Meccanica: a witty reflection on anti-authorship in art

Giorgio Verzotti has selected eight artists who, from the 1950s to today, have put into practice experiments and languages that have undermined the concept of authorship, in a world in which the notion of artist is still closely and romantically linked to the uniqueness of the artistic act and unrepeatable creative genius.

The myth of the machine and technological innovation has fascinated entire generations of artists, from the Futurists, who found in the advent of industrial progress and in the pressing pace of daily life the sensation of a new future, to Kinetic Art – or Op Art in the US – whose exponents programmed the aesthetics of their creations through a scientific and methodical construction of their work. In the Meccanica exhibition, in premises of Viasaterna gallery in Milan (8 April – 21 June 2024), the curator Giorgio Verzotti investigates the “fight” against subjectivism carried out by illustrious authors from different decades from the 1950s to today. On the one hand, the rationality of technique opposed to the imponderability and unpredictability of artistic inspiration, on the other, the randomness that replaces the individual will of the artist.

The entire exhibition project starts from a suggestion: is it true that the repetitive, mechanical, serial act subtracts pathos from artistic creation? Verzotti certainly does not intend to answer this tricky question, but through the works he has selected he invites the viewer to measure himself with the concepts of artist and work of art, which over the years have caused provocations on the part of the artists themselves. As the curator recalls, Alighiero Boetti used to say “Anyone can do what I do”, and Joseph Beuys “everyone is potentially an artist”. A few years later, Damien Hirst, after having produced the first five pieces of his world-wide famous “spot paintings” with his own hand, passed the brush to his assistant and years later ironically stated: “… the best person who ever painted spots for me was Rachel (his assistant, ed). […] The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel.” A debate that has captivated illustrious art historians, sociologists, and economists who have formulated more or less convincing theories that try to explain what makes a simple painter/sculptor/craftsman – and so on and so forth – an Artist and what factors determine the value of his creations.

Installation view, Meccanica, Group Show curated by Giorgio Verzotti. Courtesy Viasaterna, photo credit Carola Merello

Long before Damien Hirst, Dadamaino (1930-2004) had made the repetitive and mechanical act the generative stimulus of her works, as in the Volumi (1950s, Volumes) and Rilievi (1960s, Reliefs) series: canvases with impersonal and inexpressive cuts, or with protruding reliefs placed in serial sequences. But the ingenuity of the Milanese artist also lies in the use of materials, as she herself explained to the Italian curator Luca Massimo Barbero in an interview: “I wanted transparency and I found it in an industrial material that for many was designed exclusively for domestic use … […] I used the plastic material with which shower sheets were made, in short, a material that was anything but noble”. Similarly, Niele Toroni (1937) is present in the exhibition with his Brush Imprints n.50 at 30 cm intervals. In his works the artistic act is reduced to a minimum with the aim of making his practice all-embracing. Toroni, who lives and works in Paris, once stated that his deepest aspiration “is for people to find my pictorial work interesting, without wondering who did it.” An intriguing statement given that he was one of the very few artists to remain totally faithful to himself throughout his career, so much so that his artistic protocol has remained unchanged since 1965.

Characterized by a great diversity in terms of mediums and languages employed, but also in age, Meccanica combines sacred monsters such as, indeed, Dadamaino and Toroni, but also Irma Blank (1934-2023) with her poetic Radical Writings – parallel lines of blue paint intended as abstract phrases with a universal meaning – and Sergio Lombardo (1939) – “artist-scientist” who in the 1970s theorized Eventualism, whose fundamental element lies precisely in the expressive abstinence of the artist – to artists of subsequent decades, but equally incisive. From Betrand Lavier (1949), whose tablecloths are elevated to the status of works of art through an impersonal pictorial intervention which replicates colors and patterns with the brush and tempera, to Giovanni Rizzoli (1963) who injects drip loads of color into damask surfaces, letting chance define the final result, and Daniele Innamorato (1969), who uses a “subtraction” technique by covering canvases full of fresh paint with cellophane which he then removes. From the works of these latter artists, where randmoness and repetition of actions become the main creative forces, something alive, organic, and exuberant emerge. Rizzoli’s color injections create sinuous body-like shapes on the surface of his totemic structures, while the mixed and overlapping paints of Innamorato’s canvases result in intriguing scenarios, which sometimes seem like close-ups of forests in which brambles and branches intertwine, and sometimes microorganisms under the microscope.

Installation view, Meccanica, Group Show curated by Giorgio Verzotti. Courtesy Viasaterna, photo credit Carola Merello

Finally, such a visionary exhibition could not fail to pay homage to a representative of the newest generation. Camilla Gurgone (1997), who recently joined the list of artists represented by Viasaterna, delegates part of the creative process to Artificial Intelligence, the last frontier of technological progress and the extreme intervention of the “intellingent” machine in the human realm, whose potential doesn’t cease to amaze and around which an ongoing debate with ethical contours revolves.

Agnese Torres
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