curated by Renato Barilli09.12.1995 - 10.02.1996
The work of Luigi Ontani has a role of primary importance in recent contemporary art, as was demonstrated by the show at the Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, in the autumn of 1994 and the artist’s recent presence in the Italian pavilion of the Venice Biennale where he had a solo room.
So, we consider of considerable interest the show held in Verona from 10 December to 4 February 1996 at the Galleria dello Scudo. With more than fifty works from public and private collections, the show highlights how the artist’s language represents a kind of metamorphosis of the classical, regenerated into a paradoxical rhetoric of modernity.
The aim of the show is to confirm the standing of Ontani in the 1980s, after his beginnings in the context of the Arte Povera/Conceptual climate of the preceding decade, though he experienced it with the ambiguities of play that already characterised his art, from the object that became a work of art to behavioural actions. The works selected document the development of an experience that, with the play of irony and of anachronism, still today attempt to close the distance between history and real time by the use of the most varied techniques, from a photography that is gratifying because of its refusal of black and white, to diaphanous and immaterial watercolour, and the Mannerist palette of certain oils on canvas and the chromatic splendour of glass and ceramic.
The show opens with Autoritratto nudo d'après Chirico, a tableau vivant dating from 1978 which emblematically reassumes earlier quotations and anticipates the refined series of images stimulated by journeys to the East, these too shot through with the hedonistic narcissism that has by now become capable of any kind of modification. Dating from 1982 are such brilliantly coloured masks as Sayang, a look at the Indian and Balinese cultures of which Goffredo Parise has also written.
The return to painting that at the time was an audacious inversion of trends, is represented by two large-size watercolours: the triptych Grillo Dante Ridondante in Inferno/Purgatorio/Paradiso, 1983, and the composition with Orfeo e Euridice conceived of in 1984 for the large exhibition Der Traum des Orpheus, held in Munich. There are then the oils on canvas the allegory of Endimione e Demonio, shown at the solo show at the Galleria dell’Oca in 1986, and Palazzo degli Ontani, 1988, an example of a perfect symbiosis between a strange mise-en-scène and a precious artisanal object.
Referred back to the 1990s are Vanità in età and Indiarosa, retouched photos in which the artist has once again represented himself as Narcissus. In the section devoted to ceramics we are proposing the sumptuous shape of Panontale, 1993, next to the four Ermestetiche and to Tribù tabù created for the Venice Biennale. The title of the show is inspired by the plastic and multicoloured metamorphosis of Aida that closes the show.
The exhibition, designed by Massimo De Carlo, Francesco Sandroni, and Massimo Simonetti, is curated by Renato Barilli and made possible by the sponsorship of the cultural department of the Verona city council. The catalogue has been published for this occasion and has a fundamental contribution by Renato Barilli, essays by Gabriella Belli and Manlio Brusatin, a literary-magical tale by Gian Piero Bona, and critical thoughts by Corrado Levi. The volume is rounded off by a wide-ranging biography written by Laura Lorenzoni, as well as an ample section of references.
Luigi Ontani was born in Vergato, Emilia, in 1943. He lives and works in Rome.
Luigi Ontani was born on 24 November 1943 in Montovolo di Grizzana Morandi, near Vergato, a small village on the slopes of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines. As a boy he loved reading, interested above all in Pasolini, Apollinaire, Joyce, Savinio, Marinetti and the Futurists, and he also revealed an early inclination towards poetry. His stay in Turin for his military service between 1963 and 1964 gave him the possibility of going to museums and galleries active, above all, in the avant-garde field. He made his first contacts with dealers and emergent artists. The change came in 1965 when, in a general climate of rejection of traditional techniques, Ontani alternated painting with experiments that drew on the childlike sphere of play. His first “pleonastic objects” date from this period. He held his first shows in Bologna. His debut was in November 1965 in a group show organised by the Maccaferri industrial group, where he was employed. But his real debut came with his solo show at the Galleria Sanpetronio in the spring of 1967, where he showed watercolours, drawings, and “pleonastic” objects. A fundamental step in his career was the solo show in January 1970 at the Galleria San Fedele, Milan, presented by Renato Barilli, a critic who even then had begun to follow the development of Ontani’s art. In the same year the artist decided to leave Vergato and move to Rome, where he was an assiduous frequenter of the Attico gallery run by Fabio Sargentini. In 1974 he began to be noticed abroad due to his participation in some important shows in public institutions: Fotomedia at the Museumam Ostwald, Dortmund, and Transformer Aspekte der Travestie at the Kunstmuseum in Lucerne. His first solo show in New York was held in October 1974 at the Sonnabend Gallery on West Broadway. That Ontani had become well known abroad is confirmed by the relationships he established in Europe and America with cultural centres that put him into their programmes next to famous artists. The East and the exotic have always strongly appealed to the artist who, at the end of 1974, undertook his first journey to India. This was the beginning of his sepia water-coloured reproductions of harmonic colour ranges. His participation in the group show Italian Art Now, opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in April 1982, was well received by the critics. Ontani was one of the seven artists invited to exhibit in various northern European cities in June 1980. In 1983 he had many prestigious exhibitions, amongst which a solo show at the Holly Solomon Gallery, New York, and exhibitions of Italian art from 1960 onwards, held in 1983 at the Hayward Gallery and at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. In January 1984 Ontani was to be seen in Los Angeles with a show at the Contemporary Exhibition. Also to be mentioned was, in the same year, the exhibition Der Traumdes Orpheus at the Stadtsche Galerie im Lembachhaus in Munich. Again in 1984, at the Università degli Studi, Rome, he presented La Sapienza, his first ceramic work made specifically for this occasion with Venera Finocchiaro. Still in 1984 he took part in the Venice Biennale in the Wunderkammer section; he was to be invited back again in 1995 by Gabriella Belli, for the occasion of the Biennale’s centenary, with a solo room in Padiglione Italia, where for the first time he exhibited the four “ermestetiche” works made in collaboration with the Bottega d’Arte Ceramica. He held two important retrospective shows in 2001, at the P.S.1 Gallery, New York, and, from 2003 to 2004, at S.M.A.K. in Ghent. In 2008 he presented a wide-ranging solo show at MAMbo, Bologna, which was followed in successive years by shows at the Museo Capodimonte, Naples (2010), at the Castello di Rivoli, Turin (2001-2012), and at GAMeC, Bergamo (2014-2015).
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