08 January 2020

Coming up in January
A round up of events, news, curiosities, objects, books and a brief run-down on all the latest for the month

Pantone: Colour of the Year 2020 - Classic Blue. How could we begin the year without immersing ourselves in a new colour? The immersion image is central now, however, as never before. The colour of the year we’ve just entered is Blue, the blue of the sea obviously, but also of the sky, painted blue, through which Domenico Modugno urged us to fly. It’s an easy colour as far as clothing goes (as Giorgio Armani said, “blue is the new black”), but not at all easy when it comes to interior architecture and furniture design, and so much the better! It has put an end to a whole range of insipid, flimsily delicate shades we’ve recently been plagued with.

Adieu Antonia! Antonia Campi, one of Italy’s leading designers and ceramists, died recently. We now owe her a solemn promise: neither she nor her work, both of which really suffered from being part of a “masculine” generation of designers, will never be forgotten! Antonia Campi was born in Sondrio in 1921, and studied in Brera before joining the SCI (Italian Ceramic Society) of Laveno, but as a manual worker, however. Indomitable and highly respected by its art director Guido Andlovitz, she herself became art director in 1962, a role she continued to fulfil after the society was taken over first by Richard Ginori and eventually by Pozzi Ginori. She forged her own incredibly independent way into ceramics, compared with the other great figures of the time (Ponti first and foremost and then Andlovitz and Gariboldi themselves), and her enduring sense of irony fuelled her ability to come up with vases and cups and teapots that were subtle reflections of the bourgeoisie of the time. Lastly, her contribution to the sanitaryware sector, which then enjoyed an even lower profile, proved fundamental. She designed revolutionary “sinks, bidets and lavatories” – a human and typological story that still remains to be told!

Next stop Porto! On one hand, for at least one generation of Italian architects, this town on the north-west coast of Portugal represented the dream of a kind of modern architecture that managed to become reality and, on the other, a vision of a school of architecture that taught a method rather than a manner, producing a series of extraordinary professionals. Two exhibitions are currently being held in Porto, the first is Alvaro Siza, In/disciplina, at the Serralves Museum until 2nd February, and the second is Souto de Moura: Memoria, Projectos, Obras, at the Casa da Arquitectura di Matosinhos until 6th September 2020. Souto (1952) was a pupil of Siza’s (1933), but the two have always (as is only right!) exhibited powerful and poetic differences. Both are now Pritzker Prize-winners! Both are now masters!

Vedova’s anger: not to be forgotten. Milan’s Palazzo Reale is holding a major Emilio Vedova respective, curated by Germano Celant, until 9th February 2020 (free entry). Emilio Vedova’s anger was political, becoming a forceful hallmark of his work, although he mellowed towards the end of his life (according to Lisa Ponti at least). This anger, now more essential than ever, finds its best expression in Palazzo Reale’s Sala delle Cariatidi, an unparalleled memorial to the absurdity of war. Alvisi Kirimoto’s installation comprising a diagonal wall (30 metres long, 5 metres high and 1 metre thick) sets the tone, while the huge “Disks” from the mid-80s (disks are living entities, threatening …” said Vedova) are mounted directly on the floor. The exhibition turns into a real physical visitor experience.

Riccardo Dalisi: Defying time. The Archaeological Museum in Naples is a curious but stimulating choice for hosting a retrospective devoted to the great Neapolitan designer (on until 27th February 2020). In this setting, Dalisi’s “tin figures” lose their playful dimension, of which the critics made far too much, entering directly into the realms of sacrality and myth. It is all too easy to lose sight of his political and social commitment, his work with disadvantaged children from the impoverished districts of Traiano and Sanità and with the elderly in nursing homes, hiding behind that irrepressible laugh. Now 88, it’s time for this Neapolitan master to take up his special (and basically unique) place in the history of Italian design.

William Blake: the English painter who made us see God (and the devil)! There’s a chance to immerse ourselves in the highly visionary world of William Blake (1757-1827), where 300 works are on display at London’s Tate Britain until 2nd February 2020. Accused, both during his lifetime and thereafter, of romanticism, symbolism and mysticism, this huge exhibition finally allows us to get to grips with the revolutionary charge of Blake’s work as related to the times he lived in. He was also a famous poet, and was a skilled painter and engraver (his Divine Comedy is unforgettable). It is curious to note that some of his iconic images are still kept alive in the English capital on T-shirts worn by unsuspecting teenagers, proof of the enduring power of his vision.

The eternal scandal of the Cross. Perhaps those childhood memories of going into certain stark and empty cathedrals, when one’s eyes were drawn, terrified but magnetically to the great wooden Christ hanging between the apse and the nave still hang over us. This may be a less “canonical” than usual pointer to the three monumental wooden crucifixes displayed side by side for the first time at the Mediaeval Museum in Bologna, as part of the exhibition Imago Splendida. Masterpieces of Wooden Sculpture from the Romanesque Period to the 13th Century (on until 8th March 2020), but they are truly well worth a visit. Made by a still unknown local master, and dated between 1270 and 1280, they have recently been carefully restored and brought back to their original, awe-inspiring beauty. Very few early mediaeval examples of this kind still exist, due to the perishable nature of the material, and to changes in the cult and taste for sacred art. Whatever one’s own religious persuasion, this exhibition delivers a real dose of humanity.

Domenikos Theotocopuli, known as El Greco, in Paris. Originally from Crete, where he was born in 1541, he was active first in Venice, then in Rome and finally in Toledo (from 1577 onwards), El Greco has shaken up the Grand Palais with the absolute modernity of his paintings (I dare any non-experts visiting the exhibition to successfully date some of his canvases to the late 18th century, rather than the early 20th!) He was the last great Renaissance painter and the first painter of the Counter-Reformation, his disproportionately elongated figures (we would now describe them as “stretched”) feature searing, febrile and psychoanalytical looks. His mixes of saints and ordinary people, history and faith, light and shade were precursors not just of the Spanish school of Goya and Velazquez, but of all subsequent painting, by way of Cezanne. At the Grand Palais in Paris until 10th February 2020 and then at the Chicago Art Institute from 5th March to 21st June 2020.

Canova and Thorvaldsen: a profitably rivalry. Poor Antonio Salieri, knew a thing or two about this; a brilliant composer, he is now remembered solely for his alleged rivalry with the divine Mozart. Not to mention the bitter hatred between the two leading 20th century painters Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. Legend also has it that tension always existed between Antonio Canova (1757) and Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770), and this tension has provided the basis for a real evaluation. The exhibition Canova/Thorvaldsen: the Birth of Modern Sculpture is on at the Gallerie d’Italia in Milan’s Piazza Scala until 15th March 2020. Who’s the winner? Perhaps, quite simply, beauty. More classical than the Greek and Latin classics that inspired them, these two masters transport us to an ethereal world of purity and rigour, sensuality and iciness. The ebb and flow of daily life is shut out behind the tall doors of the Gallerie d’Italia.

Self-Portraits by the psychoanalyst’s grandson. The unmissable exhibition Lucian Freud. The Self-Portraits at the Royal Academy of Arts in London continues until 26th January 2020. Asked whether he thought he was a good model for himself, Freud replied: “No, I don’t accept the information that I get when I look at myself, that’s where the trouble starts.” A pretty productive kind of trouble, if truth be told. From his first self-portrait in 1939 to the last in 2003, this giant of English painting never stopped plumbing the depths of own psyche. He stands naked before us (aged 71, he painted himself wearing nothing but an unlaced pair of boots), body and soul. The story of the progressive ageing of man had never before been told with such intensity. For every one of us, a visit to the exhibition threatens to become a journey of self-awareness (it is well worth it, but one enters at one’s own risk!).

Top: © 2019 Photo by Raul Betti - All right reserved

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