We were talking about Piero Manzoni’s Merda d'Artista the other day in my class at Stanmore College. I used this seminal artwork as an example of how material, or the idea of a particular material can be just as, if not more powerful than a visual image. Manzoni’s canned shit sells at the equivalent price of gold in weight at the time of sale. Allegedly. Nobody really knows what's in the tin actually. All in the head.
The next session with the students was the Anthony Gormley show currently on at the Royal Academy of Art. Heavy weight stuff. They mostly loved it. The variety of forms and materials used to convey ideas about the human condition; being trapped in the materials of skin and bones is all very impressive.
We left the Gormley show to wander around Cork Street and the surrounding streets and see if we could stumble on something just as interesting. This area of London is a mish mash of very high range fashion shops, and private galleries. We came across Tornabuoni Art, a gallery specialising in post-war Italian art. I was immediately intrigued by a large canvas of pencil drawn magazine covers. I knew my students would also like the visual immediacy of this artwork. The rest of the exhibition is made up of stenciled, layered, colourful pieces on paper and canvases covered in lines and layers of blue biro pen and pencil. All produced by the late artist, Alighiero Boetti, the exhibition is confidently titled Decoding the Universe: Works on Paper 1968-91. In comparison the Gormley show, this was much more playful and accessible to my 17 year old entourage. The magazine covers expressed the passing of a year. Each month’s cover hand drawn to highlight an important event of topic of that month.
From an art teachers point of view, seeing these two exhibitions together lead me to compare the two artists in relation to the mid 1970’s musical tensions between prog rock & punk rock. One requiring intellectual prowess, industrial level financial backing and the ‘proper’ training. One requiring some basic tools, a strong idea, playfulness & experimentation.
Alighiero Boetti died in Rome in 1994.
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