kat in giro

an american living abroad

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gagosian gallery: made in italy

Though I have been here for a while, I am still very American when it comes to certain things. One of them is that I leap at the chance to see any modern or contemporary art, particularly by non-Italian artists, here — while for most Italians “art” is synonimous with all their amazing Renaissance and Baroque paintings and there’s no point arguing that it can get better or more interesting than that. Alright, agree to disagree. 

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Therefore I was very quick when I got here to Rome to get on the email list of places like the Gagosian Gallery to hear when they have new shows, check out the alternative bookstores that advertise contemporary and international art exhibits and performances, as well as cultural centers that have film screenings, lectures, book readings and so on. The Gagosian Gallery is of course an institution I know from New York, where they have three locations both uptown and in Chelsea, and which hosts a lot of fantastically curated shows, which I was able to become familiar with when in another lifetime I worked in a small private gallery in NYC. 

I have been to several other openings at the gallery in Rome in the months I’ve been here, some being better than others. A highlight was a Takashi Murakami show of two immense murals of dragons back in the fall, and well I won’t go into any lowlights. This current exhibit was titled "Made in Italy" and is a group show of over a dozen international artists of the past century, each with a work tied to Italy in some way, in celebration of 150 years of Italy as a unified country (yes, they are technically even younger than us Americans in terms of statehood!). 

The entryway (above) included a Cindy Sherman self-portrait as Caravaggio’s Bacchus, a Richard Prince illustration over a lithograth of a Roman statue (Venere del Canova), and busts by Giacometti and Jeff Koons

Please excuse my awful quality iPhone photos — anyway I suppose I was trying to catch the ambience more than anything. I’ve tried to link to as much of the art as possible if you’d like a better look at anything. 

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A lot of people came out for the opening: Elegantly dressed older people who were quite familiar with the pop art pieces from their own youth, or in some cases more familiar with the original Roman or Italian art that they are based on. (Roy Lichtenstein’s series of studies of Laocoon, above.) There were also of course younger people, some drawn most to the contemporary, purely conceptual pieces, others looking at the “classics” with the eyes of those who still study them as the epitome of the history of art. 

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A juxtaposition of Andy Warhol’s Mona Lisa lithographs, and to the left two versions of Marcel Duchamp’s “L.H.O.O.Q.”, a tourist postcard print of the Mona Lisa with a mustache drawn on. The title, of course, has the double meaning of “look” in English, and read aloud in French it sounds like “elle a chaud au cul”, which I will leave to the franco-parlanti to understand! Oddly enough, I personally found that I associate the Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) more with France than with Italy, because it is at the Louvre I suppose.

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One of the things that I really liked about the show was that there were so many different artists, with completely unrelated styles and subject matters, all just loosely tethered to the idea of Italy. An abstract painting, and a large scale aerial photograph of beaches, and a display of dozens of fish preserved in formaldehyde don’t have very much to do with each other, sitting one by one along the wall, but it’s sort of nice that each piece really gave you something completely new to think about, unlike thematic or stylistic shows where you can sort of go on autopilot from one painting to the next.

Everything was tied to Italy in some way — though sometimes exactly how was precisely what made you think — and it was a truly diverse show. Italy today can be sometimes a country with a bit of an identity crisis, too much of their perceived cultural value lying so far in the past (at least in the eyes of many of the Italians I know) so to see so many of the associations the country and its culture have for artists around the world, all in one room, had a very positive message to it.

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The Gagosian Gallery in Rome can be found at: Via Francesco Crispi, 16. 

And of course online: Gagosian Gallery