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|Report from Italy
by Massimiliano Gioni and Gianni Romano
|The spring season in Milan witnessed a flourishing of exhibitions and events, with new galleries opening and artists on the international circuit dropping by. Whether the usual suspects or off-beat cameos, many lively situations have popped up all through the country, most of them mounted outside public spaces and museums. These days Italy is like an ant nest, all frenzied activity, but it turns into a pile of dust and sand when presented in official occasions.
No wonder that the most active enterprises are left to private minds and brave dealers: in a few months, Milan welcomed four new art spaces, Francesca Kaufmann, Paolo Curti & Co., Laura Pecci, and Contemporanea.
Some might say the 1980s are back, and Mike Bidlo is here to prove it. His "Fountain Drawings" installation followed the very first European exhibition by Marta Maria Perez Bravo at Paolo Curti & Co. The minimal-chic gallery was crowded with portraits of the most famous pissoir in the art world -- R. Mutt's. Bidlo painted a couple of thousand drawings inspired by Duchamp's toilet, giving a good lesson in irony and postmodernist esthetics to Italian art students of the nearby Accademia di Brera.
On May 4, Paolo Curti launched the first Italian show by Jonathan Meese, who starred in a much-anticipated performance that mixed German mythology and B-movies in a typical corrosive reinterpretation of Teutonic history, like a Joseph Beuys on drugs. But no worry: Meese is a funny chap, still living with his mother in Hamburg.
Irony might be the new thing in town. For a few days it was possible to stroll from Bidlo's pissoir to Wim Delvoye's animal farm at Laura Pecci's new gallery. The Flemish artist, who showed up with a cut ear in a failed emulation of van Gogh, came to Italy with two giant live pigs covered with rock-and-roll tattoos.
The animals spent a couple of weeks wallowing in their filth, while passersby and art lovers strolled through the gallery as if at a country fair. Strange enough, the neighbors didn't complain, though some members of the ecology party got mad.
Ham has never been so expensive. Beside the two pigs, Delvoye exhibited a series of photographs depicting salamis laid out in patterns like marble floors.
Public toilets and cattle fairs: it seems like artists are still looking for off-beat venues to show their work. Some don't even have a studio, but necessity knows no law. Also in May, Jasper Joffe, the brother of the local celebrity artist Chantal, locked himself inside Pecci's gallery for 24 hours, painting an artwork per hour. Twenty-four works to rediscover the excitement of painting, as Jasper Joffe explained. It was a tour de force against boredom, and a challenge against the idea of traditional painting.
Even Maurizio Cattelan is playing with the idea of owning a studio. Pissed off by people phoning him up and asking to visit him at work, Cattelan built a micro-atelier inside the headquarters of the McCann & Erickson advertising branch at Via Albricci, 10, in Milan. Visitors found a miniaturized replica of a McCann office, complete with minidesk, chair, phone, books and info on Cattelan's projects. Cattelan's studio is yet another exercise in disappearance and media mimicking.
More noisy and redundant was Candice Breitz's show at newly opened Francesca Kaufmann's, who owes her family name to her fleeting marriage with artist Massimo Kaufmann. The small gallery hosted a video installation and a series of collage by Johannesburg-born Breitz, who keeps dwelling in the "gray areas" of contemporary African art, making photo collages and similar works that ambiguously flirt with fashion photography and the colonialist gaze, black exploitation and eroticism.
Fashion with a global touch might be Kaufmann's recipe. Her program includes Tam Ochiai, a Japanese version of Karen Kilimnik who has Elizabeth Peyton's taste for celebrities; Brad Kalhamer, whose Abstract Expressionist paintings resemble ethnographic rereadings of Cy Twombly; and photographer Lina Bertucci, with a special project dedicated to the navy academy in Livorno.
In the wake of the global vogue for Chinese art following last summer's Venice Biennial, the new Milanese space Contemporanea opened with a double show by photographers Zhuang Hui and Luo Yongjin, whose works examine the transformations of contemporary China through architecture and uniforms.
Situated in Milan's lively Chinatown, Contemporanea boasts a Kunsthalle-like space complete with bookshop and more than 1,000 square meters of exhibition space. For a whole year the gallery will be devoted to Chinese art, culminating in the first one person show in Italy by mega-star Cai Guo Qiang. More information about Contemporanea's program can be requested from dealer Chiara Fiorani.
The Chinese syndrome spread to Turin, where a very confused, very expensive (half the budget of the Venice Biennial) and very much hyped "biennial of young creativity," Big Torino 2000, presented works by 500 artists, European and Chinese, some of it decent. In the mixture of music, theatre, visual arts, literature, fashion, and comics, it was hard to spot any art work. And if you did, there was no label to figure out who did what. But the event was full of initiatives, as the program claimed: for the hungry art goers, Chinese restaurants served free rice to everyone. Rirkrit Tiravanija has imitators all over the world.
More China could be found at the new space in the Galleria Civica di Arte Moderna in Turin, featuring Feng Shui furniture and sculptures by Chen Zhen. With his impressive installations, the artist reflects on the implication of ancient and Western culture in a city like Turin, which is presumed to be one of the corners of the European Triangle of Black Magic. Zhen's show is part of a two-year program coordinated by Alessandra Pace and including solos by Gerwald Rockenschaub, Mario Airò, Nari Ward, Tobias Rehberger and Kcho.
While the Biennial will leave no trace, most of the interesting stuff could be seen in private galleries such as Luigi Franco (group show), Franco Noero (German painter Stefan Hirsig), Alberto Peola (abstract painter Pierluigi Pusole) and Galleria ES (neoaction painter Paolo Leonardo).
Quite lively also is the situation at artist-run spaces such as Maze Art Gallery, which opened with a group show by Young Brit'n'Italian artists. Conceptual photographer Marzia Migliora brought to Turin's Centre Culturel Français a series of images shot in the museums and archives of Siena. Formerly presented in Siena's new public space Palazzo delle Papesse, Migliora's images dwell somewhere between Mark Dion and Louise Lawler.
Back to Milan for the long awaited show by Shirin Neshat, hosted by legendary gallerist Lia Rumma. Surrounded by admirers and bugged by TV, Neshat presented a series of her famous photos, which recently appeared on the cover of the Italian edition of Flash Art. On her way back from Vienna, where she opened a major exhibition at the Kunsthalle (touring to the Serpentine Gallery in London in July), Neshat stopped in Milan to introduce an exhibition of photographs taken from her latest films, Rapture and Fervor. Her images all show female warriors, black robes and calligraphy, but rumor has it that Neshat and her clan all bought cowboy boots in via Montenapoleone.
Cosima Von Bonin might be a fashion victim as well. The Cologne-based artist, exhibiting at Emi Fontana, builds a forest of pop giant mushrooms out of textiles and clothes. A big lady's handbag is casually dropped on the floor and a wooden cabin hides big sheets of fabrics, as if an Alice in Wonderland were reflecting on the labor of women.
A different kind of obsession is entertained by Alessandro Pessoli. His maniacal sketches and drawings covered the walls of Studio Guenzani along with a series of rough-looking sculptures. Pessoli also presented very personal works, like Drawings from the Green World and The Pissed Drawing.
Obsession continues to be attractive to young artists. The Arts Academy in Milan hosted "Fatica Sprecata" (wasted efforts), a group show curated by Luca Cerizza.
Whereas young Italians love to waste their efforts, Young Brit Jason Martin is a hard worker, as his solo at Gian Ferrari proved. His large canvases are filled with monochromatic paint, stretched and modeled with powerful strokes of a toothed trowel.
Bas Meerman could be called a macho artist. Showing at Cannaviello, this young Dutch painter favors Pop colors for his pictures of naked muscled boys with pouting lips. Titles vary, ranging from Querelle and Dirty Slave to Prince and Princess. Apparently, Meerman bought new shoes, too. Go figure.
Other interesting works can be found at Monica De Cardenas and Raffaella Cortese. De Cardenas presented first the witty construction of the Swiss Markus Raetz, whose wall sculptures change according to the position of the viewer, revealing different words and meanings.
Following Raetz, Martino Coppes opened his new show last week, presenting high-tech images of pre-constructed sets constituting an abstract landscape. Two days later Coppes opened his first solo exhibition in a public space at the Kunstmuseum Solothurn, near Locarno in Switzerland.
At Raffaella Cortese (Milan) and at Sales (Rome), Monica Carocci continues her research on the texture of photographic and video images, concentrating on the endless escape of a wild horse.
Funniest piece in town: Klega's wall drawing in London Orphan Asylum, a fresh Brit, warehouse-style show curated by Phaidon princesses Gilda Williams and Clare Manchester. Klega's drawings are made of shaped audiotapes, spinning on an old functioning Walkman. No music flowing from this piece, but a depressed refrain, repeating: Uh, uh, I got a bad review.
MASSIMILIANO GIONI and GIANNI ROMANO write on art from Italy.