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'Truth be told' by Gabriele De Santis at Frutta, Rome

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In 2017. Between the self and the self there is always the other

A. We are in 2017. Still far from December 16, 2040, our hundredth birthday, yet we are getting closer to July 11, 2023, the date of our alleged death.

B. We are in 2017! We can write our 14th telegram for the Serie di merli disposti ad intervalli regolari lungo gli spalti di una muraglia. If we sent it today we would write 16.700 days ago it was May 2, 1971, which means 400.800 hours ago, 1.422.880.000 seconds ago.

A. Do you remember in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, when Alice, drinking tea in the company of the Mad Hatter, noticed his clock? “What a funny watch!” she remarked. “It tells the day of the month, and doesn’t tell what o’clock it is!” “Why should it?” muttered the Hatter. “Does your watch tell you what year it is?” “Of course not”, Alice replied very readily: “but that’s because it stays the same year for such a long time.”

B. Our watches are instead annual clocks where the clock face displays – rather than the hours’ digits 12, 3, 6, 9 – the ones of the current year, suspending the conventional time telling of the wristwatch. It’s impossible to measure what seems to ow. As long as we don’t mess with it – something that happens quite often – time can make clocks do everything it likes. 1

A. Same for the calendar, where years and days can swap places. Of the 365/366 days available on a calendar, it’s enough to select a few of them to compose a collage with the gure of the year. It’s no longer a linear or mathematical time, but an existential one. A replaced, condensed, re-combined time, where temporal measures of di erent orders exchange places, where time can be played with.

B. Do they also continuously ask you why dates are so important for us?

A. ... And the answer is always the same: Dates? Do you know why they are very important? Because if, for instance, you write on a wall ‘1970’ it might seem nothing important, but in thirty years.... With every day which goes by, this date becomes more beautiful, it’s time at work. Dates indeed have this beauty, the more time passes by, the more beautiful they become. 2

B. Today 1970 is the time - and space - of mythological nostalgia. We ourselves took the appearance of an eccentric gure, to a certain extent suspended in a legendary limen. The language through which we communicated at the time is today familiar, historicized, almost well-established. Yet for us it continues to be an experiment, a game. Niente da vedere, niente da nascondere (Nothing to see, nothing to hide) we declared in 1969 via our work. A frame which leads towards the outside.

A. We are in 2017. If we were to write 2017 on a wall now, what will everybody think in thirty years? What will be left of its symbols and aesthetic? The lter of time we explore needs to challenge the spectator to go beyond the retinal sphere, to de ne the seeing experience in a new way.

B. Do we want to see or hide today? Or better: is it possible to see or is it preferable to hide in a safer elsewhere? It’s important to face the present, to not fear it, or seek refuge in the past or in a incessant appropriation, to welcome that which has been in an unpredictable scheme, in order to, above all, build an iconography of the current time.

A. And after all how can we predict the present? In its confrontation with the past, or in its future crossings, as we are doing now? The nonsenses, the inversions, the clocks, the calendars, the odd telegrams, the allusions to the (dis)measures of time, the possible encounters and those we desire, can be highlighted and elaborated in order to write a page on our time.

B. I don’t have an answer but a proposal. First of all, to be involved in the present, to know how to face it, interpret it, translate it, and shape it. This is what we intend to do. To play with the image and make the game participate, to create a short circuit of and into ordinary experience, are all variables that shouldn’t be underestimated.

A. Yes, to disclose art to the dimension of time, to lose the gaze, to involve the spectator and draw him into the invented and built-up dimension. Perhaps we need to act as prophets. DALL’OGGI AL DOMANI (FROM TODAY TO TOMORROW). Without any prophecy art is incomplete. A prophecy that can involve, that can draw, that brings the observer to strive to see the invisible.

B. We are in 2017. So let’s keep meditating on time, this intangible concept. Let’s not isolate it, let’s not crystallise it into a microcosm. Let’s unfold it toward its in nite possible images. Here: DARE TEMPO AL TEMPO (GIVE TIME TO TIME) in that POZZO SENZA FINE (BOTTOMLESS HOLE). If we can manage to be vedenti (those who see), time will reveal itself.

— Ilaria Gianni

1 The voice “time” in Giacinto Di Pietroantonio (edited by), Alighiero Boe i. Quasi Tu o, SilvanaEditoriale, 2004. 
2 Interview with Mirella Bandini, 1972, in Alighiero Boe i (1965-1994), Mazzotta, 1996.


GDS literally embodies the premises of contemporaneity: speed, accessibility, information, liquidity, globalisation, language. The processes of metabolization, assimilation, reinterpretation, ready-made acquisition (a word the artist wouldn’t appreciate referred to himself, I believe) and the use of codes, both noble and popular, lead him to investigate diverse elds in the construction of his own heterogeneous mythology. GDS has a unique ability when using the collective imaginary. Indeed with the insolence of someone loaded with open-source images, internet and social media, he dares to cross the border of appropriation into a gigantic archive, a converter of forms, themes, objects and ideas.

Walter Benjamin warned about the risks of the secularization of the artwork through its technical reproducibility, but here the theme of the artwork’s aura clashes with a wider, choral device, an actual experiences simulator. Seen like this, Alighiero Boetti becomes the iconic artist to enter into dialogue with, Bruce Nauman the source of bright wordplays, the Ikea prints the most dangerous challenge (for obvious copyright reasons). The distance between “high and low” culture disappears. The idea does not only overcomes the object, but also its production. It remains a secular ritual, the practice of which constitutes worship of beauty. The question GDS seems to ask himself is: how can we build our own creative identity in a world which makes art so accessible as to attach an instruction manual for its set-up? We live in a bubble of illusions: the illusion of being free, of being able to perform choices, of thinking, of being “creative”, even. We, the consumers, are aware of that or maybe we are not, but we still “play along” and accept the rules. This way a standard ‘grid’ substitutes our ability even to just conceive a creative act, or to achieve an artistic gesture, a metaphor of a dream, sold for a few euros, or indeed only provided. The results? Identical walls lled with identical paintings, identical houses, identical dreams, and identical art. But if the stream of thoughts were to continue, it would lead us down a bad road. Warning! The artists alerts us that we are driving o towards an in icted, misled, controlled mindset, exactly like the creativity sold-o by Mr. Ikea. What’s wrong with it in the end? Everybody can build a constellation with just a “bunch of stars”. And above all, which artist translates better than he the world we live in?


A Puzzle in 5 Pieces : an exhibition of Alighiero and Boe i’s works

Look carefully around you: the ve artworks by the Italian artist Alighiero Boetti here shown constitute an exceptional set. Five di erent works, made in di erent moments over the artist’s career, between 1968 and 1994, the date of his premature death: but yet, all together as they are, they appear to converge into a landscape of great coherence. Two self-portraits delimitate the show: on one side the photographic doubling of the artist into two twin brothers, a gesture attested to on the letter, in which the artist manages to slip in his name and his surname, Alighiero and Boetti.This fake twinning is part of the interior decentralisation of his practise, which, through his travels, in Afghanistan in particular, represent an extensive drift out of an eurocentric conceptual art. “I is another”, said Rimbaud, “ I is a collective”, said Boetti – an one can a rm that all his solo shows always assume the heterogenous aspect of a collective. From the other far end of this artist’s life there has been placed the famous sculpture Autoritra o, his last work, a self-portrait in bronze that tragically evokes the brain tumour that would soon bring to death one of the key gures – but at the same time a marginal one – of Arte Povera. Time passed by between these two self-portraits, as the date 1984 demonstrates: from 1977 to 1994 Boetti produced every year between 50 and 200 models of these Orologi annuali, displaying the time both accurately and generically, a work both magni cent and full of humor. Time goes by yet di erently in the great pages of the blue ocean, lled in with the biro pen of the same color (Me ere Al Mondo il Mondo), with tiny commas to form the poetry of this lazy action turned into artwork.

This is also a case in which we nd ourselves in front of the collective: the work, part of a series of hand-made models, but made by di erent anonymous individuals, sometimes even made by the Roman students of Boetti, call into question the traditionally “singular” role of the artist. In other words through him, what is shown in this set is Boetti’s very evident idea that art proposes more than aesthetic forms: life forms.

Look around you carefully again, you won’t be surprised to know that only under certain circumstances it was possible to see all these works coming together and on the market through showing at Frutta gallery. A necessary condition was the manifesting failure of an Italian contemporary art museum during the years of Berlusconi, forced to re-sell di erent artworks from its collections, among which are the bluish pieces of Me ere Al Mondo il Mondo. Since Boetti donated these annual clocks to acquaintances of his entourage, it has been necessary that Jonathan Monk, in friendship, would give continuity to this gesture, by donating to the artist Gabriele De Santis the 1984 clock which was indeed given to him by Alighiero. Eventually, it has been necessary that a popular (and populist) board from Bergamo would vote in favour of removing the self-portrait in bronze from the public park of San Virgilio to have it placed here. The supplementary artworks have been made available by Alighiero and Boetti Foundation.

Jean-Max Colard  Art Critic, Responsible for Talks Programme at Centre Pompidou


“The case of Gabriele De Santis - as a case has been made really - is notorious and it goes as follows. De Santis is an artist that made his own way, he never gained any education of all kind, in terms of painting, he never enrolled in any Fine Art Academy, to any Academy at all. Once, in the studio of xxxxxx - a painter himself - upon seeing him painting, he grabbed the brushes and made his very rst works, without any hesitation (with no signi cant variation from his oldest pieces to his most recent ones), attaining almost immediately the most perfect expression as he established himself in the very rst exhibition in which he took part. In reality, more than a few trained artists wish to have his temperament. Just a few months ago De Santis demonstrated himself to possess the only true, healthy, original artistic vision, among those exhibiting in the unfortunate roman show, xxxxxx. Yet only a few understand his work. He has been accused of not knowing the craft - those less intelligent refer to the ‘drawing’ or the ‘technique’. They say that his art is secondary, popular, unreal and over conscious as painting. Certainly there are unique qualities, but rst of all is it right to a rm that Gabriele De Santis doesn’t owe anything to anybody but himself, that he is a rare case of a self-taught person and therefore nobody ever taught him anything? Certainly not. Indeed, to say so would be petty and to miss the point. We can surely say that, despite this artist never having been exposed to Impressionism, he would have never had this formation without him being in uenced by the cultural and social conditions that this art generated. We’re short a guy, 2015 or Spin like earth, brew like matcha, 2016 (impressions of things made quickly, with rough and sloppy mark making) come from a polished and sharpened vision, the most recent product of a magni cent and great creative tendency: far from being unsophisticated and naïve. Only those who cannot go beyond some external illusory comparisons, which mean nothing—just as the lowly origins of the artist are meaningless here—could mistake De Santis’ art for being primitive and vulgar. Shapes being reduced and exaggerated to attened surfaces, lines being squashed into big and pithy marks (You only live once, 2015; Be right back, 2015), dripped coloured material, the exaggeration of the color itself (Harlequin in East London, 2015; Harlekin in Kreuzberg, 2015), large and heavy zones, with barely any tonal variation (Athos, Porthos, Aramis, 2015; Barnie, 2015), which indeed can be found in certain mainstream or parochial paintings, might indeed be misleading. But De Santis’ expression (as well as his technique) could not be moved even a millimeter. His illusionary barbarization is instead a reversion as much as a very cautious process of discipline and schooling.

If he knew the practice of drawing perspective (and who could say that he doesn’t know them? OH JEFF I LOVE YOU, TOO BUT , 2013) if his furniture were solid and well built (IF YOU HAVE GOT THE FEELING JUMP ACROSS THE CEILING, 2015), if his sculptures were well shaped (Spectacular Sensation, 2015), if the atmosphere around his objects was airy and vibrant, the subjection of the form to inexorably inorganic portions of at and heavy emphasis on color, which is in other words the current conception of Gabriele De Santis, wouldn’t exist anymore. Look at his tea-pots, his cups, his baskets full of fruits and owers (That’s how’s gon’ be, young, wild and free. Not gonna slow down. Up to the max, until we crush, we’re not gonna stop now, 2014). The white- lead porcelain is pressed like papier-mâché, on which coils of polychrome owers are kneaded, and apples and coconuts made by strings of color, are glued (Dot Dot Dot, 2014)! In this other work, the thin embroidery decorating the small cups - owers and leaves composing an exquisite harmony of bright and precious tonalities - looks like a continuation of the motif that adorns the drape covering the table, making the small tea-set a kind of decoration, like a series of white-silver circles breaking the deep yellow drape (Can’t take my Eyes o You, 2014). The purpose of early Impressionism to reproduce the plein-air sensation, to paint the objects within the full environmental brightness, became, with the practice of these last imitators of the famous french pictorial movement, its opposite, giving us a purely and simply colorful and sensual vision of the world. This ran contrary to the original mainly naturalistic Impressionist aim, which became descriptively and passively abandoned (3 of them, 2014).

Given these considerations, this type of art cannot be worried about line, form or compositional issues. This art is more inclined towards pure, joyful and pleasant decorativism, generating a feast for the eyes”. He looks “tenuous and sincere like the grace of his dolphins (JD and Elliot, 2015), his shes (Sei amici al bar, 2015) and his birds (Untitled, 2014; Dot Dot Dot, 2014)”; “and, the works reproducing Playing Cards (8 cuori e una capanna, 2014; Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 2015; Paul Cêzanne, 2015; Georges de La Tour, 2015; Pablo Picasso, 2015), tell us that this artist deeply feels the sense and the poetry of the italian people, this man who, for the rst time, understands that the Se e Bello is really made of gold and that the Asso di Coppe ferments more than our wines. We will never be jealous enough of the Minister xxxxxx who purchased this quintessentially italian canvas”. “On his charming small landscapes (The Dance Step of a Watermelon While Meeting a Parrot for the First Time, 2014), that mark a new tendency of the artists character, we can see lively tonalities, precious pastiness and singing vivacity”.

— Pier Paolo Pancotto

(Cfr. M. Recchi, La pi ura di Pasquarosa Bertole i, in “Regina”, Napoli, novembre 1918, pp. 26-29; C. Sciorsci, La mostra d’arte degli animali al Giardino Zoologico, in “L’Ora”, Palermo, 11-12 marzo 1930; Il Quirite, La Mostra degli artisti romani, in “Il Resto del Carlino”, Bologna, 1 april 1932; R. Pacini, Uno sguardo d’assieme alla Mostra del Sindacato Laziale degli Artisti, in “La Stirpe”, Roma, april 1929, pp. 222-223 alias P. P. Pancotto, Gabirosa, Frutta, Roma, 19 gennaio 2017).

19.1.17 — 4.3.17


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