by Luca Beatrice
There is an undeniable thread connecting the poetics and works of Sergia Avveduti, the artist from Bologna who has achieved full intellectual and stylistic maturity with this new show, to that line of Italian art that is capable of expressing a clearly conceptual thought and idea through an equally precise, clear image. While in other countries, in the United States or Germany, conceptual artists tend, de facto, almost to exclude the use of frontal images from their approach, discarding them as an overly easy, immediate solution, in the finest Italian tradition there are artists who consider the mental and process phase of the work predominant, but are also capable of producing equally indelible “frames”, especially when making use of something that has already been stockpiled by history. Absurdly enough, the work by Giulio Paolini Giovane che guarda Lorenzo Lotto (Young Man Looking at Lorenzo Lotto, 1967), which the artist himself explained as the “reconstruction in space and time of the point occupied by the artist (1505) and (now) by the observer of this painting” (1), has become for the contemporary art audience an icon of its time, the late 1960s, and therefore a manifesto of Arte Povera, in spite of the use of extraneous, borrowed imagery.
In 1974 Renato Barilli, in La ripetizione differente (2), curated a key exhibition for this “dialectic–citationist” relationship with history. The show included works by Paolini, Luigi Ontani with his first d’après works based on famous paintings interpreted by the Bolognese artist with the usual sharp sense of theater, and above all Salvo, who was busy in the early 1970s “quoting” museum images, “replicating the images of Art History” because, as Luigi Meneghelli recalls, “this never leads to a fetishistic return, a revival of painting in keeping with the canons of the canonical sublime, but (to use the words of Nietzsche, to ‘seeing anew the old, or that which is already historically familiar and has been seen by all’: generating new aesthetic things starting with given, already experienced forms, a re-connaissance (a knowing anew) of the thousands of images contained in our collective image-bank. Thus the past becomes a resource that cannot be depleted, a boundless inventory of figures from which to choose with a sort of eclectic indifference: the past loses any mysteric depth, any distance, appearing completely on the surface, like a sequence in a film” (3).
In the new works by Sergia Avveduti seen in the exhibition Coalition - the putting together of things, concepts, images, even of different natures, but allied by mutual attraction (4) - there are certain explicit references to art history that may remind us precisely of the poetics of the 1970s based on citation and/or revisitation of the past. Born today, in the tail end of postmodernism, these works justify the use of pre-existing resources, their mixing, the changing of their signs, in a different way. They are intuitions that perhaps owe more to cinema than to the history of art. According to the well-known theory of Eisenstein, film editing has a golden rule for which the sum of shot A and shot B will never be AB, but C, or a third “missing” shot that takes virtual form in the mind of the viewer. If we take the work by Sergia Avveduti entitled Erasmo e Peter, our first psychological reaction is that of having recognized the source of the image as a painting of the Flemish painter Metsijs. Yet that painting doesn’t exist, because we are looking at the digital combination of two different portraits put together to generate an impossible dialogue that in reality (if we can consider the fiction of a painted scene a reality) never happened.
Avveduti’s next step is even subtler and, in a way, cruel: erasing part of an image, the certain value attributed to it by History is “clamorously” weakened. Coalizione, the work that gives the exhibition its title, is composed of two key passages: the first is the isolation of the group of figures positioned to the left in the famous painting by Jean-Jacques David The Oath of the Horatii, by erasing the other figures in the scene. The second, with the absence of a figure to whom the solemn gesture is directed, is its dispersion in the void, a sensation further emphasized by the “radiographic” atmosphere of the metallic, artificial toning.
Other works in this cycle continue the approach of subtraction or accenting of a minor detail in the original, shifting the relationship (still in a film metaphor) among close-ups, foreground, long shots, etc.... For example, in Prigioniero sommerso (Submerged prisoner) a landscape by the famous Venetian veduta painter Bernardo Bellotto has been modified, accenting a minimal geometric structure obtained with the pattern of a hedge, almost as if to simulate a Land Art project like the labyrinth of Robert Morris; in Sparizione dell’acqua (Disappearance of the water), on the other hand, Avveduti extracts the main figure of a painting by Bronzino, leaving just a shadow on the wall as the only sign of its passage (a very fascinating solution, a metaphor for the human condition of emptiness). In the two versions of Tenda (Curtain) taken from a painting by Hans Holbein the elimination involves the subject of the portrait, canceled to leave empty space, making two objects become the protagonists, an arrow and a heap of coins, which were once almost irrelevant details.
“The gesture of erasing part of an image does not make the subject unrecognizable, but gives it another dimension, almost a new life”, Anne Palopoli explains, regarding the Manifesti cancellati (Erased posters) of Stefano Arienti, a work begun in 1990, to which the artist from Mantua cyclically returns (5). Nearly always this revelation has had to do with figures already possessing icon status and therefore stripped of any emotional value, from Miles Davis to Judy Garland to Jimi Hendrix and, above all, Marilyn Monroe, a public, universal symbol for Warhol, restored to her unhappy private condition in the cycle My Marilyn by Richard Hamilton, then to the form of absence in the photographic landscapes of Paul Pfeiffer. In all these works the media impact of the personalities is of central importance, and erasure takes on an ethical connotation, triggering moral reflection.
Sergia Avveduti is not interested in all this, as her modifications have to do with a moment previous to the definitive image as we see it. While cinema was helpful before, at this point the most probable relation is with architecture, as a discipline that transforms the idea into a design and the design into a finished, tangible element that can, above all, be entered or crossed. From architecture, as from modern painting, Avveduti takes the interspaces, in keeping with her tendency to present us with an off-center gaze she calls “angular”, perhaps as a tribute to Joseph Beuys, Robert Morris and, above all, Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
While this is the main thematic material, up to this point, of the new solo show by Sergia Avveduti, in other works she takes a further step to detour, almost to disorient, involving both the inner sphere (of language) and the outer sphere (the images). At first it may seem difficult to find connections between medieval armor and a Pomeranian, an orthogonal temple and a heraldic standard where the protagonists, once again, are dogs. But above all, in this non-consequential approach Sergia Avveduti demonstrates that she is an “Italian artist”, in the typical procedure through media and languages, working on an idea that develops in a project, never vice versa, starting with language. A poetics can be transmitted in a thousand ways; there is no one ideal way, as we have learned from the last decades of contemporary art and culture. Because to speak of painting in the work of Avveduti may be appropriate or not, depending upon how one approaches the question. In these two-dimensional works, whether they are clearly painted or digitally processed, the image is surprising in its secondary character, precisely because it contradicts the central narrative as well as pictorial value of the painted object. Rarely in Avveduti’s work is the “problem” clearly displayed or immediately evident: other questions come into play – the impact of the light, the modification the space, the alteration of the hierarchy of relations- in an intriguing imbalance between fiction and reality.
1) Giulio Paolini 1960-1972, Fondazione Prada, Milan 2003.
2) Renato Barilli, La ripetizione differente, Studio Marconi, Milan 1974.
3) Luigi Meneghelli, “L’io, l’altro, l’altrove” in Salvo. Archeologie dell’altrove, Galleria dello Scudo, Verona 1992, Mazzotta, Milan 1992.
4) Some of the observations regarding the works of Sergia Avveduti are based on conversations between the curator and the artist.
5) Anne Palopoli, in Stefano Arienti, MAXXI, Rome 2004, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin 2005.