Urban Archeology: Radicati

Urban Archaeology

Giorgio Radicati combines elements found in natural and industrial environments in his new sculptural works

by Genny DI BERT

Since the start of 2009, Ambassador Giorgio Radicati is back in his home country, Italy living in one of the two cities in the world, along with New York, that has been an unforgettable reference point for his life, both personally and professionally.

As former Consul General of Italy in New York City, Radicati spent five years in the heart of the energetic and mentally- stimulating metropolis, where he produced his first body of work entitled “Archeologia Urbana.”

After his post ended in New York, Radicati spent two-years in Skopje as the ambassador for OSCE (Organizazzione per la Sicurezza e Cooperazione in Europa), where he created a series of sculptures. The finished works use materials that are partially refined by the artist along with those left in their original state. In Skopje, the artistic side of Radicati lived in harmony with the professional diplomat, the wide-ranging view with the rational problem-solver; the imagination with logic; the provocateur with the diplomat; the intuitive with the practical.

“I can say that my love for art has colored my life, even my professional life,” said Radicati. “It infuses even daily activities, at unpredictable and uncanny moments, with creativity and originality.”

In contrast to his preceding works, Radicati’s recent sculptures are assembled mixed media elements using materials that are both fixed and relative. Sometimes it seems that the various components are leaning on one another, and regardless of their weight, appear light as if ready to lift, or, perhaps, as if they wanted to extract themselves and return to their distant origin. Any reflections of their former selves were not imposed by the artist. The wear of time and the place where they were discovered is rendered into their form, almost sullied from its evolution as an object. It is a sort of carryover from “Arte Povera,” the minimalistic effect of basic visuals, only sometimes embellished with metaphorical relics of the contemporary world: the remains of a milk carton, for instance, that was once presented in another artistic work in New York.

As for the reference to “Arte Povera” we must refer to those artists who had a fascination for material more than concept. In fact, the conceptualism of Aligherio Boetti or Giolio Paolini is not apparent at all in Radicati’s work. However, traces of Giovanni Alselmo and Giuseppe Penone are captured. Giorgio Radicati uses simple materials (wood, earth, plastic, industrial parts, stone, iron) with the sole objective of reproducing the elemental origins of their existence, before they had been “wrenched” from their primary function and their inherent purpose –– and thus the works form a new language with the ancient alphabet of geometric symbols.

The first sculpture of 2007 is entitled Ohrid. The title is significant. Ohrid is the city situated on the banks of a lake with the same name, in which the major archaeological sites of Macedonia. A play between past and present, the back-and-forth time immersed in pure, uncontaminated nature–– the blend of aesthetics and science, beloved by Tito Lucrezio Caro, the author of “De Rerum Natura.” From this level and from a great passion that the artist has about archaeology were born these ultimate works, connected with the greats of the past.

“Everything stops and consolidates; it is fixed, as if every object is reinvented with the memory of its past and with a sense of the future, overcoming the impermanent and creating a sort of stratification of time.” (Giorgio Radicati, Catalog, Shea & Haarmann Publishing Co., New York, 2002.)

Ohrid exudes a mystical air, perhaps originating from the influence of the found materials that retain the living memory of their home, the richness of a monasteries and the light breezes that seem to carry the distant philosophical thoughts disclosed for centuries by local monks.

Observing this small sculpture, we are reminded of the symbolism in Romanesque architecture. Ohrid is structured with a solid rectangular base reinforced laterally from iron parts, three elements held by nails, as if to prevent their escape. A semi-circle forms the background (only from the back can one see that it is a full circle). A semi-circle (or circle) was in Romanesque iconography a sacred symbol of the sky. Most of the sculptures made after this one have inherited their geometry from this first sculpture.

All have in common a square or rectangular base, which becomes its foundation, with a fixed and stable orientation. In the Romanesque architecture, the square (or rectangle) was always the symbol of the planet itself, the ordered field, corresponding to the four directional points and the four natural elements. Its attributes are: stability, earthliness, and mortality. While the square has a fixed orientation, the circle does not––it is essentially a dynamic form.

Radicati states, “Macedonia has awakened and deepened in me the idea of the mystery of existence. Perhaps because discoveries of the distant past come to light every day, it seems unusually present and alive. So, I was overwhelmed with the urge to represent this ––my imagination defines it and all the materials around me become instrumental, each acquiring its own dignity for me. The past, the present and future surrounded me, making me the weaver of an arcane visual story, whose the meaning is lost in the darkness of time.” Thus, Radicati has transformed some sculpture-forms, almost for fun, into fantasy animals, then cataloged in a sort of “Animal Directory” (un Bestario).

The artist has also produced original totem personalities, characterized by contorted facial expressions and a richness of the materials that comprise them. These works contain iconographical references, displaying the diversity of humankind. Some seem to have emerged from the ground, or found in ruins. These totems recall the artist Enrico Bay, known for his wry mythology imagery. In the same satirical vein, Radicati combines primitive media with commercial symbols in a visual parody.

About the Author


A graduate of Art History, art critic Genny Di Bert is Professor of Modern Art for RUFA Academy in Rome. She has been lecturer on “The Phenomenology of Contemorary Art” and Art History” for the Accademia Brera of Milan, Accademia Belle Arti of Palermo, NABA of Milan and Catholic University of Milan. She is curator of the Eleutheria Art Foundation in Prague. In Italy, she is Tribunal expert on Modern Art and a member of the National Association of Journalists. She has authored several non-fiction books and has published several articles about art, costume and society. She is also columnist in Progetto Repubblica Ceca and Il Domani d’Italia. She collaborates with museums, galleries, publishing houses and international institutions. Among the exhibitions she has curated: The New Europe in Biennal of Venice 1995, Unimplosive Art in Biennal of Venice 1997 and many initiatives within the European Mediterranean Cultural Exchanges. Most recently, she has collaborated with Vittorio Sgarbi for the Biennale of Venice 2011 and for all Special Art Events for Italian Pavillon, in occasion of the Century Italy’s Unity.