Around the mid-1700s, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 – 1778) made himself known as one of the greatest protagonists of the time thanks to his antiquarian and documentary meticulousness. Known for being an all-round artist, he not only created spectacular engravings of daring architecture, but he imprinted an artistic practice known as “pastiche”. The Boyd Vase, actually in the British Museum in London, is a clear example of this; Piranesi did not just produce an authentic intaglio, but also gave life to the marble work through the recovery of different stylistic features and reconstructed fragments. Contemporary elements were combined with Greek or Roman details, flower garlands and masks of gods, creating a hybrid artefact, capable of stimulating the imagination of those collectors who came into possession of it.
The logic of the recomposed fragment, of the “pastiche”, also stimulated the imagination of the artist Paolo Gonzato (Busto Arsizio, 1975), who for his first solo show at the Officine Saffi gallery in Milan decided to produce a series of ceramics born from the intertwining of cultures and trends that are also very different from each other. Distant eras, copies of copies of ancient vases, but also twentieth century theories applied to our days. On the other hand, Gonzato himself in the press release of the exhibition states that the technique used by Piranesi for his engravings is none other than that post-modern “cultural nomadism”, theorized by the Transavantgarde in the 1980s and, today, called globalization. In other words, today’s freedom to be able to appropriate signs of various origins, classic and contemporary stereotypes mixed together.
If some of the works on display want to deliberately refer to ancient friezes, as if they were sources just found by an archaeologist to witness the evolution of an ancient civilization, others are the result of completely contemporary personal and technical reflections, such as 3D printing.
So, as soon as you enter the first large rectangular room of the Officine Saffi, you are enveloped by a whirlwind of references; in the center, the large vases play the leading role. Placed on different pedestals not only in conformation, but also in colors, Pastiche (2019/2020) almost seem like silent Muses waiting to be observed. In the background, on the other hand, the Out of stock series (2020) dialogues with the geometric and colored figures of the walls on which they are hung. The tiles, made from scraps of pre-existing materials, fragments of other works, take up the rhomboid motif proposed alongside, while the colors chosen are samples of those same geometries. Here the most obvious reference is the ideology of Bruno Munari, who liked to repeat that art should have been a game of imagination and creativity. At the same time, observing the space in which these works are placed, one finds oneself immersed in a disarming timelessness, a suspended time where ancient and modern act in unison.
At the corner of the room you can see two different Pastiche; this time it is not only the ancient that has inspired Gonzato. In fact, PASTICHE (Monochrome) is a structure made up of eleven cylindrical vases of various sizes and heights, glazed in purple. This color, in its various shades, is frequent in the artist’s palette, especially to evoke intimate atmospheres and both psychological and spiritual introspection. Used as a monochrome tint, resulting from a chromatic sampling, the entire installation is a clear homage to the works of the 1900s, from Malevič to American minimalism.
PASTICHE (Copy), on the other hand, is a small amphora obtained through the 3D printing technique. Although purple is monochromatic again, the result is completely different. In this case, two temporalities coexist: on the one hand the copy of the copy of that Piranesi so highly esteemed by Gonzato, on the other a completely contemporary mode of creation, capable of losing most of the details, up to giving life a new completely extemporaneous artifact belonging to one and the other time.
Paolo Gonzato started producing ceramics in the second half of the 2000s, experimenting with his vision of brutalist stratification, already known in the works of sculpture. Trained at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, his artistic practice has been able to combine multifaceted forms of production. For example, in the last cycle of works, PASTICHE (Chopstick), he refers to his previous painting experience. Dissimilar is only the working material, but not the basic concept. If Out of stock are leftovers of destroyed works, these ceramics are what remains of a destructive action. On the white enameled surface you can see tiny holes made with Chinese chopsticks. The mental associations can be infinite: a skeleton eaten by some microorganisms or sea sponges and corals, and even accumulations and imaginative layers, in a path where art continuously dialogues with design.
As mentioned, a further distinctive feature of Gonzato, present in many of his works, is the rhomboidal geometric shape, as well as the bright colors and the purple color. The introspection of an intimate self, wrapped in a rituality of styles and beliefs, is expressed precisely by this continuum of references and characteristics that are repeated more or less frequently. At the exit of the exhibition, so full of stimuli, tributes and references, do we not feel, perhaps, ourselves a bit like one of those large ceramic vases, custodians of multiple realities?
In compliance with current regulations, Pastiche will be extended to a date to be defined. However, in these weeks it is possible to view the exhibition on the Artsy platform, while some interviews and insights will be published on the Instagram account of the gallery. The imaginative journey, to discover the hidden references, is not yet over.
Paolo Gonzato. Pastiche
via Aurelio Saffi 7, 20123, Milano (MI)
Monday – Friday 10.00 – 13.00, 14.00 – 18.30
Paolo Gonzato, Pastiche, installation view, Officine Saffi, Milano. Courtesy the artist and Officine Saffi. Ph Alessandra Vinci
Paolo Gonzato, PASTICHE (Out of stock), 2020. Courtesy the artist and Officine Saffi. Ph Alessandra Vinci
Paolo Gonzato, PASTICHE (Monochrome, Copy e Chopstick), 2020. Courtesy the artist and Officine Saffi. Foto Alessandra Vinci
Contemporary art historian and critic. Graduated in art history at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, during her specialization she works for the Pistoletto Foundation, where she works alongside the artist Nico Angiuli in the production and artistic direction of The Human Tools, winner of the Italian prize Council. She concludes her studies at IULM with an experimental thesis in collaboration with the Vincenzo Agnetti archive. Currently active in the research field, she carries out her project within the archive and writes for various art magazines.