The 16th Quadriennale di Roma Brings the Most Exciting Young Italian Art to the Fore

After an eight-year hiatus, the storied exhibition returns with a bang.

Installation view of the exhibition “Cyphoria” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.
Installation view of the exhibition “Cyphoria” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.

After an eight-year hiatus, the 16th edition of Rome’s Quadriennale opened to the public this past Thursday, under the name “Other Times, Other Myths.” The title itself already demonstrates its biennale-esque ambition and proportions: 11 curators (selected via an open call) have staged 10 exhibitions featuring over 150 artworks by 99 Italian artists.

With such dimensions and so much at stake, was the latest edition of the exhibition held by the storied institution first established in 1927, able to pull it off? It most certainly was. Prodding a plethora of artistic and political themes through a number of curatorial approaches, not only did the exhibition provide a tight panorama of artistic practices in Italy from the last 15 years (the exhibition’s original brief), it also brought to the fore the endeavors of some of the best and brightest young curators and art writers in the country, most of them born between the late 1970s and the mid 1980s.

Installation view of the exhibition “Hey, you!” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.

Installation view of the exhibition “Hey, you!” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.

A number of shows stood out from the group. Michele D’Aurizio “Hey, you!,” for example, used the self-portrait as a means to explore both the individual and social spheres. This in itself might not qualify as groundbreaking curatorial territory, yet the show was choreographed and installed with such confidence and panache that it showed a curator’s work at its very best.

In that free-spirited vein, D’Aurizio—who’s also the editor in chief of Flash Art—mixed a 1937 self-portrait by Carol Rama with drawings by the young artist Costanza Candeloro and the hilarious and massive wall drawing by Francesco Cagnin. On another wall, literally overlapping, the writer and curator also collapsed photographs on paper by Corrado Levi with an oil and acrylic self-portrait in wood by Beatrice Marchi.

It was refreshing to see this adroit, multi-medial juxtaposition of artworks, rather than the traditional space kept between works out of respect and courtesy. In another part of the space, printouts of Le Petit Jeu, the autobiographical novel by Milan collective and project space Gasconade (of which D’Aurizio is a co-founder), shared the wall with an 16mm animation by Diego Marcon. Nearby, Davide Stucchi’s soap figures, lying supine on the floor and framed by a steel structure, brought to mind the archaeological digs of the remains of the victims of the Vesuvius eruption in Pompeii and Herculaneum, like melancholic mummies preserved in ash.

Installation view of the exhibition “A occhi chiusi, gli occhi son staordinarimente aperti” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.

Installation view of the exhibition “A occhi chiusi, gli occhi son staordinarimente aperti” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.

In another room, Luca Lo Pinto—currently curator at the Kunsthalle Wien, and editorial director of the NERO magazine and publishing house—had staged “A occhi chiusi, gli occhi son staordinarimente aperti,” titled after a phrase by the artist Marisa Merz that can roughly translate to “when eyes are closed, they are extraordinarily open” and is meant to allude to artworks that can evoke strong visual and narrative landscapes.

In true Merz-ian spirit, the show gathers a fantastic selection of sculptural works teasing out unusual materials with great textural properties. Here, sculptures by the young artist Nicola Martini stood out. Looking like beguiling marble slates, they revealed their synthetic nature upon close inspection (they’re made of silicon rubber, shellac, graphite, and wood). Nearby, Rä di Martino presented a series of images that collaged attendees to the 1966 Quadriennale with those of this year’s edition, collapsing time and political contexts.

Giorgio Andreotta Calò, meanwhile, presented textural pictorial interventions on Polaroids, while Roberto Cuoghi’s sculptural rendition of the terrifying Pazazu demon directly referenced the myths alluded in the Quadriennale’s title. Lo Pinto’s show, moreover, is soundtracked by the young electronic musician Lorenzo Senni (a.k.a. Stargate), who created a theme based on the cityscape of Tokyo. Played on a loop, it creates a hypnotizing aural veil that envelops and frames the whole presentation tightly.

Installation view of the exhibition “I Would Prefer Not to” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.

Installation view of the exhibition “I Would Prefer Not to” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.

A number of shows explicitly addressed political questions, like “Democracy in America” for example, based on an eponymous 1835 text by Alexis de Tocqueville and curated by Luigi Fassi, curator of Artissima’s Present Future section. Likewise, Simone Frangi’s “Orestiade Italiana” takes Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Appunti per un’Orestiade Africana (1970) as a starting point to explore domestic affairs, mostly through time-based media: films, performances, and artists publications.

Similarly, “De Rerum Rurale”—the largest and possibly most logistically and intellectually ambitious show in the Quadriennale, courtesy of curator Matteo Lucchetti—tackled the question of post-rural Italy, a country with some of the highest land use in Europe, and how this new context has shifted identities and social dynamics.

Featuring works by a number of internationally celebrated artists like Rossella Biscotti, Adelita Husni-Bey (a steadily rising star, present in three of the 10 shows), and Marinella Senatore among others, the show, however, seemed a little too obscure and impenetrable for the international viewer, perhaps less familiar with local contexts and able to read several text-based works in Italian.

Installation view of the exhibition “Cyphoria” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.

Installation view of the exhibition “Cyphoria” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.

Nearby though, another show was markedly global in its approach and aesthetic. “Cyphoria,” curated by Domenico Quaranta, was quickly dubbed by early viewers as “the post-internet show,” and it was post-internet indeed, albeit done in Italian style: baroque and hysterical. Take for example, Quayola’s Laocoön, a 2016 revision of the classical Roman sculpture featuring the contorting priest wrestling his way out of pixelated chunks, rather than battling serpents attacking him and his sons. Behind, two digital video animations by Federico Solmi pitted the caricatured figures of George Washington and Julius Cesar against each other in baroque digital shrines, with hilarious results.

But there was space for more nuanced works in “Cyphoria” too, with Elisa Giardina Papa’s video installation Technologies of Care (2016) as a standout example. The recent work by the Brooklyn-based artist explores affective labor, focusing on how new technologies—mainly the internet and social media—have generated new roles and (virtual) jobs and how many (mostly female) workers from all over the world are using these opportunities to overcome problems like local economic downturns and gender pay gaps.

Installation view of the exhibition “La Seconda Volta” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.

Installation view of the exhibition “La Seconda Volta” at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo Okno Studio, courtesy Quadriennale di Roma.

There really is much to see and enjoy at the 16th Quadriennale, and the massive crowd thronging into the monumental Palazzo delle Esposizioni during the private view of the exhibition—attended by the Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and the Culture Minister Dario Franceschini—attested to the huge thirst for an event like this among the Roman public, who were deprived of the previous edition due to budgetary constraints, according to insiders.

This is certainly not the case this year. The 16th Quadriennale has a budget of €2 million, of which 50 percent came from the Culture Ministry and the rest was self-funded by partners and sponsors, thus heralding a new era of public-private funding at the institution.

This not only evidences the Culture Minister’s commitment to fostering contemporary art via public initiatives, but also proves that the age-old rift between public and private money in terms of art funding—so endemic in Mediterranean countries—is slowly but surely being overcome and turned into new forms of collaboration. And that is, indeed, a hugely positive outcome for the Italian arts, both old and new.

“Other Times, Other Myths,” the 16th Quadriennale di Roma, is on view at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, from October 13, 2016 to January 8, 2017.


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