Sly Sexuality and Rigorous Tailoring: Late Paintings of Domenico Gnoli
Domenico Gnoli: Paintings from 1964-70 at Luxembourg & Dayan
April 26 to June 30. 2012
64 East 77th Street, between Madison and Park avenues
New York City, 212-452-4646
Domenico Gnoli’s last and celebrated New York show debuted in 1970 at the influential Sidney Janis Gallery. A year later, the dashing young Italian artist was dead. During the final five years of his life, Gnoli created dozens of powerful, prescient works, a selection of which are presented at Luxembourg and Dayan in a beautifully curated exhibition. Their quirky, charming townhouse gallery is the perfect venue to reintroduce this unknown artist to America.
His signature finish is achieved through a mix of acrylic and sand resulting in a clay-like texture, which adds a sensual solidity to the transformed domestic subject matter. It is thus not a surprise that fashion icon Muccia Prada is one of the artist’s collectors. Certainly Gnoli would have been aware of Elsa Schiaparelli’s clothing designs, since her last show was presented in Rome in 1954. By a nice coincidence, Prada and Schapiaparelli are the subjects of the Metropolitan Museum’s current show, “Impossible Conversations.” Gnoli’s exploration of fashion reflects in close ups of sartorial details, women’s cascading hair, patterned fabrics. His aesthetic was a direct provocation against the reigning Arte Povera movement of his times.
At eighteen, with the reputation as a precocious genius, Gnoli exhibited his early work with masters like Giorgio Morandi and Giacomo Manzù. Born in Rome in 1933, his mother an artist and his father an art historian, Gnoli’s youthful wanderlust led him to Paris and London, where he worked as a successful theatrical set designer, an influence that remains visible in his dramatic zooms and bisected details. As he continued to exhibit paintings, Gnoli’s work began to be included in several mid-fifties New York shows. In 1963, he married the sculptor Yannick Vu after which they divided their time between Rome and Majorca. Yu has been crucial in organizing this show: 18 paintings of varying sizes from 1964-1969 are on display. Fragments of a bed with two human outlines beneath a patterned blanket, a surrealistically bisected brick wall, and especially the clothing images imbue ordinary bourgeois reality with an almost psychedelic slant.
Known for its august history of craftsmanship, Italy has a passion for “bella figura.” While contemporaries like Mario Schifano and Michelangelo Pistoletto explored a Pop sensibility and Piero Manzoni worked conceptually, Gnoli delved into everyday materialistic life with a unique, gently sardonic perspective.”Striped Trousers” (1969), for instance, focuses on a fractal of a man’s pleated pants, a contemplative perspective inflected by sly sexuality, the Italian eye for rigorous tailoring, and a mysteriously somber palette. “Borsetta da Donna” (1969) sees a rich, reptilian skin shaped into a structured purse. A hint of a handle in a bizarre angle creates a monumental celebration of the iconic power of pocketbooks, long before the current “trophy purse” mania.
His monochromatic series of “Monster Drawings” create a bestiary of such wonders as a giant snail lounging on an upholstered sofa or an ostrich perched on a car seat. Prodigous drawing skills heighten the surrealistic imagery.
Gnoli ‘s deceptively prosaic subject matter belies his wholly original virtuosity, which is heightened by astounding angles and poetic perspective. These coolly contemporary images invite contemplation and admiration.