September 2008, Contemporary Italian Artists in New York
Alessandro Dal Pont, Black Luciano
Lacquered MDF, electric wire, iPod, subwoofer,speakers, compilation with some of the most famous arie sung by Luciano Pavarotti.
220 x 120 x 90 cm.
Courtesy Pianissimo, Milan
The unstoppable climb of the Euro to its current status of most powerful and valuable currency on the market started more or less five years ago. At that time, I was settling down in New York after a first exploratory visit and everything, from food to clothing to, most obviously, rent, still seemed quite expensive for my Euro-lined pockets. The current high buying power of the European currency, together with the political (and social) disaster of an interrupted, flimsy left-wing government coitus interruptus, followed by the display of collective catatonia that Berlusconi’s re-election represented, are some of the reasons why so many Italians have recently moved to New York. The overall numbers are difficult to break down. As far as the art world is concerned, you will have to trust my personal experience, because I keep taking note of all the millions of times that I hear Italian spoken at openings, meet Italian tourists in the museums where I work and meet jetlagged Italian artists on the streets and in the cafes of the coolest neighborhoods. Is it a good thing? Will I end up moving out of this city? Is NY going to become a new Barcelona (a city where, reportedly, some bartenders don’t even bother addressing you in Spanish or Catalan anymore and head straight to the “Buonasera”)? Who knows.
One thing is sure: thanks to the aforementioned reasons—and to the hopeless insularity, nepotism and inbred inclination to gossipy drama of the Italian art world—New York has also become home to some really outstanding artists, eager for visibility and recognition. Some of them, like Angelo Filomeno, Federico Solmi and Francesco Simeti, have been around for a while, seizing the opportunities that New York had to offer in far different times, when coming here was a far more challenging career move and DUMBO was an almost dangerous neighborhood (would you believe that?). Their example has, in a certain way, helped to reconsider New York’s mythical status and to confirm the city as the number one choice for the entrepreneurial, risk-taking artists of the next generation.
One of the first transplants that I met, Rä di Martino has been around these streets for a while, establishing herself as one of the most interesting video artists of her generation. After landing a Fine Arts media MFA at Slade in London, she moved to NY to take advantage of the hospitality granted by the coveted New York Prize, a joint Columbia University/Italian Institute of Culture grant for emerging visual artists. Her visually so-cool, sometimes almost too polished and stylistically proper video works were featured in a handful of significant shows (including PS1’s rather stitched-up Senso Unico). Di Martino’s work is based on a creative deconstruction of cinema’s technical elements and visual tropes; her characters, scenes and situations all share a certain surreal humor and uncommon ability to linger in the viewer’s mind, lost as they are in a no-go zone of perennial second looks and afterthoughts. Another quite established presence, Anna Galtarossa has distinguished herself by distilling some truly visionary projects. After tying the knot with Spencer Brownstone and delivering an impressive, intricately environmental solo show there in 2004, Galtarossa quite disappeared from the New York radar, only to bring her dioramas of found materials, painterly colors and surrealistically biographical approach back to native Italy.
More recently, the soft, floating architectural environment Chili Moon Town (realized in collaboration with Daniel Gonzalez and with the production management of Italian curator Andrea Lissoni) inflated Galtarossa’s minutely detailed environments to the point of making them actually inhabitable: a colorful dream of a city that’s open to all, up for grabs (property lots are actually for sale and neighborhood meetings are held) and that will tour along the route of US-bound Mexican migrants, visiting Mexico City, Los Angeles and New York. After having established their name in the European art world via clever, media-savvy and sometimes amazingly daring actions and performances, Franco and Eva Mattes, (the minds of 0100101110101101.org) found a home at Chelsea’s Postmasters and started regular trips to New York, following some of their closest friends and colleagues. The move has signed a new phase in their Art, harboring projects that can be considered slightly more “conventional” (commas are de rigueur here) and that somehow brought them safely back into the art world proper. Famous for titanic non-profit pursuits like an exact—but cleverly tweaked—copy of the Vatican’s website, the emission of a computer virus in the internet and the staging of a surreal guerrilla-marketing campaign for none the less than sportswear juggernaut Nike, the Mattes are currently absorbed by whimsical Second Life performances, highly palatable avatar portraits and, most recently, large scale installations involving toys and figurines culled from every latitude of the Pop realm.
Also moving from the world of new media art and media activism and rapidly evolving into a more recognizable visual arts entity, AlterazioniVideo (a collective of artists including Andrea Masu, Alberto Caffarelli, Giacomo Porfiri, Matteo Erenbourg and represented in NY by founding member Paololuca Barbieri) started out as Location One residents in 2006. After their well received Light Waves performance, a live event where solar panels were used to convert the wavelength of different light sources into sound beats, they quickly escalated to a solo at qualitatively discontinuous but strategically located—and former container for the “evicted” New Museum—Chelsea Museum and to a much unexpected, career-boosting invitation to Robert Storr’s 2007 Venice Biennale. AlterazioniVideo’s interests are as varied as the backgrounds of the many involved contributors, spanning from media disobedience and activism to the broader topics of legality and illegality, their body of work is characterized by a dishomogeneity and discontinuity that result from the flexibility of their technical approach and make it impossible to easily label or confine them to this or that niche. As I write, Pierluigi Calignano has just headed back to Italy after collecting participations in both the ISCP and Art OMI residency programs and Alessandro Dal Pont is about to move back to the city after a series of exploratory visits. If Calignano’s smoothly executed, quasi-architectonic wood constructions and graphics that reference the rich local heritage of Southern Italy could easily find a place in any (good) New York gallery, Dal Pont’s irreverent, witty and twisted sculpture and multimedia installations will probably catch you by surprise with their rich web of easy/uneasy, funny/sad, serious/playful opposites.
As much as it would be impossible, if not irrelevant, to search for common lines and shared topics in such different bodies of work and artistic attitudes, it would nonetheless be tempting to try and identify the limits and contours of a surging Italian Wave in New York. The example given by the determination and professionalism of these young players could be used to some extent to stir and reinvigorate the swampy artistic scene of the Bel Paese itself, offering a breath of fresh air to the next generations while helping them to establish a more self-confident and international outlook.
Marco Antonini is a New York based independent curator and writer. He has collaborated with some of the most reputable organizations in New York, including ISCP, Elizabeth Foundation, LMCC, ISE Foundation, Japan Society, Triangle Arts and the Dumbo Arts Center.
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A freelance educator/lecturer at MoMA, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, MoMA PS1 and 3rdWard Design Center, his articles, essays and interviews have been published on Flash Art International, Cura, Whitehot, Museo, BMM, Contemporary, AroundPhotography, Arte&Critica and NYArts. He has lectured on various topics for the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa (Venice), Japan Society, ISE Foundation, City College of New York/CUNY and the Rhode Island School of Design.