The work of Italian artist Luigi Ontani may be summed up in a word -- exotic. Curated by P.S. 1's Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, this retrospective examines the 35-year career of a multi-faceted artist. Included are some 65 paintings, sculptures, photos, film, video pieces and a large-scale installation. In each of his objects, images, installations and performances, Ontani seems to strive for a spiritual foundation in art-making that melds Eastern and Western religious rituals and mythological subjects. He uses a meditative approach in creating works that combine contemporary techniques with age-old themes. In most of the pieces, the artist himself, often nude, plays a key role.
In Lapsus Lupus, a large hand-tinted photo, for instance, Ontani is on his hands and knees wearing nothing but a wolf's hide placed over his back. He shelters two nude babies seated below his chest; they suggest Romulus and Remus. Is Ontani reenacting a Roman myth or hinting at the birth of a new Rome?
In a large ceramic work, Ganeshamusa (1998-2000), a six-foot-high, beautifully painted and gilt figure of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god, appears as half-human, half elephant. As if this object weren't outlandish enough on its own, the artist places it in a room lined with tall bands of colorful fabric and more hand-tinted photos. In this work, and throughout the show, Ontani accomplishes the seemingly impossible: a fusion of high camp and profundity.
"Luigi Ontani: 1965-2001, GaneshamUSA," Mar. 11-May. 6, 2001, at P.S. 1, 22-25 Jackson Ave., Long Island City, N.Y. 11101.