Marco Papa

Gian Ferrari Arte Contemporanea

The twenty-five-year-old Milanese artist Marco Papa is known for his art’s playful irony. A trademark piece, for example, is a pair of swimming flippers carved out of soap—a work that is at once comical, tender, and subversive (if used, the equipment would inexorably dissipate in the water, dissolving a bit more with every kick). However, irony was only one aspect of Papa’s recent exhibition “Caduta Libera” (Free fall), and perhaps not even the most important element.

Near the entrance to the gallery, Papa installed a large Formica purse containing three wolf heads, made respectively from soap, licorice, and aluminum foil. A huge cudgel drawn in graphite decorated a nearby wall, while on the floor appeared a miniature mountain range formed of licorice on which the artist had arranged a lilliputian scene—a tiny car driven by wolf-men, surrounded by several rams—made of pastry. The lower floor of the gallery, meanwhile, was devoted to a mysterious performance: two figures wearing wolf-masks and jockey’s silks, holding cudgels carved from soap and whips made of licorice, gestured threateningly toward each other from opposite ends of the room with barely detectable movements. The floor was emblazoned with a stylized image of a swallow, a crude design that might have been drawn by a teenager with artistic aspirations.

What made “Caduta Libera” especially interesting was that although it was difficult to guess the artist’s motives—and despite the disparate nature of the characters, images, and materials—one sensed a certain underlying narrative coherence. Papa’s work has a diaristic quality, but it does not necessarily mirror the artist’s own day-to-day existence. Instead, he creates a fantasy world animated by mysterious struggles between oneiric or mythological figures. Motifs such as the swallow, licorice, and miniature car may reflect memories from childhood or adolescence; other influences include ancient Egyptian art, comic-book images, and Japanese television programs.

These days many younger Italian artists seem driven to create intensely personal art that, like Papa’s, is based on fantasy and memory. The images they come up with do not reflect a collective imagination, but rather involve the creation of a new mythology through seemingly endless experimentation, a Darwinian process in which some efforts are retained and others are discarded. In this sense, their art can be said truly to imitate nature.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore