Italian Artist Chiara Fumai, Whose Powerful Work Shone at documenta 13, Dies at 39

Her fiercely feminist lectures involving magic, ghosts, and the occult earned her international acclaim.

Chiara Fumai with Harry Houdini, Free like the Speech of a Socialist Volcano Extravaganza, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Fiorucci Art Trust Photograph Matthew Stone.
Chiara Fumai with Harry Houdini, Free like the Speech of a Socialist Volcano Extravaganza, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Fiorucci Art Trust Photograph Matthew Stone.

The Italian artist Chiara Fumai was found dead on Wednesday, August 17, in Galleria Doppelgaenger, a commercial gallery based in the city of Bari, Italy. According to La Reppublica, the cause of death appears to be an overdose of prescription drugs.

Her London gallerist, Pierre d’Alancaisez from Waterside Contemporary, posted a message on Facebook yesterday, saying:

“I’m deeply saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Chiara Fumai. Chiara was an extraordinary force—committed to her practice and not afraid of its risks. It was a privilege to work with her at Waterside.”

The work of the 39-year-old artist had garnered international acclaim in the last decade thanks to her powerful lecture-performances that explored themes of radical feminism, the occult and esotericism, language, and representation via the infamous archetype of the “female psychic.”

Chiara Fumai, still from The Book of Evil Spirits (2015). Courtesy Waterside Contemporary.

Chiara Fumai, still from The Book of Evil Spirits (2015). Courtesy Waterside Contemporary.

In her pieces, Fumai would channel various controversial entities, combining their voices and stories into new and loaded narratives.

Born in 1978 in Rome and based in Milan, Fumai participated in the widely acclaimed dOCUMENTA (13), where she staged a group performance on the roof of the Fridericianum, channeling the feminist activist Carla Lonzi, founder of Rivolta Femminile, and two 19th-century female attractions at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum: the slave Zalumma Agra, dubbed The Star of the East, and the bearded lady Annie Jones. The piece was produced with the support of the Fiorucci Art Trust.

Chiara Fumai, Shut Up. Actually, Talk (The world will not explode) (2012), group performance on the roof of the Fridericianum, commissioned by dOCUMENTA (13) and produced with the support of Fiorucci Art Trust, London. Photo Henrik Stromberg, courtesy the artist.

Chiara Fumai, Shut Up. Actually, Talk (The world will not explode) (2012). Group performance on the roof of the Fridericianum, commissioned by dOCUMENTA (13) and produced with the support of Fiorucci Art Trust, London. Photo Henrik Stromberg, courtesy the artist.

Milovan Farronato, director of the Fiorucci Art Trust, sent an emotional statement about Fumai to artnet News:

In Stromboli, on August 15 2011, when Chiara was overlapping the letters written by Rosa Luxembourg with the escapologist attempts by Harry Houdini, the volcano rumbled and erupted louder than usual. A molten rock fell on the hill right above the house where we were, causing the woodland to catch fire. It was a charismatic moment for both actions.
The last of our many collaborations took place in October 2015 in Poland. To bless the house of Kadenowka, where we were with a group of artists on the occasion of Mycorial Theatre, Chiara celebrated a Chaos Mass. Her intention was to bathe its inhabitants with creative energies and bid well on the activities that were ahead of us. Immediately after the Mass, a small black cat entered the house. A presence that blessed us until the next sunrise. Coincidences.

Chiara moved energies.

Fumai participated in exhibitions all over the world, including at MACRO, MAXXI, and Nomas Foundation, all in Rome; DRAF in London; CA2M in Madrid; and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin.

Chiara Fumai, still from Chiara Fumai Reads Valerie Solanas (2012-13). Courtesy Waterside Contemporary.

Chiara Fumai, still from Chiara Fumai Reads Valerie Solanas (2012-13). Courtesy Waterside Contemporary.

Writing for La Reppublica, the Italian writer and curator Antonella Marino said that Fumai had left New York, where she had been doing a residency, to go to Bari “to cope with a personal crisis” from which she seemed to be recovering.

Fumai was also preparing a show set for November at the Rino Costa Gallery in Valenza, and told the writer that she was planning to move to Brussels at the end of the year.

UPDATE: On Friday, August 18, Antonella Spano, one of the founders of Galleria Doppelgaenger, sent a letter to the publication Exibart clarifying that Fumai was found dead by hanging, not by a prescription drug overdose, as various media outlets had reported initially.


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