Giovanni Anselmo, Untitled, 1967, wood, Formica, polyethylene, vise, 74 7⁄8 × 47 1⁄4 × 9 7⁄8".

Giovanni Anselmo, Untitled, 1967, wood, Formica, polyethylene, vise, 74 7⁄8 × 47 1⁄4 × 9 7⁄8".

Giovanni Anselmo

Giovanni Anselmo’s recent exhibition “Mentre i disegni misurano, la luce focalizza, i colori e le pietre sono peso vivo” (While Drawings Measure, Light Focuses, Colors and Stones Are Living Weight) took its title directly from works by the Arte Povera artist on view in the first room of the gallery. The series “Mentre i disegni misurano,” created over the course of a decade beginning in 1969, consists of eighteen sheets of drawing paper entirely covered in gray graphite. The artist sees these as details, on a one-to-one scale, of the word infinito (infinity), imagined as infinitely large. The small gray rectangles, understood as fragments of something incomprehensibly vast brought back to the human dimension, here measured the actual space by being placed at regular intervals on two opposite walls.

La luce focalizza (Light Focuses), 2018, is a scaled-down version of a classic Anselmo work from 1972: The word particolare, is cast by a slide projector positioned in such a way that the writing becomes visible only when an obstacle, such as a viewer’s body, passes in front of the lens. Thus the viewer, or any other thing, is labeled a “detail” of a whole that is perceptible only through the visualization and consciousness of its own limits.

Two granite slabs, one pinkish, one grayish, each resting against a different pillar in the middle of the space, were each titled I colori e le pietre sono peso vivo (Color and Stones Are Living Weight), 2018. Anselmo often alludes to how pigment is extracted from stone via blocks of granite used in conjunction with a white stretched canvas to indicate the material matrix of painting. In some previous works, the stone has been hooked to the wall by a steel cable; raised up, it becomes notionally lighter because the pull of gravity diminishes as it moves away from the earth’s surface. In the works shown here, the slabs represented two contrary tendencies: Resting diagonally on the piers, they were drawn by their weight toward the horizontal of the earth even as their slant pointed them toward the light entering from the large windows.

Two works installed in another room were a true surprise, since they had not been exhibited for many years—Untitled, 1967, and Dissolvenza (Dissolution), 1970. The former consists of a white wooden stretcher frame, wide enough to stand freely in the space, that holds taut a large sheet of transparent plastic. An iron vise bites into the center of the plastic, creating a fold. Like other works of Anselmo’s from this period, the piece makes explicit the relationships of forces that hold it in balance—in other words, its own conditions of visibility. Potential energy—a phrase the artist often uses—though itself invisible, holds together the two elements, the vise and the plastic, and is manifested in its effects.

In Dissolvenza a projector casts that luminous word onto an iron parallelepiped. The work is positioned on the ground; the iron block is small, although it weighs more than four hundred pounds. It has become rusty from oxidation and thus is destined for dissolution, albeit over a very long time—a process unobservable by the human eye. As usual, Anselmo causes us to reflect on the energy that is latent in material. With the crystal-clear simplicity of a master, he asks us to think about infinity through the experience of the fragments in which it is reflected. He presents us with acts of thought that go beyond our own finitude, just as Kant intended when he spoke of the sublime.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.