Gabriele di Matteo

Gabriele Di Matteo’s work is based on quotation—and not only from the world of art. His recent exhibition was a true apotheosis of citation (and self-citation). The artist, principally a painter, also experiments with other media, and on this occasion several were used, but everything revolved around a single idea: creating an homage to Méliès, the great French director from the early days of cinema. The gallery’s first room held two enormous paintings, executed in impeccable realist technique. One reproduced an image taken from Méliès’s most famous film, A Trip to the Moon (1914), from a scene in which the protagonist announces to a gathering of strangely dressed people that he intends to voyage to the moon and bring back to earth one of its inhabitants; the other, the studio in which the film was made. Presenting us with both the fiction and the material conditions for its realization, Di Matteo introduces the viewer to the world of film seen as a thematic reservoir that sustains his painting.

The second, rather bare room contained a series of smallish canvases, stacked against the wall, which visitors could leaf through like a narrative sequence. These depicted five strange red characters wandering around places on earth: the inhabitants of the moon as Méliès imagined them, reenvisioned by Di Matteo as having landed on earth to recover a companion who was kidnapped by Méliès’s voyager. Their story is told in a short film Di Matteo has made but not shown; the paintings in the room represented scenes from that story. In the gallery, a sort of teaser had been presented to the public via a performance in which a waiter and a ship commander (characters that appear in the film) advance solemnly, carrying the same paintings now hanging on the walls. From the images one could infer that the moon people, the “Selenites,” have visited the beach where Jacques Tati shot Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953); they also visited Di Matteo’s show, imagined to be held at the same spot in the north of France. It was there, at that exhibition, that they found their kidnapped companion, freed him from the canvas in which he had been depicted, and fled in an automobile. After returning to Méliès’s moon (with its characteristic eyes and mouth), they lost another companion, killed by an unknown hand (a further quotation, this time from Hitchcock). Sitting in the gallery space was an object connecting the story to its context: a mannequin with the features of the gallery owner, Antonio Colombo, dressed in one of the costumes from the film.

Di Matteo’s conceptual approach seems to question painting’s ability to construct a narrative. His painting is always very close to illustration. There are no gestural strokes, and the image is flat and well defined. Most important, the work always derives from a preexisting context: cinema, photography, the mass media, or sometimes painting itself, in the case of Duchamp (whose Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912, has been the subject of another Di Matteo revision). Painting becomes a means by which the artist takes possession of images in order to interrogate them, choosing the most exotic and exploiting the power of fascination that emanates from their constituent ambiguity.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.