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Milan’s artistic spring is all – or almost all – minimalist

In Milan, after several months of lockdown due to the pandemic, a somewhat strange spring has arrived, at least in the art world.

While public museums continue to extend their winter exhibitions, contributing to a general vegetative climate that is much less bright than in Rome, Milan puts the best of its contemporary art in private galleries, which are again the living heart of the city’s visual culture.

Milan is where the avant-garde of the 20th century arrived through the daring action of gallerists: Salvatore Ala was the first to exhibit Keith Haring in an Italian gallery; Guido Le Noci, who, with his Apollinaire, baptized the Nouveaux Réalistes movement in 1960; Il Diaframma, a gallery opened by Lanfranco Colombo in 1967, the first in Europe dedicated solely to photography.

The Milano gallery opened almost a hundred years ago, in 1928. Under the direction of Carla Pellegrini, between 1965 and 2019, the gallery hosted important exhibitions, such as that of architect and designer Enzo Mari in 1973, with the title Falce e martello: Tre dei modi con cui un artista può contribuire alla lotta di classe [Hammer and Sickle. Three ways an artist can contribute to class struggle]. Now it is the turn of the Italian artist Riccardo Arena, who until the end of July presents Hypae: Dove le cose cadono e non ritornano più a se stesse [Hypae: Where things fall and no longer return to themselves]. The exhibition is the result of a long journey through the territories of Iran, Armenia and Ethiopia, mixing collages, photographs, sculptures, drawings and archive materials, in a general perspective associated with anthropology and religion, full of traditional and archaic Middle Eastern motifs. In the gallery, legends and myths are in an installation reminiscent of a chamber of wonders, a diorama of another time, made by unknown stories.

But, this spring, Milan seems more turned to other themes, such as the reduction of forms. Until July 10, there is a must-see exhibition at the Tommaso Calabro gallery, which shows a dialogue between artists Sol LeWitt and John Baldessari. From print to song: Baldessari sings LeWitt is the title of this fascinating show curated by Paola Nicolin. It explores the relationship between the two, starting from the work Baldessari sings LeWitt, where Baldessari sings the 35 Sentences on Conceptual Art (in 1972), a Manifesto of Conceptual Art written by LeWitt (in 1968), with popular songs and music from American TV shows. The exhibition, in every room of the gallery, tells how the fathers of Conceptual and Minimalist Art in North America found common meaning in their practice, although they were almost stylistically on opposite sides. For them, making art was a project with empirical rules, necessary to create works that obeyed exact combinations, whose identities were numerical (based on mathematics and geometry, in LeWitt’s case) or a recombination of found images (in Baldessari’s case).

Speaking of Minimalist Art: until October, the Cassina Project gallery hosts X_Minimal, curated by Friederike Nymphius. In the spaces that were once aeronautical workshops, on via Mecenate, there are 26 large-scale works, some created for this event, such as the cross by Valentin Carron, who represented Switzerland at the 2013 Venice Biennale, entitled Mechanics and Animality. But the large scale goes further: John Armleder, with his neons arranged on the floor; Alicia Kwade, with a light sculpture made of stone and glass, which looks at the fabrics of Raum und Säule, by Franz Erhardt Walter; or Liam Gillick, Tatiana Trouvé and Heimo Zoberning. These are some of the artists in this show, which leaves us awestruck by its muscularity, so beneficial to the rooms of a museum. Anyone who likes contemporary Minimalism in all its forms should visit this place in Milan.

Quattro forme is the title of the exhibition at the Vistamarestudio gallery in the Porta Venezia area. There are also four minimal forms here: the first is a block of alabaster, on which Ettore Spalletti has placed a layer of his wonderful blue pigment; the second are the skeletons of leaves by the Portuguese artist Joana Escoval: Made to accompany the sound of a storm; Michael Anastassiades is the third artist-designer, who places on the walls his magic golden mirrors and lamps that divide the space with light; Mario Airò celebrates the gallery ceiling with a calla flower or vase, which we only see when we look up: the flower is the last part of a contorted sculpture, which ascends like a snake at the gallery entrance.

By the end, but still in the same area of the city, the visit continues at the recent Case Chiuse, founded by Paola Clerico. Here, the “analytical” painter Giorgio Griffa dialogues with the Argentinian Alejandro Corujeira, in a show entitled Shelter of Light: the result is a series of light paintings, which form a shelter with sweet colours and shapes, revealing a slow pictorial practice, also understood as meditation.

At the gallery A Arte Invernizzi, Gianni Asdrubali is the protagonist of an exhibition that highlights the last fifteen years of the Italian painter’s work, with its abstract and modular forms. About his practice, Asdrubali explains: «To activate space, the work must be strongly autonomous and independent; it can be a singularity disconnected from any context, but it must be itself». For Asdrubali, only the «work by itself» can build the world; otherwise, the work will just be an account of the world. It is also a minimal exhibition, where gestures and colours define the environment.

Finally, the young artist Francesco De Prezzo presents a solo exhibition at the Loom Gallery, entitled Al limite del visibile [On the edge of the visible]. It is a process that reduces painting to the point where it reaches its own exhaustion: the monochrome. Rationalist environments, with furniture and elaborate draperies with clothes laid out, are the inaugural motifs of De Prezzo’s paintings. In a glazing process, the artist transforms them into white or black canvases, leaving only the traces of what they were. Who knows, maybe it’s time to be quiet and reflect… an invitation made to all by this painting.

Matteo Bergamini is a journalist and art critic. He’s the Director of the Italian magazine exibart.com and also a collaborator in the weekly journal D La Repubblica. Besides journalist he’s also the editor and curator of several books, such as Un Musée après, by the photographer Luca Gilli, Vanilla Edizioni, 2018; Francesca Alinovi (with Veronica Santi), by Postmedia books, 2019; Prisa Mata. Diario Marocchino, by Sartoria Editoriale, 2020. The lattest published book is L'involuzione del pensiero libero, 2021, also by Postmedia books. He’s the curator of the exhibitions Marcella Vanzo. To wake up the living, to wake up the dead, at Berengo Foundation, Venezia, 2019; Luca Gilli, Di-stanze, Museo Diocesano, Milan, 2018; Aldo Runfola, Galeria Michela Rizzo, Venezia, 2018, and the co-curator of the first, 2019 edition of BienNoLo, the peripheries biennial, in Milan. He’s a professor assistant in several Fine Arts Academies and specialized courses. Lives and works in Milan, Italy.

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