistic rendering of the rest of the statue, the arms are separated at the elbows, with large bolts inserted; connected by a cord and small pulleys to a door, they were raised and lowered as the door opened and closed. Stadtbaumer meticulously painted the face with gray acrylic, as if it were delicate makeup, giving this uncanny presence an even more alarming appearance than the other figures in the unsettling show.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.