Another Art Story From Veniceby Robert C. Morgan
FEATURING GINA LOLLOBRIGIDA!
For the past six years, an exhibition has occurred on The Lido in Venice called OPEN. The purpose of this event is to create an outdoor exhibition of sculpture and installations in which artists from various countries participate. Since the inception of this exhibition concept in 1998, the director Paolo De Grandis and the curator Pierre Restany were two forces who made this exhibition a major event. It was conceived in relation to the Venice Film Festival, which always happens at the end of August. De Grandis’s concept was that sculpture should be placed along the promenade between the famous Hotel des Bains (best known as the shooting site for the Visconte film of Death in Venice) and the Excelsior at the far end of the promenade where the celebrities resided during the opening week of the festival.
This year’s exhibition, entitled OPEN 2003, was different from the previous exhibition. One of the major factors was the untimely death of Pierre Restany three months before the opening date. During the opening days of the Biennale di Venezia in June of this year, I was approached by Paulo De Grandis to take the role of Restany in completing the selection of artists to be presented on the Lido in late August and to offer remarks about the artists during the press conference at the Hotel Excelsior. I agreed to accept the position. In fact, Restany had already completed most of the choices for the exhibition that included such artists as the Japanese sculptor Kuma, the Albanian Artur Gorishti, the Indonesian Made Wianta, the Iranian Ahmad Nadalian, the Korean Lee Soo Hong, the Russian Olga Kisseleva, the Austrian Julie Monaco, among others. To this I added three artists: Americans Dennis Hopper and Julian Schnabel, and the Turkish Omer Uluc. The big surprise, also chosen by Restany, was Gina Lollobrigida, the famous Italian film actress who in recent years has become known as a sculptor.
Gina Lollobrigida is one of the fantastic people I have met— whether inside or outside the art world. It does not matter, and I don’t really care. Her presence is startling and direct, yet completely elegant and sophisticated. It seems that this icon of the Italian New Wave cinema (later to become a Hollywood star in the ’50s) has decided to return to her roots. Before she was anointed a film star by the famous director Vittoria de Sica, Gina was a serious art student at the Academy in Rome. She loved art and thought that she would be the woman who could match Raphael. But her career went a different direction. Now in her seventies, Gina has gone back to her roots. In 1990, she discovered a foundry in Pietrosanta where she began to build and carve clay models of herself and her American film colleagues, such as Liza Minelli and Marilyn Monroe, in various film roles. She primarily sculpts herself playing roles in her films, such as Paolina Borghese or La Regina di Saba or Lola or Esmerlda or La Bersagliera. All of these are cast in bronze about one-quarter actual size. Once her clay models have been molded and cast in bronze, Gina then proceeds to work with the patinas, often adding accessories, such as gold leaf.
How can I put this work in a context? How can I give Gina credibility in a world of cynicism and theory and digital imagery detached from any sensory or tactile engagement? I decided to contextualize her as Neo-Rococo, as a form of kitsch art. Then, it occurred to me that if a New York gallerist had discovered a 30-year-old artist in Williamsburg doing this kind of work, it would be in instant demand, a sensation. The fact is that Gina did these figurative works by herself with her own hands— and they were good! She learned the craft early on in the studio of the sculptor Giacomo Manzu. She was then in her twenties. Now it was her time to transform her film image— her persona— into a series of sculptural icons.
Is something being missed in the dark shadows of the laptop where theory abounds and repetition has become endemic to boredom and sameness? Gina Lollobrigida’s Neo-Rococo offers an idea that I had not thought for years— the graven image of creating one’s persona directly in bronze. I have not stopped thinking about what this might mean to a woman who went from Italy to Hollywood in the 50s and has now returned to the work that excited her more than a half century ago. Call it kitsch art, if you will—why not? But there is something else worth considering— that for her, the work of carving and casting is liberating.
ContributorRobert C. Morgan
Robert C. Morgan is a writer, international art critic, curator, poet, lecturer, and artist. His most recent book is Clement Greenberg: Late Writings (2003). He holds both an MFA in Sculpture and a Ph.D. in Art History. He is currently Adjunct Professor of Fine Art at Pratt Institute.