• 05/10/2013 - 05/12/2013
  • Curated by Katrin Plavcak, Cullinan Richards
  • Dispari & Dispari Project
  • Reggio Emilia, Italy

By Antonio Grulli

The exhibition presented by dispari&dispari project in Reggio Emilia is important for two reasons: it is of the highest quality and happens to come just at the right moment. The artists are all top-notch, recognised at international level, with shows in the best museums of the world and backed by the most important galleries. I have not done a search but, despite their background, seeing works of these artists in Italy is indeed difficult and therefore it is also a rare show.

Though they are three artists, Katrin Plavcak, Charlotte Cullinan and Jeanine Richards perform as curators on this occasion and have gathered around them a group of more than thirty people. The exhibition is not only a recognition of a certain kind of art today, but is also an interesting cross section of the painting gravitating around two major cities: Berlin and London. Clearly, the artists involved do not only come from these two cities, which nonetheless may be seen as two great magnetic poles.

I didn’t question the three curators on their modalities of choice and I know that nearly everything has been agreed through shared discussion. At the same time, seeing the works I could not but think of which particular one of them had made a certain choice. I imagine then the artists whose works allude to or result in a painting that still has elements of figuration may be attributed to Plavcak. While I believe the selection of works close to a largely abstract and informal dimension may be owed to Cullinan + Richards. Even if on enquiring, I’m sure there’d be no lack of surprises.

I know the three well and know how they share many aspects of their work, and how on tastes they are indeed exceptionally close. You can tell from their own works, but you can understand this even better from the selection of works made for this exhibition. Observing these works, it is inevitable to perceive a certain musical “quality”, and the background or direct references of many of the artists present speak for themselves. Notable too, is a certain performative and gestural taste, in which the element of the body and the organic predominate all.

This the starting point, but it is obviously difficult to sum up and explain large collective shows. And every attempt to create a narrative thread might appear vague and fabricated. In this case, it may prove useful to explain what you won’t find in the exhibition: what these works “aren’t”.

During the last few years, we have seen the world of art become radically changed. Only a fraction of the art made today is actually accomplished through the direct viewing of the work. In the great majority of cases, it is conveyed in portfolios in which the works are represented by small and poor quality photographs or using the computer screen. Not only this, everything must be reduced to statements of a few lines as much as possible. We constantly notice how these modes of communication of art have influenced so much of art itself: how often do we come across works that would be inexistent if not with help of the an accompanying text? It is as if the art today consists of the work and its observation only for the tiniest part. I detect a total relegating of the art work also when taking books randomly from my shelves; but it is even more obvious on entering fashionable art bookshops like Motto in Berlin. There are effectively very few books in which we see the images of works. The deluge of words is instead enormous and the few photos are often in black and white and decidedly vague.

Here, in Stag Berlin / London you won’t find anything of the kind. We want to tear you away from the hermeneutics of art to take you back to an erotic perception of it. What there is to know about the works on show is there, in front of you, and it is the works themselves. Words can enlarge but all that is necessary is already present. The material on show is much more unstable than you’d imagine. It is painting that as recited in the press release is deeply changeable, atmospheric. Also with respect to some movements of the past that we could draw on as antecedents (Expressionism, Informal, Bad Painting, COBRA group etc.), it is more “liquid”, impalpable, laid-back and dirty. Geometric forms are almost entirely dismissed, the palette is nearly infinite also within the individual approach of almost every one of these artists, and everywhere there are colours that drip and run across the surface of the painting. Often the very edges of the painting are unstable or evanescent, and the works take on an installation, environmental and sculptural nature. Nothing is stable and everything is subject to betrayal.

Every conceptual tie with photography (predominant until some time ago) has been abandoned. There is instead a great deal of “sonorous” tension, and the superimposition with the musical research of the last years is total. If the mainly abstract works live on sounds that are turned on and composed in entirely different ways for each artist, those from which the figure emerges manage to generate sometimes dreamlike and dreaming mini-stories, at times intimate and sentimental, in the viewer’s mind.
It is a painting of poetry and not prose. There’s no room for cynicism and irony, neither for the colossal history of painting, that seemed an enormous and inevitable burden in recent years. Abandoned entirely also the apocalyptic, heroic and titanic atmosphere of the last days of painting; this is a painting of the first days, of the golden age, a little barbaric and naive. The entire component of visual pleasure that instead has been intentionally limited in the art of recent years is brought back with vehemence. These pictures are beautiful, though it sounds foolish just to say so. The entirely unstable and precarious nature of the works and the distinctive quality of the arrangement give the perception of a performance event; it will be like going to a party. It seems a similar process to what has led to a complete rebirth of the ritual nature of concerts at a world-wide level, precisely at a time of the complete dematerialization of music. A new desire for unique, dirty situations, in which also error and the unexpected are to be considered positive factors.

It’s no coincidence that a major artist of the likes of Jutta Koether is present in the exhibition, an artist who has always operated at the boundaries of the world of music and art, having been a member of a number of bands and played with figures like Kim Gordon. Today, she is to give for the first time in Italy a performance already put on in the past, with variations, at the MoMA and the Tate Modern of London. An action that will further enhance the show as a “happening”, during which she will be asked to “use” some elements set on the ground (partly sculpture, partly painting) that will become the vehicle of interaction with the exhibition’s public.