Museums and exhibitions are open again in Milan. That’s why I’ve recently visited two different shows in two different galleries, trying to understand something more about contemporary art, which is often difficult for me to approach and appreciate to its full value and in its fullest expressive power.
Mimmo Paladino is a very well known artist in Italy. He has just received an honorary degree in arts, music and entertainment for his ability to explore and use traditional artistic techniques, mixing them with theatre, music and cinema.
Paladino recently exhibited at the Cardi Gallery a series of 32 terracotta sculptures, I Dormienti (the Sleepers), made up of naked bodies of men, some whole and some broken, huddled and lying on a grey floor in a large dimly lit room and accompanied by music by Brian Eno. Usually Paladino’s works and drawings leave me perplexed, but I found this sculptural ensemble engaging. Walking on tiptoe among the motionless bodies, almost with the fear of disturbing or waking them, I thought of the inhabitants of Pompei and Ercolano, dead because of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. This was not the intent of the artist who was drawing inspiration from Henry Moore’s drawings of the British war shelters during World War 2. But the exhibition aroused in me an emotion, a memory, and in the respectful silence for these eternal bodies, I perceived a harmony made of melancholy and also solemn beauty.
This did not happen with the other contemporary show I saw: Etere (‘ether’) by the Israeli Yuval Avital at the Building Gallery.
The exhibition is structured in four sections, each of which is a microcosm connected to the others. The artist uses different expressive languages and tools, from the most traditional, such as drawings, paintings and watercolours, to the most innovative: multimedia installations and video projections. Many works are untitled and new, created for this event. All are accompanied by sounds and music.
An artist and composer, Avital is recognized as an explorer of identity and the subconscious, of darkness and light, of love and desire, an artist who tries, he says, “to reveal, at least in part, the truths hidden in the Things”. His exhibition should be an aesthetic and metaphoric journey between reality and fantasy, between physics and metaphysics. I’m afraid I did not understand the message and had a sense only of a chaotic ensemble of colours, images, figures, sounds, videos, installations. Only one thing provoked an emotion: watching two videos, very lively, with strong colours, supported by adequate music: I imagined the moment of Creation, a true cosmic chaos.
Leonardo said that the artist must know how to paint man, which is easy, and the concepts of the mind, which is very difficult, because it’s a huge task to be understood through signs, symbols and figures without forgetting harmony. Nowadays artists are generally conceptual, but they are often incomprehensible, at least for me, even after the usual and necessary explanations.
Art, even that of the past, is always contemporary because it is an expression of its time and its reality, but, for me, it must be engaging, intelligible, interesting of course, able to arouse emotions, be attractive not only for its message but for its beauty and even spirituality. Above all, when you look at an artwork, whatever it is, you have to like it. If you don’t, it can be very hard to grasp the meaning, or give another meaning of your own, to stand still, enjoy and appreciate it, even it’s considered a masterpiece.
Volume 35 no. 6 July/August 2021