Paolo Gonzato, L’Isola delle Rose (The Island of Roses), 2012, wood, paint, dimensions variable.

Paolo Gonzato, L’Isola delle Rose (The Island of Roses), 2012, wood, paint, dimensions variable.

Paolo Gonzato

Paolo Gonzato, L’Isola delle Rose (The Island of Roses), 2012, wood, paint, dimensions variable.

Inside an eighteenth-century palazzo, two opulently decorated rooms boast frescoed ceilings, marble fireplaces, and an arch decorated with gilded stucco. Such spaces are extremely beautiful but fraught with traps when, as in this case, they become the setting for an exhibition of contemporary art. The architecture can overpower the works in the show; one might find oneself longing for the more humdrum but less distracting white boxes of most contemporary galleries. Paolo Gonzato met this challenge head-on and created an installation, L’Isola delle Rose (The Island of Roses; all works 2012), that stood up to the space. Among the unexpected elements he avails himself of is the language of roadwork signage: indications for caution, evidence of imminent danger. These factors raised the level of emotional tension, if only subconsciously. But Gonzato’s real talent lies in the way in which he lets his work hover between pathos and irony.

On entering the first large room in the gallery, viewers were faced with what seemed like the result of an explosion: a chaos of wooden planks leaning up against the Baroque fireplace and wedged among the centuries-old wooden friezes. The title of the work (and the show) refers to an episode that actually occurred in Italy in the 1960s: the proclamation of the Esperanto Respubliko de la Insulo de la Rozoj (or Esperantist Republic of Rose Island) on an oil platform off the shore of Rimini in the Adriatic, just beyond Italian territorial waters. In 1968, its founder, an engineer from Bologna named Giorgio Rosa, proclaimed it a sovereign state, endowing it with its own autonomous government, currency, and postal stamps. In 1969, after a few months of self-management, the Italian government stepped in, eventually blowing up the platform. This odd story is Gonzato’s starting point, but he completely reworks it. The detritus “exploded” in the space did not consist of irregular, broken, or burned elements, such as might have been left by the Italian government’s incendiary devices, but rather pieces of wood cut to order and painted with deep-purple stripes. More than any narrative impulse, the installation revealed an intention to completely overlay the Baroque space of the gallery in order to reclaim the primacy of contemporaneity. Gonzato exploits the delicacy of the name L’Isola delle Rose to evoke the contrast between drama and farce, intensity of impact and lightness of representation.

These themes, among the artist’s favorites, could also be found in other works in the show, all likewise titled L’Isola delle Rose—for instance two sculptures set on pedestals in the second space, created from terra-cotta mixed with champagne; a large wall piece, painted on felt with enamel and cranberry juice; or a “painting-sculpture” created from destroyed bamboo matting, recomposed and brought back to life with the application of a purple patina. What stands out in Gonzato’s work is a casual attitude about making something opulent and grand, with the purpose of obscuring everything around it. And once the work is realized, Gonzato has a good laugh, perhaps drinking a bottle of Krug or sprinkling some cranberry juice over his creation.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.