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by Alice Savorelli
With 24 galleries participating from all over Milan, "START" was a big undertaking with a lot of ambition and appeal. From Studio Guenzani to Massimo De Carlo, from Giò Marconi to Lia Rumma, the city’s top galleries joined together in a weekend-long marathon of contemporary art, kicking off the fall season with an event that was both fun and classy.

In Milan’s "luxury bohemian" Brera neighborhood, Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporaneo presented "Antagonista," a show of paintings and drawings by the Roman artist Andrea Salvino (b. 1969). The artist makes straightforward, formal portraits of young revolutionaries and protesters against globalism -- "antagonist social subjects," in Salvino’s words. Painted on a white background, Salvino’s subjects display both everyday human emotion as well as accessories that mark them as activists.

Just a few meters away, Galleria Lia Rumma welcomed  visitors with "The Strange Museum," an installation by Ilya & Emilia Kabakov. In a darkened space with walls decorated by the artists with a floral motif in gold stucco, three large canvases were displayed in a row, positioned in the middle of the gallery on pedestals, contained within transparent plastic boxes. With its low lighting and spotlighted paintings, the gallery had the atmosphere of a museum, with an almost sacred aura.

The three paintings depict an artist in front of an easel, a few boys sitting around a table reading a book, and a doctor standing by a window in a hospital room. The fronts of these paintings, with their traditional subjects, are in dramatic contrast to their plain canvas obverse, with wooden stretchers in clear view. Delicate little angel’s wings, cut from white paper like paper dolls, have been attached to the bare canvas, an effect that is somehow unsettling and remarkably obsessive.

Moving onto Galleria Francesca Kaufmann, we were confronted with another series of works that focus on an aspect of contemporary social life. Lily van der Stokker’s light-hearted, pastel-colored wall drawings, though done in a childishly "flower power" style, are in fact analytical representations of family relationships, both economic and emotional. Childish flowers, circles, clouds and fluffy abstract forms, done in candy colors, share space with handwritten notations of the household budget, for instance. Kitschy, exquisitely decorative and far from meaningless, these fashionable pieces of art are there to be enjoyed and contemplated.

In the now very hip Milanese borough of Isola, Marella Arte Contemporanea dedicated its fall show to paintings by the Berlin artist Stefan Hirsig (b. 1966). Combining hard-edge shapes that are suggestive of digital design with baroque abstract forms that seem to be refugees from 1960s Color Field painting, Hirsig is working with a pictorial vocabulary that is a complex, Pop-like, 21st-century evolution of Kurt Schwitters’ collage esthetic.

Last but not least is Nowhere Gallery, which was exhibiting work by the young Neapolitan artist Antonio de Luca (b. 1977). Drawing with a thick, wavering line in vivid yellow, green and purple oil paint on brown paper, de Luca works on the threshold between abstraction and figuration. What at first glance appear to be Cy Twombly-inspired calligraphies turn out to be exuberant drawings of women, sitting demurely or standing with hands on hips. In de Luca’s paintings, beauty rests in the radical and impetuous gesture, a daub of paint that is meaningful in itself.

ALICE SAVORELLI writes on art from Italy.