View of “Ettore Spalletti,” 2014. MAXXI National Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome. Back wall: Voce Bassa (Low Voice), 2014. Right wall: each Parole di colore (Words of Color), 2011.

View of “Ettore Spalletti,” 2014. MAXXI National Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome. Back wall: Voce Bassa (Low Voice), 2014. Right wall: each Parole di colore (Words of Color), 2011.

Ettore Spalletti

View of “Ettore Spalletti,” 2014. MAXXI National Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome. Back wall: Voce Bassa (Low Voice), 2014. Right wall: each Parole di colore (Words of Color), 2011.

This distinctive exhibition of Ettore Spalletti’s work, organized in three different venues in as many cities, achieves a unique presentation that conveys the complexity of his practice from both an emotional and a factual point of view, revealing his inner geography as well as his dedication to detail and love for material. Recent works are on display at MAXXI, in some cases conceived in dialogue with Zaha Hadid’s idiosyncratic architectural space. One example is Voce Bassa (Low Voice), 2014, an enormous panel of a joyful light-blue color laid out on the floor, following the museum’s ascending ramp. In the works on the wall, the blues, alternating with powder pinks, unfold in all their nuances and seem to almost settle like dust or talc against the white volumes of the shaped columns. The room installation designed for the exhibition in Rome, Un giorno così bianco, così bianco (A Day So White, So White), 2013, from which the thee-part show takes its title, is a white cube—a meditative space, a concentrated and isolated microcosm in which the viewer is enveloped by luminosity. The eleven white panels that cover the room are not all parallel to the wall; three of them jut out, distanced from the wall by white pencils, sharpened at both ends, creating acute angles, shadows, and unexpected volumes. The white is blinding, its intensity further emphasized by the vibration of the gold leaf that highlights the vertical edges.

The exhibition in Turin contains twenty-five works dating from the 1970s through today, most from Spalletti’s studio in Abruzzo, with the intention of reconstructing the aura of that silent and protected space, drenched as it is in a light that conveys the reverberations of sea and sky. Indeed, it is precisely the surrounding and absorbing luminosity of the Adriatic Sea that is the source of the artist’s blues and pinks, similar to Tiepolo’s Venetian tones—atmospheric, impalpable colors.

Finally, Museo MADRE in Naples is hosting a nonchronological retrospective, in which fifty-eight works, from the late ’60s to the present, establish a nonlinear dialogue. The paintings, columns, alabaster cubes, works on paper, and room works become more intense or more rarefied, depending on the density of the natural light, in a relationship between interior and exterior that constantly creates a reenchanted space. The exhibition path is divided into a succession of rooms not unlike Fra Angelico’s cells at the Convent of San Marco in Florence, and the works affirm their almost devotional nature and the intimate and spiritual quality of Spalletti’s art, establishing a close rapport with the viewer and focusing on the internal energy—not mental but experiential—of the artist’s work.

This is an art marked by its economy, one that is more about subtraction than addition. The process of applying colors in successive layers, always on a horizontal plane, is one that extends over time: A mix of oil paints, diluted with pigments and plaster, is applied every day at the same time for about three weeks, until Spalletti has obtained the desired thickness. Next, he begins a process of abrasion that releases the true color, which reveals itself in pigments that sit freely on the surface like a fine dust, in minuscule fragments of pictorial material in suspension. There is an imperceptible outward movement of the color from inside the work—very similar to the atmospheric effect of Mark Rothko’s paintings—that simultaneously presents transparency and depth. And the work has an internal rhythm, like a breath, or a barely discernible humming, which often slides into silence, in the opaque absorbency of the monochromatic surfaces. Whether applied to flat surfaces or volumes or rooms, all of Spalletti’s paintings vibrate with these powdery pigments in a sort of temporal continuum, as if the manifestation of the painting were in a state of evolution: something occurring in the air, at that moment. It is not an event that has already occurred in the studio, of which the viewer takes note, but rather something in which the viewer participates, in a continuous present, almost as if to confirm, here and now, the work’s vital manifestation in every moment. And the colors dance in this atmosphere, between sky, dawn, and sea, between retina and heart; they give us back the quiet and luminosity of an emotional geography, of an inner panorama emptied of images, but heightened in a dimension of pure event.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.