Rachel Whiteread reflects on pandemic with major installation in Bergamo

For the sixth consecutive year, the GAMeC of Bergamo returns to occupy the Palazzo della Regione with a new installation designed by one of the most renowned exponents of the Young British Artists

The GAMeC – Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo reconfirms its visionary and research-based mission with a new exhibition featuring the internationally renowned artist Rachel Whiteread. The new installation by the British artist was tailor-made for the historic location that hosts it – the Sala delle Capriate of the Palazzo della Regione – and is part of the Bergamo Brescia Italian Capital of Culture initiative, which has already promoted interesting creative and cultural projects, one of which is the light installation Lights on, designed by the Greek duo Objects of Common Interest for the façade of Palazzo della Libertà.

…And the Animals Were Sold takes up a recent and complex topic: the pandemic. In fact, the title is a clear reference to the chaotic Asian markets where all types of animals are traded and which have long been considered a hotbed of the Covid-19 pandemic; but also a seemingly nonsensical piece of sentence of which only a handful of words have been overheard. Whiteread’s environmental installation is composed of 60 seats which constitute the materialization of the empty space lying between the legs of two different models of chairs.

The reference to the city and its historical places is expressed through the choice of materials, various types of stone found both in Palazzo della Ragione and in Piazza Vecchia, such as the Sarnico stone in the façade of the historical building and the Zandobbio marble in the Contarini Fountain. The latter is still today extracted from quarries in the Bergamo area, and represents a characteristic architectural element in the city’s building context. The 60 blocks of marble that occupy the space dialogue perfectly with the Sala delle Capriate, embellished with centenary frescoes and a wooden ceiling with exposed beams. The design of these abstract but strongly evocative presences is cold and contemporary, but their profound essence does not differ from that of the stones which, arranged one on top of the other, form the walls.

Rachel Whiteread, …And the Animals Were Sold, installation view - GAMeC / Palazzo della Ragione, Bergamo, 2023, ph: Lorenzo Palmieri, Courtesy GAMeC - Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo

…And the Animals Were Sold was the first opportunity offered to Whiteread to express the drama of the experience of the pandemic and isolation through art. And she decided to do it by drawing on her background and relying on the methods and languages that have always characterized her artistic research and practice. Exponent of the Young British Artists, since 1988 Whiteread has used casts of everyday objects and domestic furniture to solidify in sculptures the space under beds, inside of closets or houses in general. Through this subversion of domestic space, which turns void into fullness and negative into positive, she captures the faint traces and imprints of human life. Her work does not lack criticisms of contemporary society, which are reflected in the deconstruction of space, a metaphor for the disintegration of the family context and the failed social promises of yesterday’s architecture.

Finally, the 60 sculptures evoke the tragic and close past of Bergamo, severely hit during the first wave of Covid-19 which inflicted numerous losses on the citizenry, and witness a noisy and painful absence. Even the arrangement of these cryptic entities refers to the dual nature of the installation. On the one hand, the artist echoes the old requirement of social distancing by positioning the seats in a sort of rigid grid two meters apart; on the other, she proposes a freer and more casual setting with the sculptures gathered in small groups. These recall people in conversation – as happens during the summer in the nearby Piazza Vecchia -, a sort of celebration of a newfound proximity between people, while highlighting the former use of the Palazzo della Regione, which once constituted the place where representatives of the municipality would meet to discuss, debate, and legislate.

Rachel Whiteread, …And the Animals Were Sold, installation view - GAMeC / Palazzo della Ragione, Bergamo, 2023, ph: Lorenzo Palmieri, Courtesy GAMeC - Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo

Walking among Whiteread’s sculptures under the exposed beams of the Sala delle Capriate, visitors are prompted to reflect on the world’s recent past – a chapter already closed and almost forgotten for many, but still burning in the memory of others. A short film by director Joe Juanne Piras documents the creative process that led the artist to conceive …And the Animals Were Sold’s exhibition project for Palazzo della Ragione, on view until October 29, 2023.

Agnese Torres
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