Massimo Bartolini

At first glance, this might have seemed to be an unfinished exhibition, its installation still under way. “Maybe it’s better to stop by later,” one might have thought. The installation, Massimo Bartolini’s Organi (Organs), 2008, stood at the back of the gallery space as if in an apse: a strange scaffolding, made of tubular metal beams like those that cover the facades of buildings under construction or renovation. The iron framework had six levels and reached almost to the gallery ceiling; it was like a spider’s web. The classic function of scaffolding was undermined by the anomalous arrangement of the metal poles, as well as by the inner structure that appeared like a scaffolding within the scaffolding. A viewer desiring to uncover the structure’s significance was forced to study its geometric skeleton, which seemed to delineate and arrange the empty space, shaping formal abstractions made of shadows against the white walls.

The tubular cables recalled organ pipes, and the gallery was filled with appropriately mysterious music: a variation on the first three bars of John Cage’s Cheap Imitation, the simple melodic line that the composer created in 1969 as a “cheap imitation” of Erik Satie’s Socrate, for a dance piece by Merce Cunningham. At the opening, an extraordinarily simple and melancholy version for accordion was performed by Fausta Beccalossi. Those who are not experts in the field might have found it difficult to recognize the piece; the result had the appeal of a sound that was simultaneously difficult and enchanting. Sound, which has been an important element in all of Bartolini’s work from his earliest pieces on, is used to convey a range of significances. The idea of the organ allows the sensation of a nonspecific, quotidian, and perhaps artistic religiosity to come through, in a musical vehicle of praise, invocation, prayer, and contemplation (though here without a direct object). But the music also evokes a childlike wistfulness, inducing a memory of long ago, like that of a music box. Indeed, this was precisely what one was hearing: sounds mechanically produced by a roll with carefully placed bars that, when the roll turned, produced the various notes and their duration. One could make out the box at the base of the scaffolding.

This scaffolding and music, “played” by Bartolini’s art, share a capacity to elevate, suspend, and liberate. They become instruments for filling a missing link between low and high, earth and sky, man and stars, words and song, work and repose, artifice and nature, mechanical and lyrical, human and divine. The artist describes the project this way: “I tried to make the imagination practicable. By practicable I mean something that enables us to also bring the body, I mean into the level of the imagination.”

Paola Noé

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.