On the Same Sunny Beaches

As mentioned in a previous post, I have been collaborating to an exhibition of the Italian painter Alessandra Giovannoni, which will open at Galleria Rubin on Thursday 12 October. For those who are interested, here you can find an article I wrote about it on an Italian news website. The title Ombre Scure (“Dark Shadows”) refers to the artist’s distinctive style, characterised by endless horizons punctuated by gloomy human figures. The characters are hidden by the burning sun and lose their individuality. In this peculiar context, Giovannoni depicts two contrasting human categories. On the one hand the tourists, who enjoy the fresh water of the sea amidst the summer heat. On the other hand, the migrants who wander through the Mediterranean looking for salvation. The exhibition brings together two contrasting sides of the same coin, arranging them into a paradoxical comparison.

L’Attesa – Alessandra Giovannoni – 2016 – oil on canvas

Against the sun, the faces of Giovannoni’s characters are hidden together with their identities. The context helps: an unstable and crowded raft or a late-afternoon beach, their inhabitants live and breathe under the same sky. To some extent, we might suppose that the lack of individuality emphasised by the painter aims at raising questions about similarities, connections, parallelisms. I believe this is the most surprising feature of the whole exhibition, which successfully avoids shabby rhetorical artifices by showing rather than commenting. Despite the complex nature of immigration, Giovannoni offers a fresh and engaging view.

Esce dall’acqua – Alessandra Giovannoni – 2017 – oil on canvas

In recent years, immigration has been widely portrayed and consumed by the art world. A famous example is the picture of the outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, where he poses as the drowned Syrian child on the coasts of Greece. The photograph is controversial and in many ways distasteful. It draws attention to the artist through the exploitation of a human tragedy which becomes purely instrumental. One might legitimately wonder about the unobvious connection between a child escaping from war and the famous artist. It is true that Ai Weiwei suffered political persecution in China, but this does not provide a valid parallel: he had a chance of fully realised redemption, while that dead child will have no more opportunities to change his condition. As a philosopher wrote, death is indeed the end of all possibilities. Works like that of Ai Weiwei strike for an unhealthy need of attention rather than an actual interest in the condition of the refugees.

Ai Weiwei on the Greek coast

Alessandra Giovannoni proposes a new approach to this complex theme and avoids rhetorical displays. Her style does not seek sensational responses. She invites us to think and, possibly, acquire a new perspective. Under the same sun, both migrants and bathers appear faceless and anonymous, yet for this reason so relatable. The genius of the artist lies in this passage and shows a painstaking attention to details. Also, the coming exhibition marks the return of a notable figure of the Italian contemporary-art world in Milan and Giovannoni is per se a valid reason to take a look. Having cooperated to the realisation of the exhibition, I can only stress the attention, the quality, and the dedication that were profused throughout the process. I hope that whoever will visit the exhibition in the coming days will agree with these lines.



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Esce dall’acqua

Ai Weiwei

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Alessandro M. Rubin Written by:

Cambridge History of Art alumnus. Passionate early-modernist, curious about contemporary art and aesthetic theory.

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