My experience of the Panorama exhibition is the perfect example of how insight can completely transform an experience. I was lucky enough to take part in a tour of the exhibition, carried out by the curator, Claudio Musso, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it – I can be skeptical about contemporary art, but I learnt never to be put off! It was genuinely insightful and visually stimulating, and so I am going to share my insider’s knowledge about this superb exhibition.
Panorama is a contemporary art exhibition, open 26th January – 13 April 2019, in Bologna, Italy. The theme is landscape, but the modern and contemporary Italian artists respond to the theme in different ways. It looks at how landscape has developed as a concept, and how the physical landscape itself has changed over time. The modern revival of landscape painting has its heart in Bologna: in 1981, MAMbo held the exhibition ‘Landscape between Image and Reality’, which showcased a spectrum of disciplines from photography and video, to satellite imagery, making Bologna the perfect location for this contemporary landscape renaissance.
This blog post will take you on a tour of a selection of my favorite works from the exhibition, around three small rooms, which all approach the theme differently. It concludes with a section of Curator’s Insights – a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a wonderful contemporary art exhibition.
Antonio Sant’Elia, Untitled, 1912
Sant’Elia displays a pair of architectural drawings from the early 20th century. The choice of a modern, as opposed to contemporary artists, to open the exhibition gently eases the viewer into the theme. As a Futurist, Sant’Elia noticed how the landscape was modernising, and responded to this with pencil drawings of an ‘extra-urban’ landscape which has become very familiar. It focuses on the relationship between landscape and architecture, and embodies how our perception of landscape has become ‘urban-centric’.
Francesco Pedrini, Tornado#6, 2016
The medium of this work really does the talking (there isn’t a huge amount of information available on this work and so the tour was even more important). A tornado tears across the paper, and the artist has perfectly captured the moment in graphite, charcoal, and pigment. He applied the materials to the paper and created the image by moving the pigments with air. The use of charcoal and air embodies the physical elements of the landscape in the image.
Davide Tranchina, Starry Street #1, 2016
A series of four small square photographs in large white frames captures the astrological angle of landscape. Tranchina has used a backlight to modify our vision of the urban landscape, creating a cosmic experience detached from time. The photographs were taken on Via Miglia, a Roman road from Piacenza to Rimini which highlights the cultural importance of the landscape, and our connection to it.
Valentina d’Amaro, Untitled (Viridis Series), 2016
D’Amaro’s oil paintings caught my eye as soon as I walked into the exhibition, positioned opposite the entrance. The title uses the Latin word for green, viridis, and her two paintings on display are certainly green. My photos just do not do the colour justice – over 100 layers of oil paint were used to build up the ‘plastic’ shade of green in the seemingly simulated landscape. Her focus on nature is two-faced, and demonstrates the artificial division between nature and wilderness. The vivid green focuses on the power of colour in a very in-organic way giving the impression of a digitalised image on a desktop, reminiscent of the much loved photograph Bliss by Charles O’Rear.
Filippo Minelli, Untitled, 2018
Minelli’s work is is formed through research of existing digital images. The exhibition features an installation of photo-montages, centred around a flag and plastic bottle protruding from the wall. He takes digitalised images of natural material, such as water, and prints these onto fabric, and then photographs the result. The water-themed images bring to mind Hockney’s pool paintings. His Paysage series puts two images together which contrast in place and time, but unite in their approach to landscape such as the ironic comparison between the Great Wall of China and Luna Park (an American theme park). On the work, Minelli said “It is research on the perception of space, on how it can influence the identity of the places and of people. It’s all linked to the concept of aesthetic mutation”.
Superstudio, New New York (from The Continuous Monument), 1969-70
Superstudio is an architectural firm, founded in Italy in 1966. The exhibition features two lithographs of dystopian architectural skylines. The focus is New York as the world’s first metropolis, which influenced the developments of other cities. It demonstrates the density of living in a commercial, industrial, residential space. For the curator, this is one of the most important features of the whole exhibition, despite the fact that the image was never intended as an artwork. Superstudio’s global position and their understanding of landscape makes a valuable contribution to the exhibition.
Andrea De Stefani, Smash-Up (Rino’s Flowerbed), 2017
De Stefani’s sculptural installation is… a lump of wood. Without the tour I would have probably dismissed it as pompous rubbish. However, it has a pretty interesting back story (bear with me)! The artist came across a piece of broken wood in the countryside outside a paint factory, and his work combines the themes of nature and industry. The wood has been varnished in the white paint produced by the factory, giving it a delicate, pearlescent shine of pink and green, and then placed on a harsh bed of brilliant black asphalt – the result is a beautiful harmony between the man-made and natural landscape, brought together in one single object. The artist has altered the surface texture and colour of the wood to create a physical commentary on how urban life encroaches upon nature.
Margherita Moscardini, Maquette, 2013
Maquette is the sculptural element of a three-work series, which also includes a pencil drawing and a video. Now if you thought Smash-Up was was a test of patience, get ready for this. Maquette is… a lump of asphalt. But then again, it’s a lot more than that! The work is based on atomic bomb shelters built across Europe, which happen to be placed in areas of great natural beauty, often with sea and mountain views. The asphalt comes from the destruction of a beach-facing shelter in Normandy, whose position echoes the Romantic paintings of Friedrich. The trio of artworks centre on the relationship between identity and national borders of landscape.
Marco Strappato, 32 days at Rupert, Vilnius. Looking into the wood, dreaming palm trees, 2017/2018
The series of 32 marker pen on paper drawings of palm trees make an eye-catching display in the final room. Strappato drew the palms as a means of escape from the grey eastern European landscape of the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, where he was staying. Each drawing uses a continuous-line technique, and the frames are accompanied by an installation of cast coconuts on the floor in front. The effect is a ‘diary of daydreams’, and plays to the room’s loose theme of ‘imaginary holidays’.
David Casini, Free space, 2018
This installation sculpture features transparent images of urban trees, printed onto screen protectors, hanging in a sort of mobile layout. The wooden support is placed on a floor whose design is copied from the Palazzo Magnani, specifically a room which houses a collection of important Carracci frescoes. The artwork is placed on the floor of a building in which the artist would hypothetically like to display his work; the works of the museum are a stark contrast to Casini’s urban landscape of primary colours and artificial materials.
Mauro Ceolin, SL_playerUnknownBattlegrounds 28.03.2018, 2018 and DeerHuntLandscapes, 2005/2006
Ceolin is a digital artist with two works presented together in the exhibition. DeerHuntLandscapes is an installation featuring boxes full of archival images, and an acrylic on Plexiglas painting of a landscape screenshot from the Deer Hunter video game. The Plexiglas and plastic acrylic paint is reminiscent of the ‘virtuality’ of a screen.
SL_playerUnknownBattlegrounds 28.03.2018 is a watercolour and gouache painting, also of a Deer Hunter ‘landscape’. The paintings are screenshots of 32 and 16 bit images respectively, and Ceolin’s use of watercolour and gouache is intended to reflect the lower 16 bit screen-quality. The use of digital landscapes shows how our perception of the theme has evolved in the digital age. Both images initially appear like en-plein-air paintings, and there is a certain beauty in the transferal of a pixelated image into a tangible painting.
Mario Schifano, Plain one, Plain two, 1971
Schifano was one of the founding members of Italian Pop Art, and one of the biggest international names of the exhibition. His abstract landscape is described as anaemic. He withdraws detail to create the impression of a fast moving landscape, like one might see though a train window. The title of the work is written across the canvas in abstract lettering. The result is a liquified view, producing a commentary on a landscape in motion with the elements blurring together.
According to Musso, there were two crucial curatorial decisions implemented into the exhibition: firstly, the decision to leave the glass door to the outside uncovered, to bring the urban landscape of Bologna into the exhibition. Secondly, to include a hand-drawn pencil line in the centre of the walls, which follows each work through the exhibition. His reasoning? – “If you draw a line on a plain piece of paper and give it to a child, they will probably see a landscape, a horizon”.
On the pale yellow wall colour (the paintings are actually hung on panels in front of a natural stone wall), Musso admits it was actually a happy mistake. He wanted to copy the colour of the original wall, but it came up very different; nonetheless, it works as a warm, neutral shade which doesn’t detract from the artworks. He also disclosed that the three rooms are grouped by loose themes: room 1 is a preview of architecture and nature in landscape, room 2 is black and white, and room 3 is based on colour. He has positioned works on the walls linked by small, subjective details, such as the use of a particular man-made material, or a visual, thematic association. However, he insists it is more interesting for the viewer to categorise the works in their own way, and focus on how the works present themselves differently, to different viewers.
Panorama is a powerful contemporary art exhibition. I say powerful because it managed to change my preconceptions about difficult, conceptual themes, and I have learnt not to judge an exhibition before I have been! It still doesn’t mean that you have to like all contemporary art, but have an open mind – it just might surprise you! I think the theme of landscape helped to ground the artworks by maintaining a visual appeal throughout, and the wide selection of Italian artworks was excellently chosen. Oh, and another bonus – it’s free! If you have the opportunity to visit, I hope you enjoy this beacon of light in the contemporary art world as much as I did.