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Art Mon Nov 23 2009

Italics Gets Us Cultured at the MCA

A little over a week ago I went to the press opening for the new Italics: Italian Art Between Tradition and Revolution show at the MCA. The guest curator, Francesco Bonami, who is also a curator of the 2010 Whitney Biennial, led a tour through the show, displaying an almost maternal pride. Italics presents the work of over 80 Italian artists who were active during the past four decades. The work is varied, some the art on display pays homage to Italian tradition while other work breaks entirely away from it. To someone who is not familiar with Italian identity politics, the show can be enjoyed simply as a display of contemporary art that most of us have never seen before, by artists who many of us have never heard of before.


cattelanall.png

Cattelan's All


There is a ton of good stuff packed into this show, starting with the somber new Maurizio Cattelan sculpture, All, featuring several life-sized pieces of white marble, impeccably carved to resemble sheet-covered corpses. Also at the entrance to the galleries is a display case holding a tiny stone, an untitled piece by Gino De Dominicis. The stone has a perfectly cubic piece of pyrite embedded in it, a didactic representation of dichotomy, a theme that that Bonami has weaved through the exhibition because he sees Italian culture to be full of dichotomies.

The exhibition is divided into a series of rooms with each room loosely structured around a theme. There is a portrait room, a body room, a politics room, a design room, etc. The work begins in 1968, the year that marked the end of the post-war boom and the rebuilding of Italy, and the eruption of a global cultural revolution that radically challenged social foundations. There are not a lot of paintings in the show because, according to Bonami, the political left (which includes most artists) felt that they needed to use unconventional mediums to communicate new ideas. This was not just an Italian thing, either. Many of us remember that painting was out of style for a long time, particularly in the 70's, and has only recently come back into vogue.

Highlights in Italics include Mario Ceroli's stunning troth-like zinc container holding stripes of vividly colored earth-- all the colors of all the flags from around the world. Lucio Fonatana's installation, Ambiente bianco (spaziale), which translates into office environment (space), looks like two long and narrow holes in the wall with light spilling out. They look thin, too thin to enter through, until you see someone pop out of one of them. Upon entering you find yourself in a bright white maze, and on one wall in a room toward the middle is a signature Fontana slit. Giuseppe Penone's sculpture of two stones, one taken from a river and one carved to look identical to the first-- is reminiscent of Charles Ray's giant log over at the modern wing of the AIC, but made fifteen years earlier.

Italics was first shown last year in Italy, but here in the U.S. it serves as a reminder that Italian art is more than the Sistine Chapel. The show is dense but it is enlightening and fun to experience. It deserves at least one visit, but is probably best digested with many.

Italics is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and will be up through February 14. The MCA is also presenting an accompanying Italian film series during January, including a screening of the original Inglorious Bastards, circa 1978. Visit the MCA's website for more information.

 
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Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
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Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

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