6.06 – 26.07.2013
MASSIMO GIACON – c’è quel che c’è e di quel che c’è non manca nulla
Massimo Giacon could be considered one of the first and most authoritative Italian Lowbrow artists. Unfortunately, though, he began his work when the term Lowbrow hadn’t found its way into the art world yet. In 1982, at the age of 20, he showed work in the same spaces that presented early drawings by the still unknown artist Keith Haring, at the Triennial of Drawing in Nuremberg. Keith Haring later became very famous; Giacon, on the other hand, is still alive and full of good intentions.
Comics, illustrations, paintings on wooden panels, canvas, teapots, objects in porcelain and plastic, Alessi, Artemide, Memphis, fabrics, articles in glass, tumblers, shakers, soap dispenser, carpets, Swatch watches, chandeliers, graphics, never completed projects, finished ones, performances, concerts, songs, vinyl records, CDs, covers, graphic novels, music videos, animations, murals, digital images printed on photographic paper, sketches, ceramics, items for the holiday season, stickers, figurines, posters, T-shirts, neckties, candlesticks, calling cards, restaurant menus, postage stamps, sex, religion, flyers for clubs, plates, flatware, pen holders…
Who knows is something exists that Giacon has never designed? Of course, there must be many things: aircraft carriers, fighter-bombers, weapons, cages for animals, prisons, posters for election campaigns, religious biographies, churches, jackets for dogs…
This exhibition traces back through the work of Massimo Giacon over the last 30 years, without any attempt to construct a tribute or a chronological retrospective. Together with the artist, we have selected small and large treasures from his archives and those of various public and private collections, to make a map of his work, a map that also becomes a sort of travel diary of our history and the last 30 years in Italy, full of creativity, effort, frustration, flashes of insight, more or less brilliant ideas, optimism, pessimism, hope, dismay, bitter irony and gentle sarcasm, with the comic strip as the leitmotiv and tutelary deity.
“We constantly look at the world and our perception is dulled. But if we change our perspective, if we see it as if for the first time, it can still be breathtaking.”
Alan Moore: Watchmen – Dr. Manhattan.
Massimo Giacon was born in Padua in 1961. Since 1980 he has worked in Milan as a creator of comics, illustrator, designer, artist and musician. He was a leading figure starting in the early 1980s in the renewal of Italian comics triggered by magazines like Frigidaire, Alter, Linus, Dolce Vita, Cyborg, Nova Express. He also works as a designer, with prestigious studios and brands (Sottsass, Mendini, Alessi, Artemide, Swatch, Memphis, Olivetti). In 1990 he began to concentrate on art, leading to many solo and group shows in Italy and elsewhere. Since 1983 he has also organized various independent bands and solo music projects. Recently he has been singing, with the band Massimo Giacon & The Blass. Current activities include the creation of design objects, publishing projects (books, magazines, graphic novels), and ongoing work on art and performance.
by Gianluca Marziani
So, my dear Massimo, the time has come to take partial stock of things, of the double head that looks back even as it advances. Decades of work gathered round a project of summary, a visual gift of synthesis and recollections, discoveries and salvagings, considerations and reconsiderations. It is never a simple task to narrate the multiple combinations of an irreverent, intuitive factotum, the multiple visions of an artist who creates new boundaries in order to never have any pre-set ones. Everything becomes slippage, opening up meaning, breach after breach, cycle upon cycle, between partial conclusions and total introductions, risks and awareness, inventions and changes. It isn’t simple, but it is right that your artistic combinations have what in the end is a criterion of the recap, a holistic reason prepares the way for your institutional jaunts, where the best stories become single examples and multiple guides. A few weeks ago the Milan Triennale pointed to your ceramics, offering a selection of your visionary gifts. From here, I imagine a tomorrow in other museums, where your reports deserve a princely reception, and your linguistic trespasses merit the respect of History. Don’t worry, things are changing in our country, and not only for the worse, as too many people never tire of repeating. I do not see other winds of crisis in Culture; already, for some time now, our institutions have been making waves and hurricanes on an everyday basis. These are years in which we act in a state of emergency, accustomed to the apnea of risk, of little time, little money, but no lack of audience or consensus. These are the days, however, of a change in direction, hours in which the crisis becomes stable and new parameters are recoding ideas, structures, organizations. Not an omen but a conviction: at this point it is your turn to get the museum as a wide-ranging residence, a suspended abode for your artistic universes. You have broken rules, invented stylemes, developed autonomous mechanisms: and now you deserve the institutional code as a proper raiment, your rigorous dress code to switch with the latex of your cerebral habitus. With one more detail: you will have to continue to wrack your brain, to grant us other visions of equal expressive power, to give weight to your tireless, provocative, sharp, ironic and absurdly reasonable Eega-Beeva-ism. In short, go for the tux (red) but without the idea of making it last all day: because when the museum closes its doors I want you in the shiny red landscapes of risk, the psychic geographies of the world turned on its head, where our members, brain included, never tire (even though you are not a kid anymore).
Few artists deserve their own ISM, an archetypal role that manages the past in a dominant position. We are not a normal nation, it should be pointed out; otherwise we would have invented and used an adjective based on your surname. Also because memory doesn’t lie: you have done so many things before many others, forecasting the crossover we now consider normal, managing your talent with wise thrift. You represent a model of creative action that has shaped the historical lesson of the Sixties, shifting it into the postmodern with aesthetic gifts and conceptual intuitions. This is a serious thing, though our languages (your art, my writing) distill flows of irony and extravagance; the thing is very serious when I wonder why a GIACONISM has not spread as the official term for LINGUISTIC COMBINATION, an obligatory reference to be recalled by anyone arriving in your wake. You are a clear point of reference, no one can take that away from you; in the years to come, I hope the bourgeois awareness of this grows, that form of ulterior respect that descends from on high to grant an aura to those arriving from below, from the underground territories in which you took form, from the antagonism and situationisms that trained you. In short, known by many, loved by some, respected by a great many (and detested when appropriate, otherwise something is not working).
I was looking back through some of the things I have written about you. I’ll include excerpts, out of synthetic compliance with Giaconism: Massimo Giacon shortens the gap between the viewer and the deformed, abnormal, excessive world. He manipulates crude and cruel bodies, he frees the flow of transgression, overflows the edges of degenerate genres. Visionary acts, skill in the making, and irony: the expressive mixture of an artist of genetic multilinguism, comfortable in the discomfort of behavior without false modesty and dense bellowing. His heroes are heretics, desecrating, naively anarchic. Losers by nature, winners by artifice. Losers by necessity of things or in action with the necessity of things. Victory lies in their gazes, their fetishism, their desires. But also in the sense of play, the never single sense, the sensible game. Drawings, paintings, digital works, installations, design objects, video games, comics, graphics: this and more to shape your “borderline” characters and to create the world beyond that fateful limit. A physical shaping of our inner space, of hidden desires, of the excesses we carry around with us. Maximumly Massimo: the fire walks with him.
Let’s start here to set off once more in every possible and imaginable place. Giacon is a colorful, dynamic polyhedron, a volume floating in the space of the total artwork. A chronological career order exists, but the facts flip-flop constantly along any linear progression. Giacon embodies a random sine wave, he is the propelling and famished artist who bounces from one design challenge to the next. I will not play the biographer, or the philological historian; that would seem like a boring highway when faced with an artist who likes hairpin turns and dangerous roads. I’ll proceed in flashes, intersections and combustions, along the contriving lines of a Giaconian contrivance, in my own way, which also means “in his world,” mirror vs. mirror for a rainbow of many heads and many intermediate colors.
Let’s immediately set aside a historical misunderstanding: Massimo Giacon has nothing to do with the labels that circulate in the media. His souls are multiple and coexist, fed with cyclical regularity to keep one from gobbling up the others. This means that we cannot talk about Pop Surrealism, NeoPop, Postdesign… Classes and categories may help critics and curators, simplifying the order of cataloguing, creating common areas to supervise as phenomena; but in practice, they limit the potential of the versatile artist, constraining him to the usage instructions that offer labels but clarify nothing. Massimo – I address you directly, again, to tell you the collective brands don’t suit you – you are an archetype and you ought to transform yourself into a Designated Origin of visual arts, an individual motor for high iconographic performance. I understand you when you say that in Italy it isn’t easy to assert eclecticism as an official code; we remain a reservoir of artistic qualities, yet panic ensues when an artist comes along who cannot be classified, one who is allergic to all categories because his name is already a category that has no copies. For me, what counts is the obstinacy of talent, consistency as continuity; only in this way can you approach the ongoing challenge with the audience, running the risk of categorical success. So there is just one rule: go forward with your own convictions (as you have always done, which is why you have stood up to the test of time), also because the people I usually like love your art and love what you usually like. And this can mean just one thing: that the minority of this country is still better than the majority. Let’s just say it: why should certain images appeal to everyone? Art can be middle class, crossing thresholds of merit, but it cannot transform itself into a democratic, populist subject. I see nothing less democratic than creation, the ultimate divinatory act to assert the I creator with its legitimable delusions. Long live the obtuse partiality of great art…
THE ORIGIN OF (ONE’S OWN) WORLD… drawing as necessary birth, obligatory parthenogenesis that shapes the reconstitution of the real. The origin of our own worlds happens on a white page, in notebooks and sketchbooks, along bound pages that become inner filiations to define the primary code of the artistic Genome. Giacon draws with talented gestures, handling lines with oriental frequencies and personal radicalism. His painstaking detail becomes body and gesture, his characters multiply the regimen of identity and cover a multitude of inner genders. To shape one’s own world calls for visionary gifts, a semantic translation that sublimates figuration: and Massimo does just that. If translating means drawing with suitable pregnancy of meaning, then everything is possible, or at least plausible, and therefore achievable: and Massimo does it. I urge you, Massimo, not to lose the primordial beat of the points that design worlds. Your worlds. Our worlds. New worlds that reveal themselves.
COMICS… Giacon stages cyclopean battles with visual universes, expressing an ancestral antagonism we cannot sum up in a single theme. Giacon himself, years ago, said: “My supercomics go beyond their own genetics, they become something else, and even I’m not sure what it is.” Recently they occupy the pages of XL, while from the past appear mastheads of proper urban mythology; in the middle there are papers and canvases on which the comic strip is transformed without losing its original identity, taking on the iconographic awareness of the pictorial painting, the universal value of the icon, without passport or narrative.
DESIGN… I’ll start with the nativity scene (“Portable Xmas”) for ALESSI, an object of pure synthesis that does not profane the sacred but sacralizes the liberated line. A secular object inside the religious habits of the holiday: and when I say “secular” I mean the attitude that determined that design, the suspended step of the first glance, of the instinct that is translated into signs on paper. Hence the magic of industrial production with a company that resembles the DNA of Massimo. The special SWATCH editions were another touch of virtuoso Giaconism, chronometric tattoos that exalted plastic plasticism. Two companies where Giacon adapts, like liquid in a mold. Two place points in a resumé that boasts numberless collaborations in the industrial sector. Exercises of ongoing linguistic slippage and plastic metamorphism. Exercises in artistic combination.
CERAMICS… I’ll link up with the exhibition at the Triennale, the synthesis of a fertile collaboration with SUPEREGO and their editions of “other” projects. I love antagonism mimetically expressed with noble languages, technical expertise and stylistic intuition. Ordering excess inside control, making conscious messages germinate through method and tradition. The Superego ceramics amplify historical memory with surreal, psycho-emotive forms. A perfect translation of drawing in a sculptural key, following painstaking logics that can be seen in all of Giacon’s artistic output.
DIGITAL CULTURE… when I first saw the digital paintings of Massimo I understood one thing: that the electronic language can multiply the ancestral qualities of the freehand drawing, defining a technological code of manual expression. I have always been struck by the specular link between the pencil and the Bamboo pen, as if the digital were the second life of graphite or ink, a life that is similar but also complementary, a further stage of the evolution of figuration. I see his digitalisms again and I find them terse, free of technological emphasis, gauged by a knowledge that is based first on ideas, and then on forms.
THE POP WILL EAT HIMSELF… speaking of the link between drawing and digital, I thought back on your exhibition at Mondo Bizzarro (Rome), which I curated. Actually it was a double solo show, given the fact that at the same time I curated a second exhibition at Lipanjepuntin (Rome). Read what I wrote back then: The protagonists are the cartoon figures that inhabit our imaginary. Without calling the most famous into play, from Mickey Mouse to the Simpsons, which the artist acknowledges as a major influence on contemporary culture, we can examine subjects more in the background, with a revisitation that reveals the theme of the loss of innocence. Decrepit, deformed, crippled, old puppets that reflect, like a mirror, the level of moral and cultural decay that has infected them, the contagion of today’s society. The exhibition is composed of digital works on photographic paper: starting with 3D modeling programs, Giacon gives a form and an almost Caravaggesque light to his gallery of pitiful cartoons. The digital works are accompanied by the preparatory pencil sketches and a large PVC sheet on which all the characters are blended in a mass of plush and necrotic tissue. During the course of the show the theme songs of the best-known cartoons, deformed and transformed into a sort of slow funeral march, will form the soundtrack.
PERSONAL JESUS… this pictorial drawing of yours is one of my favorites. The progressive crumbling of the body of Christ is sublime, done with balanced dark ink on parchment. A majestic, sacred image, much more “religious” than many spoofs that pawn themselves off as spiritual art. No, don’t worry, I’ll avoid asking you about your own take on religion. We’ve already talked that over and this doesn’t seem like the place for an ethical investigation of transcendence and other themes of comparable moral import. Let’s allow your works to do the talking, transgressive without drift, desecrating but with aptness, nasty without nihilism. I see maturity in your approach, nothing simply provocative or facile; in fact, you convey a sense of analytical density and visionary talent. You have grasped an excellent way to narrate the imagery of Christ in an epoch like ours.
PHILOSOPHERS IN THE POP PLANET… here the major philosophical personalities find themselves in a world of science fiction, circumstantial splatter, American B-movie references and continuous stylistic inventions. The philosophers in a hyper-Pop key. Today I still think that cycle is a little conceptual bomb, a sharp, erudite work, unique in its genre and mode, proof of the efficacy of a linguistic method camouflaged between high and low, extreme and popular themes.
SOUNDS… you will have to listen to the musical part; only your ears can give meaning to Massimo’s sound projects. We can just say that music does not represent a mere pastime; it is an extension of his visual platforms, a territory in which sonic vertigo completes the visual keys of his gazes.
Multiple languages that swap information with each other, combining elements in a fluid synesthesia. Giacon’s vision is orchestral, a multi-instrumentalism that balances shrillness and dissonance, inventing an aesthetic sound that is utterly Giaconian, inimitable and archetypical, as happens only to courageous trailblazers. Those visions are inhabited by a range of different figures, nocturnal and excessive, ambiguous, anthropomorphic and mutant, a new species in the humanity of explosive bodies. I think they are adorable and should be defended, aliens among us “humans,” psycho-sensorial beings that give a countdown to our restless gaze.
SEXORCISMS… I’ve left the most delicate part for last, the part that has to do with SEX and transgressive, intimately aware but also extreme sexuality, suitable for only a few adepts, a hot potato if you are not well versed in the potential of the dominant mind. I want to talk about this at the end, so it can be the true reopening of the text towards the real world, towards that empathetic clinging of art and life, writing and experience, aesthetics and actions. I say this unequivocally, in the sense that these aspects touch me deeply; they represent solid pieces of my life, or we might say that I adhere to the ironic identities of Massimo. The thing I like most is the attitude of his BDSM protagonists, that air that does not debase the practices but removes their deathly halo, granting a precise aesthetic to the described worlds, cladding bodies and actions in recognizable Giaconisms. The sexual dimension enters from all sides, circulating in the works as a relational and distinctive factor, informing the actions with balanced parameters. The characters of his universe ooze sexual evocations, competing with their own phantoms to vent conscious instincts. Is this why they are so brilliant, incomparable, anomalous and untamed?
Let’s say I’ll stop here, dear Massimo, otherwise I’ll plunge into the subject and get detoured along roads that will take me far away from the center.
We’ll be back in touch very soon. The future of the museums is waiting for you, too.
For me, always and only GIACONISM.