The Unattainable Ones

Your Monsters Are Just like Mine – 2006

Since the end of August, I have been working in an art gallery in Milan. Galleria Rubin displays a variety of Italian painters and sculptors in a prestigious district of the city, just behind the stock market. Here, I have met the oeuvre of the sculptor Gehard Demetz, who has gained international success thanks to his abilities as a woodcarver. Woodcarving is a traditional art form in the North-Eastern regions of Italy, toward the Austrian border. Indeed, Demetz works in Val Gardena, an idyllic patch of lands between the peaks of the Dolomites. The area is quite renowned for the production of wood statues, and the local artisans have retained throughout the years a profound expertise of the methods and techniques to handle this material. As a proof of the know-how that Val Gardena continues producing, renowned contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons constantly employ local artists to carve their woodworks.

I Was Famous Last Night – 2008

The artist’s technique is peculiar. The most direct connection possible between wood and statuary is indeed carving. Demetz’s works though are made of several blocks of wood, which he assembles into a coherent image. The surface of each piece is treated so as to create consistent texture effects, but the junction between different blocks are left visible. The surface is not even either, as some squares are left void, like missing tiles of a puzzle. The result is visually complex, since the artist mixes the natural richness of wood’s texture with the grid-like incisions between the figure’s components. The natural colour of the material is mostly left untouched, but when Demetz decides to add polychrome he does so with even coatings of acrylic paint.

I See Islands – 2008

The subjects of Demetz’s statues are mostly children. Yet, they often defy the way they have been usually portrayed in art history. Their facial expresssions are hardened, bitter. They are all silent, hiding a self-contained but powerful feeling. These characters do not invite the viewer to engage with them. Rather, they keep the spectator at distance with their aloof faces and frozen facial traits. Sometimes, they bear some sort of object like a weapon. The object is not necessarily an actual weapon, but the figures hold it as if to create a boundary between them and the spectator. The Mouth Full of Stars, for example, features a pair of scissors which strikes our eyes before we can create a visual contact with the girl bearing it. In this way, the sculptor makes each statue self-focused while provoking a feeling of tension in the viewer.

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According to the critic Marco Tonelli, who has curated Demetz’s exhibition Introjection at MACRO, the utter untouchability of these children represents the embodiment of some sort of evil which sets them apart from the other human beings. He reconnects this condition to the ancient Latin formula Sacer Esto, which relates to transgression of specific norms back in the days of monarchic Rome. In Latin, sacer does not necessarily have a negative connotation. Generally speaking, it indicates an exceptional status which sets an individual apart from his peers, defining a link between him and the supernatural world. A man defined “sacer” in relation to the deities of the underworld was thus cursed, abducted from the community of men. This was not just a symbolical change, as it even implied minor punishments if the “sacer” man was murdered.

Restoring My Blisses – 2015

The children become simulacra of sick feelings and untold horror. They look afraid and interpose objects between the viewer and themselves. Yet, it is unclear whether they are trying to defend themselves or who is looking at them. Their silence and untold stories are probably what we should be scared of. In fact, Demetz creates a strong sense of tension which becomes absolutely unsettling when paired with the innocence traditionally associated with kids. In this regard, the two sculptures of Hitler and Mao as children are particularly revealing. They embody the very essence of pain which lurks throughout the history of humanity. Demetz demonstrates an incredible sculptural ability, both in the quality of his carvings and the excellent conception of his works, which engage powerfully with the people around them. He is a promising artist with a personal and powerful vision.


Hitler and Mao

Your Monsters Are Just like Mine

I Was Famous Last Night

I See Islands

The Mouth Full of Stars

How You Reacted Was Right

Mom’s Hands and Daddy’s Nose

Restoring My Blisses

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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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