Back in Milan for the Christmas vacation, I am taking some time to explore this season’s exhibitions. A few days ago, I moved fifty minutes north to the mountain town of Varese to visit The End of History, a show presenting the oeuvre of the American artist Barry X Ball. The event is affiliated with another exhibition currently at the Castello Sforzesco of Milan, both closing on the 10th of February. In today’s post, I am going to share some ideas and pictures from the Varese show, held at Villa Panza, which I recommend visiting for both the quality of the works and the enchanting venue.
The exhibition focuses on sculptures and other three-dimensional works of art. The artist employed a variety of unusual hard stones, from onyx to calcite, as well as various natural and synthetic types of marble. For example, the portrait above is made of Corian, an artificial marble-like material. Thanks to its properties, Barry X Ball managed to combine the polished quality of marble with a striking bichrome effect.
Barry X Ball relies on a layered working method. While he attaches great importance to hand-finishing all his creations, he employs mechanical tools to start the carving process. This is evident by the texture of his sculptures, which often present regular linear patterns. They add a level of complexity to the anthropomorphic subjects, making them lively and expressive. This combination makes each piece unique and I personally enjoyed wandering around the sculptures, inspecting each one of them from close. In many cases, the artist preserved the natural imperfections of the stone, such as cavities, hence mitigating the perfection of the mechanical tools.
The exhibition contains heterogeneous artistic references. See, for example, the Sleeping Hermaphrodite, a black-marble replica of the classical statue that Gianlorenzo Bernini famously completed with the addition of a realistic marble mattress. Another work, made of many silver frames containing Corian panels, is a more subtle reference to Leonardo’s famous lost masterpiece, The Battle of Anghiari. Barry X Ball’s gaze bridges into the twentieth century too, with a black-marble reinterpretation of Boccioni’s iconic Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.
The show at Villa Panza is definitely worth visiting: the beautiful architectural frame benefits the works on display and emphasises their historical references, evoking the early-modern aura that Barry X Ball so often hints at through his creations. At the same time, the quotations play into the idea of “the end of history”, a concept that is frequently mentioned in the theory of postmodernism. Is it still possible to conceive history as a form of narration? And if so, what is the meaning of referencing the past? Barry X Ball’s works add their contribution to this debate, transforming quotation into an artistic medium and treating the past like a malleable material.