Zurich / Milan

Not Vital

De Pury & Luxembourg / Galleria Cardi & Co.

Even the most accurate representation or display of an object taken directly from reality acquires a further, metaphorical sense as soon as it is transported into the domain of art. So nothing is more surprising than an encounter with work that succeeds in escaping metaphor, or at least—as with one of the three large installations in two recent exhibitions by Not Vital, which also included a series of sculptures or objects—in handling it in an unusual fashion. One of the installations in Zurich was titled The Golden Calf, 2001—an allusion, of course, to the biblical tale in Exodus in which the Hebrews, awaiting the return of Moses, become worshipers of an idol they've made. Not Vital placed a life-size statue of a calf at the center of the room in Zurich, and the relevant passage of scripture, in Hebrew, ran along the bottom of the walls. The statue of the golden calf was the real thing: fourteen kilos of eighteen-karat gold. When the definition, the appearance, and the essence of the work coincide, the viewer is brought back to a unity that, at the time of Joseph Kosuth's One and three chairs, 1965, seemed irremediably divided: words from images, images from things.

But we would be mistaken to consider Not Vital's work a conceptual piece about language. Even if The Golden Calf owes its energy to this synthesis of name, image, and object, the work also operates on other levels of evocation, playing (as this artist's work always does) with the memory of an exotic place, the high Alpine mountain setting in which he grew up in the village of Engadine. Thus the calf is the biblical memory that mixes with the reality of a boy's rural surroundings, a reality full of calves, just as it is full of snowballs, play, and magical playthings. Seven hundred irregular spheres of white glass were sheathed within envelopes of transparent glass—snowballs preserved for eternity rather than consigned to the transience of their melting.

A love for places from the artist's own life and the evocative power that these convey were also seen in the exhibition in Milan, entitled “Voglio mostrare le mie montagne” (I want to show my mountains), echoing Giovanni Segantini and Joseph Beuys, both of whom said “I want to see my mountains.” This show included a series of three-dimensional masses in bright white marble that reproduced the mountains around Engadine. Although speaking of a sculpture of a mountain may sound somewhat strange, just as it is strange to think about a portrait of a mountain, that is just what it is: a sculptural portrait of a series of mountains. While we have become accustomed to mountain landscapes, from Romanticism on, we may still be surprised by the idea of “mountain portraits,” although each mountain has its own specific character, its own physiognomy. In all of Not Vital's work, a linguistic shift is effected that revolves around the concept of the image of reality and its metaphor. The mountain is composed of stone, and so is its image (even if there is not even a bit of statuary marble in Engadine itself). In rural culture the mountain is anthropomorphic, and so—marble being the material of the portrait and the figure—the sculptural material turns it into a person; a landscape is transformed into an individual.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore