The artists included in this exhibition – Bruno Ceccobelli, Gianni Dessi, Nino Longobardi, Luigi Ontani, Mimmo Paladino, Alfredo Pirri, Fiorella Rizzo, Remo Salvadori, and Ettore Spalletti – participate fully in contemporary international culture and discourse on art. They exist forcefully in the present but, at the same time, seem to navigate the past, layering their work with Italian referents and with legacies of the timeless Mediterranean world and spirit. Their works can be seen as a metaphorical cauldron in which allusions to Christian and pagan iconography, art history, metaphysics, mythology, and religion, as well as contemporary concerns – including the use of unorthodox materials and the investigation of form that in part derived from the arte povera movement – bubble constantly to the surface. Memory and sophistication coexist and collide to create a rich contemporary, and particularly Italian, mix. Each work of art becomes a stage – or staging – in which the present and past speak simultaneously.
The differences in style and medium of each of the artists are significant but, in all the work, there exists a primary faith in the possibility of making a living connection between the specific now and the specific shared past. Rather than rummaging through the closets of art history to scavenge for relics or remnants of that past to be used as self-conscious quotation or as a bank of images, these Italian artists are at ease with their inheritance.
In the same way, with equal ease and without self-consciousness, Italo Calvino has written of the timeless spirit and continuum of literary art and its practitioners – Ovid, Lucretius, Boccaccio, Dante, and Leopardi. Although Calvino discusses “certain values… of literature that are very close to [his] heart” and presents them within view of the millennium close upon us, it is clear that the same universal values can be applied as a framework within which to view and think about the works of art in this exhibition. This is particularly so because Calvino was revered by many Italian artists of the approximate generation of the nine in this exhibition – as a supreme storyteller, inspired writer, reviver of myth and the deep magic of Italian folklore, and philosopher-teacher. His reclamation and restoration of Italian folktales and myths signaled an acceptance of the postmodern position in art and literature: that there is no one modernist line, and that all of our collective resources are appropriate sources for art-making.
– Excerpt from catalogue essay by Susan Sollins, 1990