Luigi Ontani –MAMbo: Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna

January 23 – May 4, 2008
Bologna – Italy

Bonaventurarte, 1998 - Ceramic - Collezione GropelloOne of the foremost Italian artists working today, Luigi Ontani (Italian, born in 1943) has redefined the image of the contemporary artist through his works. His installations, ceramic sculptures and tableaux vivants (living paintings) are a landmark in the history of performance art and photography.

Ontani describes his art as “the adventure I live as a person of art”.
As a matter of fact, he uses his own body as the medium for communication and by means of costumes and masks he assumes the fictional identities of his favorite heroes from mythology, fairytales, history and art history. He said: “I live this ambiguity with irony and aspiring to harmony. My art is the adventure I live on myself.”
As the subject of his art, Ontani can live art, create art, and express his love for art.

He has used diverse cultures, media and techniques for his works – hand-colored photographs, papier-mâché, ceramic sculptures, slide projections and performances – with an always coherent and surprising result.

The exhibition at the MAMbo, titled Gigante3RazzEtà7ArtiCentAuro, features more than 200 works and provides an opportunity to review the artist’s themes over the course of his career.

Ontani lives and works in Rome and Riola di Vergato, Italy. He has shown extensively around the world.

From the Museum Web Site

Luigi Ontani’s complex and multi-faceted personality is at the crux of Gigante3RazzEtà7ArtiCentAuro, the important solo show that MAMbo, the Modern Art Museum in Bologna, will be dedicating to the Bolognese master from 25 January to 4 May 2008.SanSebastianoSagittario, 1996 - Ceramic - Collezione Ghirlandi Lega Baldini

With a rich selection of about two hundred works, from the end of the sixties until today and with the introduction of some new works especially produced for the occasion. The display is a complete reconstruction of the salient moments of Ontani’s artistic and poetic development through the use of images, revealing a consistency in themes and means of expression, as well as a linguistic vivacity that has remained intact over the years.

From the shadows inspired by Brueghel’s Parable of the Blind to the hall dedicated to videographic production, a chronological/thematic itinerary consisting of photographs, ceramics, circles, fountains, watercolours, animated objects, stock characters and lenticulars unwinds like a golden, multicoloured snake through the museum halls, turning the museum into the perfect stage for the permanent performance of Ontani’s life.

Luigi Ontani represents quite an anomalous case in the contemporary art scene of the last decades since he was impossible to pigeonhole in one definition nor was it possible to ascribe a precise current to his work. His artistic journey began at the end of the sixties, in a general climate of refusal of traditional artistic subjects and techniques, within which he managed to build an independent and original path, enlivening and sometimes anticipating the experience of decades that were crucial to the history of art of his time.

A complete artist, imaginative, learned, refined, narcissistic, a consummate enchanter, an ironic and desecrating provoker, an untiring experimenter, poetic, dreamlike, Ontani overcomes space-time barriers, masterfully manipulating various expressions of culture, languages and techniques, the results of which are always unexpected.

Assuming D’Annunzio’s principal of making his life a work of art, he always places himself at the centre of the scene and of his research, proposing himself as an “art subject” and as an identity and transformation workshop, in constant search of the “other” and the “elsewhere”.

Son testa son paesaggio turrito, 1984 - Ceramic - Collezione MAMbo - Photo credit: sergio buono, bolognaThe capillary distribution and encyclopaedic profusion of symbols, icons and myths dear to the poetics of the Bolognese master transform the space at MAMbo in a hypnotic and oneiric itinerary where the entire environment is transformed into the mutable and changing skin of the Ange Infidel with its unstable identity.

As is the case with all the works of Luigi Ontani, this exhibition is in fact a continuous reflection on and digression from the identity theme and all the infinite possibilities for transformation that the artist has adopted as his own.

A narcissist at the mirror, Ontani constantly gives up his identity for all the others, but after having experienced all possible forms of metamorphosis, he concludes that the sum of all the stock characters can be found in his own countenance.

A face and figure infinitely repeated in his works, faithful to the principle according to which art is none other than the assumption of the stigmata of reality on the body of the artist. However, according to Ontani, the borderline between art, reality and life is impossible to trace clearly and the search for the ‘other’ keeps moving the objective further and further away, making it impossible for the artist to catch his breath.

From the beginning, Ontani expressed this ceaseless roaming between other identities, places and times through photographs which help him to project himself outside his own identity while maintaining his own features, which are never imitated, yet are effectively transferred.

Never, not even during the seventies, did Ontani use photography as a pure act of documentation in its infinite metamorphosis, but rather as a surface on which he can stratify illusion upon illusion, playing with colour in an anticonformistic way, using watercolour images, overlapping prints with captivating polychrome varnish.

Bonaventurarte, 1998 - Ceramic - Collezione GropelloA practice through which he redefined photographic representation, taking it to extreme consequences until he transcended the means itself and abandoned it, flooding even ceramics and paintings, glass and watercolours, paper-pulp and wood with his figure and embarking on videos and films with the same spirit.

The photographic display entitled 24 Ore (24 Hours) opens and accompanies the exhibition, mirrored on the opposite wall by the photographic cycle I prigioni (The Prisons), elegantly framed by the niches on the original facade of the Ex Forno del Pane (Ex-Bakery).

The thirteen ErmeEstetiche, delicate sculptures of extraordinary workmanship, act as an articulating and connecting element, where intricate linguistic enigmas overlap the play of identities: titles that describe and reinvent the illustrated themes, channelling creative imagination on the dual line of language and sculptures.

The journey proceeds in the hall containing his thematic exhibitions (Thai, Indian, Balinese), where the main role is played by a stereotyped fairy-tale East, rich in exotic suggestions that are as fascinating as they are imperfect, consisting of actual “memory quotations” of the artist’s journey, of the symbols and atmospheres he met on the way.

The representation of the ‘other’ at the MAMbo thus creates an ideal bridge between these places suspended between dreams and reality and the city of Bologna, in a virtuous circle that welcomes the return of the artist-wanderer to his native city.

The journey reaches an ideal ending in the hall dedicated to the artist’s videographic production, directed by Elena Volpato, where a selection of the artist’s main videos and films from 1969 to 2001 will be projected until 30 March.

Luigi Ontani has been the subject of numerous exhibitions. Some of them are:

  • Sculture and Memory: Works from the Gardner and by Luigi Ontani – Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – Boston (2007)
  • VetriEtereiEterocliti – Collezione Peggy Guggenheim – Venezia (2006)
  • GaneshamUSA – Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche – Faenza (2006)
  • Ghentara – Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst – Ghent, Belgium (2003)
  • GaneshamUSA – P.S.1 Moma – New York (2001)

Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna
Via Don Minzoni, 14, Bologna
Tue/Sun: 10.00/18.00 – Thu: 10:00/22:00
Tel. +39 051 6496611

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