Spaces in space: three Americans in Milan

Autumn has brought Milan three exhibitions that make a difference; indeed, they deserve to be visited if the reader happens to be in the Italian city.

As part of an initiative of the Trussardi Foundation, curated by Massimiliano Gioni (director of the New Museum in New York), a special project by the American artist Nari Ward (Jamaica, 1963) is presented in Milan. Trussardi’s method of building exhibitions is not new, but it remains fascinating: once a year, since 2003, the institution presents in a public place in the city a great artist, who develops a specific work associated with the surroundings. In this case, Nari Ward’s monumental and variable installations are in Piscina Romano, one of the most popular and frequented pools in Milanese summers.

In the bathhouse area, we have Amazing Grace, a well-known work by the artist, created in 1993 during a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. He travelled almost thirty years around the world, participating in dozens of exhibitions. Amazing Grace features over three hundred baby prams, which Nari found abandoned on the streets of Manhattan, a symbolic object related to the homeless. These are people without belongings, just like the new migrants fleeing wars and persecution. But, when we step out into the park, our gaze is impacted by the project in situ: the large tank of Piscina Romano (over four thousand square metres) has been transformed into an immense golden plank, whose surface reflects sunlight and variations of the sky, with thermal blankets floating on it; objects sadly known to be the first comfort piece given to people rescued from the sea.

Behold Emergence Pool – a work that also adds meaning to the exhibition’s overall name, Gilded Darkness – is a political work that retains a poetic undertow, intimate with art history and symbolism, as the use of gold is a shining metaphor to elevate viewers to the divine path. We remember Giotto’s frescoes or the words of Pavel Florenskij in his essay on the icon.

Another light, other forms – at Pirelli HangarBicocca, with Bruce Nauman’s spectacular Neons Corridors Rooms, an exhibition originating at London’s Tate Modern and Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum. 

This celebrated artist needs no detailed introduction, so let’s talk about the exhibition: a brutal collection of some of the most iconic works he produced during his long career. We remember the well-known cascade of luminous subjects One Hundred Live & Die (1984) and the ironic, ambiguous and always subject to misunderstanding Run from Fear Fun from Rear (1972), plus the set of videos Mapping the studio (2001). The latter is also in Venice, in Bruce Nauman’s solo exhibition at Punta della Dogana, until November 27.

Back to Milan: for this occasion, Pirelli HangarBicocca seems to have been transformed into a Russian doll. An exhibition inside the complex and difficult former industrial premises, where each visitor is invited to experience, enjoy and measure with their own body the physical/architectural areas created by Nauman, as if they were toys challenging our perception.

The only problem is that Neons Corridors Rooms is such a scientific and monumental representation of the artist’s work that the project dilutes the authorship of the many curators: Roberta Tenconi and Vicente Todolí with Andrea Lissoni, Nicholas Serota, Leontine Coelewij, Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen and Katy Wan. It is impossible to make such a large “construction” and keep a personal touch.

Finally, at the Gallery of Modern Art, organised by the Furla Foundation and curated by Bruna Roccasalva, Moving in Space without Asking Permission is taking place. This solo exhibition by American artist and activist Andrea Bowers occupies the ground floor rooms, in a journey whose installations and paintings support minorities and genders: a space of social struggle, crafted through works with strong content, but light and ephemeral materials. The paintings of modern warriors are made with glued cardboard; formed by thousands of coloured bows, Political Ribbons opens the exhibition, where the public can adorn themselves with messages of equality, anti-racist and about the notion of responsibility: Deport Hate, Families do not have borders, No human is illegal.

To finish, a fact: it is rather strange to see three of the largest private Italian foundations stimulating contemporary art without presenting Italian artists in their own country. Not one. This is a well-known predicament on this peninsula, eternally willing to help everyone but its own professionals, and even less the artists. This was no exception. The grievance is forever the same, but let’s leave that topic for another time.




Nari Ward, Gilded Darkness – Piscina Romano

Until October 16


Andrea Bowers, Moving in Space without Asking Permission – Gallery of Modern Art

Until December 18


Bruce Nauman, Neons Corridors Rooms

Until February 26, 2023

Matteo Bergamini is a journalist and art critic. He’s the Director of the Italian magazine 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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