The metamorphoses of Gabriele Giorgi / David Galloway (2010)

The multimedial vision of the ingenious Italian artist Gabriele Giorgi places his
achievements firmly within the avantgarde tradition. As unconventional as some of
his works may appear, they embody a modernist spirit of inclusion whose symbolic
beginning is often dated to 1912, when Pablo Picasso produced his first assemblage,
entitled Still-life with Caned Chair. Though other artists, including Vladimir Baranov-
Rossiné, had already integrated three-dimensional objects into their paintings, it
was Picasso who made the technique into a modernist credo.His relief-like oval
composition combined a painting of cubistically stylized forms with oilcloth, the seat of
a cane chair and a length of twisted rope framing the whole. The use of objets trouvés
and other theoretically non-art materials would form a powerful current in the art of
the last century – from Kurtz Schwitters to Robert Rauschenberg, from Duchamp
to Arman, Edward Keinholz, Joseph Beuys and Daniel Spoerri, among a host of
inventive practitioners. Gabriele Giorgi, too, has developed an aesthetic of inclusion.
The artist works in virtually every known visual medium, including photography,
video, painting, print, sculpture, drawing and installation. Frequently one finds a
sort of crossover between different, seemingly incompatible mediums or between
materials – marble and iron, for example, or photography and painting – brought into
improbable harmony. In addition, Giorgi crafts vivid short poems whose introspective
stance suggests ways of reading the visual works themselves. Many of these verses
achieve the distilled but enigmatic clarity found in classical haiku, and like that ancient
Japanese verse form, they often take life from a simple observation of the natural
world. Like Giorgi’s sculptures and paintings, they function best through a process
of distillation. In the spirit of those modernist pioneers who shaped a new artistic
vision in the last century, Giorgi simply declines to acknowledge the pigeonholing
and labeling still used by many to classify artistic activity. The British novelist/scientist
C.P. Snow once referred to such orthodox rules and regulations as the Geneva
Conventions of the Mind, which dictate that disciplines and genres operate according
to inviolable formulaic principles. Snow was not merely concerned by such restrictions
on artistic and intellectual freedom but by the greater danger of an expanding divide
between science and the humanities. In a celebrated, controversial lecture entitled
The Two Cultures, delivered at Cambridge University in 1959, he warned that this
radical schism threatened the very foundations of civilization. With his seemingly
inexhaustible curiosity about new materials and techniques, the visual artist has
served as a pioneer in bridging this gap. Indeed, in the roller-coaster ride of isms and
idioms that has characterized the last century of aesthetic expression, the artist’s
interest in new tools and materials remains one of the few constants. Photography,
film, video, acrylic paints, plastics, the computer and nano technology – to cite only
a few of the relevant breakthroughs – are among the countless technical revolutions
that have found their way into the artist’s atelier. It is important to stress, however, that
the discovery of new means of expression hardly makes older mediums obsolete – no
more, in fact, than the invention of the automobile made the bicycle obsolete. (Nor,
despite various dire predictions, did photography make the painted portrait obsolete).
Far more, new media and materials have repeatedly expanded the artist’s options,
but those still include the charcoaled twig with which Lascaux artists drew the outlines
of figures. That archaic tool remains a favorite means of sketching (particularly
for figure studies) and is used to lay out the underlying configurations in Konrad
Klapheck’s hyperrealistic paintings. It was in this climate of inclusion, exploration
and innovation that Gabriele Giorgi came of age as an artist. With equal skill, he
records his visions with the latest technological means, but also through xylography
– the oldest relief-printing technique known to man. Drops of water, bands of iron,
classical Carrara marble and prefabricated industrial components all have a place in
his formal repertory, where they are shaped into a multidimensional form language:
constructivist or lyric, minimalist or maximalist, introspective or theatrical. What
these idioms have in common is their continuous pressing of formal and thematic
boundaries. The process itself may take the guise of dramatic confrontation, but it
can also be achieved through subtle insinuation. In his early work as a painter, Giorgi
explored the resources of the flat plane. So soon as the plane is structurally altered,
a third dimension comes about. In the case of minimalist alterations to a sheet of
aluminum, for example, we can think in terms of a relief – all the way to high relief in
the case of more vigorous alterations of the pliable surface. When the plane is not
simply dented or crumpled but bent, folded or rolled, we have moved into the third
dimension of sculpture. This progression from the first to the third dimension is vividly
illustrated by such works as Visioni Nel Nulla and Pensieri Liquidi, both completed
in 2008. Here the gentle crumpling of bronze-tinted aluminum produces textures and
shadows reminiscent of Renaissance drapery. The cool marble sphere that forms a
component of the latter piece only intensifies the implied softness of the metal itself.
Repeatedly, such compositions reveal their creator’s talent for making shadow itself
a prime component of his oeuvre – a kind of negative-space element of compelling
purity. The glossy marble sphere, which serves as a classic geometric touchstone
within several installations, casts a soft, elongated oval silhouette against the floor. It
is tempting but perhaps extraneous to see this technique in terms of Plato’s famous
myth of the cave. On the other hand, Giorgi’s fascination with shadows is more than
a compositional gesture – as witnessed by his own self-portraits as a “shadow man.”
Giorgi’s sculptural gestures are contextualized in many different ways. In installative
variations on Visioni Nel Nulla, for example, four or five simple shapes are cut from
thin aluminum sheeting and only lightly manipulated, then suspended in air where
they hover in a weightless ensemble reminiscent of the mobiles of Alexander Calder,
who so ingeniously combined abstraction and motion. A remark by the famous
American artist seems particularly appropriate here: To most people who look at a
mobile, it’s no more than a series of flat objects that move. To a few, though, it may be
poetry. And here, I think, one can recognize the essence of Gabriele Giorgi’s oeuvre.
Whether abstract or corporeal in its specific vocabulary, the language employed here
suffuses the components with an unexpected poetry. Before our very eyes, a rigid
steel rod metamorphoses into a gentle, silken swirl and metal plaques take flight.
Through it all, the artist demonstrates a consistent respect for the integrity of the
material itself; when he intervenes, he does so with subtle gestures that leave no
room for theatrics. It is this restraint that lends both dignity and integrity to Giorgi’s
compelling poetic transformations.