Italian Contemporary Art: Three words suggesting such a tangle of opposing considerations, cultural and commercial developments and widespread interests that it is quite difficult to have a comprehensive picture of it. For historical reasons and recent twisted events, the Italian art world embodies an anomalous reality, both for its well-acknowledged qualities and its congenital faults. We have a great tradition of art that the world much appreciates – this goes without saying. From Giotto to Mario Schifano, enviable talents and universal geniuses have come one after the other, producing new expressive modes and groundbreaking innovations.
The problem lies in the relationship between the quality of history and the spirit of the present age. It is enough to look back at the last 20 years to notice how we have lost the pulse of the present. It is a fault, however, that does not affect the quality of creative projects. In this respect, we are still able to compete with other countries. Our limit lies in the overwhelming individualism, in the detachment between generations, in the lack of a collective culture that makes it possible to pour all energies into the same reservoir. The Italian cultural world has established itself as a medley of contradictions. We foster tolerance and open-mindedness, but we don’t protect our most excellent artists. We interact with a diversity of realities, but the political forces are still not opening up to a courageous laicism. Our backwardness in the world scene comes from a political ethics that is too far from the present. It is a social limit that goes along with an extreme individualism, as already said, and acts as a detonator that drains the most promising energies and hinders a long-range strategic vision.
This overview of the Italian art world allows us to highlight not only the limits, but also the potential of another Italy, the one that supports proactive heterogeneity, excellence of details, profound insights and, in general, high-quality iconographic imagination and ethical clear-headedness in addressing critical issues. How is it possible to turn this dimension into an organic process? With a serious integration into global dynamics combined with a fair protectionism; with a visionary courage mixed with organizational pragmatism; with a multilingual culture imbued with respect for our collective roots. All these factors, combined with an absence of individualism and with the support of more courageous and visionary institutions, would be the only formula for a widespread “renaissance.”
A few answers…
There are many ways to provide a well-balanced overview of the Italian art scene. Personally, I have chosen a formula that takes account of the following values: iconographic qualities of works, long-range vision and institutional results of exhibition activities. Besides, I wanted to select artists representing some sorts of archetypes, forerunners that allow us to map out the main ways to Italian contemporary art.
The inescapable value of technology is something that everybody agrees on. We also know that computer, since the mid- Nineties, has become the only innovative tool for creativity. Combined with preexisting tools, digital language has therefore carved out a decisive role among creative codes. Two excellent examples: One is Matteo Basilè, who focuses on front portraits and develops them with highly epic photographic (and video) materials, exploring different types of gender. The other is Vanessa Beecroft, whose feminine performances t the edge of fashion and sculptural shapes, turn into color pictures or, recently, into Canova-like marble sculptures.
Topicality of Elementary Matter
The evidence of the world can be portrayed in a variety of ways, even with elementary means and materials, as proved by the Arte Povera masters, from Jannis Kounellis to Giuseppe Penone, as well as by Ettore Spalletti and his monochrome depictions of ancient landscapes. Among their youngest “heirs,” I’d like to mention the poetic sensitivity of Eva Marisaldi and Sabrina Mezzaqui, artists who love powerless, minimal materials employed with feminine grace and literary culture, so as to create visual metaphors resounding of a narrative consciousness.
The Firmness of The Mobile Gaze
Within a photography that confirms the Italian excellence, I’d like to mention the Mediterranean talent of Mimmo Jodice, a master of black-and-white pictures combing pictorial fascination and density of memory. Massimo Vitali distinguishes himself for his open-space views that insert real humanity in world landscapes. Olivo Barbieri also chooses wide angles, and stands out for the aesthetic harmony of miniaturized places, portrayed with stunning, highly pictorial results. Not to mention the talent of Carlo Gavazzeni, the author of archeological and natural landscapes that have the ancient taste of painting, of alchemical colors, of a light that becomes a mystery. Among the youngest artists, Simone Bergantini distinguishes himself for his visionary pictures of people, animals and objects, his chilling and cosmic snaps, his obscure visions, which give a mystic and supernatural aura to his shapes.
Multiple languages, multiple openings
There are also artists who choose a multiplicity of styles and tools, just like Thorsten Kirchhoff. His refined paintings include design objects, recycled materials, tools and household items, car engines and room corners. In the same way, painting is part of his movies and enhances the fetishist passion for an old-fashioned design imbued with dramatic pathos, with the protagonists’ emotions, and with surreal notes that accompany the development of his stories. The multiplicity of Luca Pancrazzi instead favors the plurality of pictorial design, which finds its roots in Alighiero Boetti’s art. From panoramic landscapes to small details, the artist constantly reinvents his vision with minimal, inimitable gestures. The work of Stefano Arienti is equally essential and creative. He has a passion for paper and for the endless creative possibilities that it allows: Creases, erasures, additions, subtractions. Thanks to his manual skills, he modifies posters, comic strips or pictures to recreate the existing reality through minimal formal adjustments.
Painting, No Matter What
As we finally come to painting, we evoke an eternal language that still distinguishes us for methods and results. Cristiano Pintaldi has coded a language of his own, using pixels as the constitutive elements of his media pictures. Daniele Galliano instead starts from the photographic nature of pictures. With his paintbrush he creates a sort of emotional album of lived experiences. Marco Neri does the opposite, depicting the real world with few geometrical traits and anti-naturalistic colors, confirming how open the boundaries of figurative art are. For Andrea Chiesi, industrial landscapes and the outer fringes of the city are at the center of a very detailed painting, whose perfectionist vertigo is almost hypnotic. The figurative art sometimes interacts with the codes of abstraction, as in the case of Alberto Di Fabio, who portrays cellular organisms or cosmological scenes inspired by Oriental mandala patterns. Finally, I’d like to mention Francesco Mernini, who is very young but already stunning for his technical talent and conceptual strength. His works evoke the aesthetics of videos and go beyond the digital grain, recalling Gerhard Richter’s cerebral quality, but with an “Italian” touch in the profound spirit of the work.
Gianluca Marziani is a Columnist for the Italian Journal.