While the Venice Biennial looms large on the horizon -- the vernissage is on June 10, about two weeks from now -- in the rest of Italy spring has brought new life to a sleepy winter art world. In Milan alone three new galleries have opened: Lia Rumma, Spazio Erasmus Brera and N.E.G.
Kiefer in Italy
Long one of Italy's important contemporary dealers, Lia Rumma has brought an international roster of artists to her Naples gallery. Her program includes Joseph Kosuth, Ashley Bickerton, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Peter Halley, Gary Hill and Vanessa Beecroft.
Her new space in Milan debuted with a show by an Italian master of Minimalist painting, Enrico Castellani, and a powerful new exhibition by Anselm Kiefer. The show is titled "Che cento fiori fioriscano," a translation of Mao's classic pronouncement, "Let a hundred flowers bloom."
With the new work, the troubled ambiguity of Kiefer's poetic -- balanced between the unveiling of the horrors of German history and a re-reading of that past -- seems to be subsiding. Its main subject, flowers, would suggest a familiar intimacy.
Yet the patriarchal figure of Mao Tse Tung, almost smiling from the center of these paintings, brings us back to Kiefer's ambiguous celebration of unhappy history. That was the feeling from artworks such as the large books covered with dust and powder, and the paintings whose surfaces are embedded with dried poppies. Little numbered tags were hanging from their stems, ciphers that could relate to the botanical archiving of a species -- but they could also bring the mind back to concentration camps.
The opening of Lia Rumma's new space has been a great success, with people visiting from all over the country. A similar success greeted Kiefer's exhibition at the Galleria Civica d'arte Moderna in Bologna, which took its title, "Falling Stars," from one of his paintings. The show is something of a retrospective, with photographic works and paintings from different periods as well as installations by the artist of some of his lead-sheet books.
New Galleries, New Spaces
With a show called simply "Photoworks," Spazio Erasmus Brera opened in the center of Milan, in the old area of Brera, a few steps away from the Academy of Fine Arts and the Bar Jamaica. Artworks by Günther Förg, Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Kosuth, Urs Lüthi, Paul McCarthy, Shirin Neshat, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Thomas Ruff and Cindy Sherman represent different approaches to photography from the '60s to the early '90s.
Another new gallery is N.E.G., whose acronym stands for "No Limits Event Gallery." N.E.G. is one of a new type of space, which looks for commercial sponsors as well as trying to sell the work to art collectors. The inaugural group exhibition has been organized by freelance curator Denise Spampinato and presents work by three generations of L.A. artists, including Mary Corse, Jim Hayward, Ed Ruscha, Liz Larner, John Baldessari, Paul McCarthy (who also had a one man show at Studio Guenzani at the same time) and Meg Cranston.
The Castello di Rivoli in Turin, one of the few museums in Italy that focuses on contemporary art, has inaugurated a new space called "Manica Lunga" (the long sleeve) with a restaurant and a bookshop. I can't review the restaurant because I have only seen its trendy decor, so, as far as I'm concerned, the main reason to go up in the mountains surrounding Turin in April and May was the one-man show of Beirut native (and current London resident) Mona Hatoum.
Though Hatoum's exhibition doesn't provide anything new for the art traveler, it represents a good selection of her recent work with two rooms containing great pieces such as Socle du Monde, Incommunicado, Marrow, Prayer Mat and Present Tense. A whole huge room on the top floor of the castle with the installation Map, the huge floor piece made in 1998 with glass marbles.
Alighiero Boetti and Mario Schifano
Two other Italian masters, both recently deceased, were celebrated with gallery shows in Milan. Alighiero Boetti was memorialized at Galleria Seno with a show that included three of the artist's trademark maps, plus two woven pieces -- never seen before -- that are said to be trials for Boetti's largest work ever, I mille fiumi più lunghi del mondo (The thousand longest rivers in the world).
Boetti's maps will always be my favorites. Still incredibly topical, the tapestries were designed by people who were asked to depict different countries according to the pattern of the national flag. Once the layout was ready, Boetti gave the design to Afghan women from Peshawar for the actual weaving. The versions of each map vary because of the manual execution and political changes in the world. Gallery Seno has issued a catalogue for the show with an essay by Angela Vettese.
The painter Mario Schifano, who died in January 1998 at the age of 64, also made photographs, and a selection of these was recently put on view at Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea. This material was exhibited once before at the 1993 Venice Biennial.
Schifano spent a lot of time in front of his TV set taking pictures randomly, without apparent reason or method. Prints of these shots were scribbled on afterwards, then stained and painted over. The show is curated by Achille Bonito Oliva and the artist Luca Pancrazzi, who was in charge of selecting the 3,000 photographs exhibited in the gallery and published in the big catalogue that accompanied the show.
Photographer Gabriele Basilico has presented his latest book at A&M Bookstore, a Milanese shop that specializes in contemporary art. Interrupted City has been printed by Actar, a new publisher in Barcelona.
Basilico's book is dedicated to Milano, the city he grew up in. In his introduction he writes, "This city belongs to me and I to it, almost as if I were a particle floating within its enormous body. A constant need to know its corporeality obsesses me, a need to interpret its features and its hidden parts, but also its famous places and most known aspect over and over again."
Milan is one of those places where beauty and ugliness are able to coexist without apparent conflict. Interrupted City depicts old and new in a city that is slowly lifting its facade for the next millennium.
"Sweetie" in Rome
Appointed a year ago as the new curator of the Contemporary Art Programme at the British School at Rome, Cristiana Perrella has been doing her best to make this place one of the most interesting in a city obsessed with its own past. Her latest exhibition there, titled "Sweetie," surveys video works by female artists. Among the questions it addresses are why has video become so popular as a medium to explore themes of female identity? And does a specific female identity exist in art?
"Sweetie" presents video works by 30 British women artists made since the'80s (Tina Keane, Louise Forshaw, Sandra Goldbacher) to today (Sam Taylor Wood, Tracey Emin, Angela Bulloch, Gillian Wearing, Georgina Starr, Smith & Stewart). Love, anger, desire, loneliness, play, sex and pain -- these issues are addressed perceptively and ironically in the context of the ideological mechanisms that generate stereotypes and clichés in our culture.
The show's catalogue includes essays by Cristiana Perrella, Maria Rosa Sossai, Michael Maziere and Catherine Elwes, plus interviews and statements by the artists.