Crazy: La Follia dell’Arte Contemporanea
Crazy: The Madness of Contemporary Art
Chiostro del Bramante, Rome
From 21 February 2022 to 8 January 2023
Creativity is imagining new features for things we already know.
The thought-provoking and engrossing new exhibition at the enchanting Chiostro del Bramante in the centre of Rome near Piazza Navona absorbs the viewer well before the entrance of the exhibition and beyond the exit. The artworks are disseminated around the Loggia, the floor is covered with a broken mirror and the stairs to the café are painted in striped rainbow colours that look as though they spill over onto the floor at the bottom, a metaphor for overflowing artistic creativity (‘Poured Staircase’ by Ian Davenport). The effect is mesmerising and surprising, compensating for the long queueing times caused by Covid-related rules. Artistic creativity is the focus of the exhibition, and it is displayed both in the artworks and in the inscriptions.
Fibreglass statues sitting on comfortable sofas and armchairs, impeccably dressed and with a stone instead of a head, welcome the visitor in the area just before the entrance. The two artists, Sun Yan and Peng Yu, work at the threshold between the real and the unreal, emphasising the surreal and therefore the unconventional side of conventions. The figures convey a sense of alienation and isolation in each head trapped in a stone and in the stillness of the bodies that are frozen in everyday poses.
The neon works by Alfredo Jaar accompany the visitor at different points of the exhibition, from the ticket office to the café and bookshop. The various inscriptions, which are luminous, colourful and large, show unexpected messages, from Dante’s ‘E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle’ (We went out and once more we saw the stars), the final line of the ‘Inferno’, that is, the first part of the Divine Comedy, to challenging statements that question our common beliefs and trigger the possibility of new views. Here are some examples:
Teach us to outgrow our madness
M’illumino d’immenso (Immensity fills me with light, from Giuseppe Ungaretti’s famous poem)
Be afraid of the enormity of the possible
I can’t go on I’ll go on
Some of the artworks in the exhibition contest the conception of art in their apparent casual playfulness where the materials seem to be used at random, as in the installation ‘Break-Through (Five)’ by the Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn that is made with packing materials such as polyester, adhesive tape, cardboard and wood. This work is intended to capture the moment following the collapse of a ceiling. The different materials hang and balance downwards unexpectedly like vines hanging from trees.
The captions and explanations of each artwork are displayed in Italian and English with the addition of the meaning of a key word at the end which is linked to the artwork, such as metamorphosis, turning point and hwyl, a Welsh word meaning excitement. A short note, ‘Crazy for Kids’, explains the same artwork to children with simple words that stimulate thoughts and possible stories. This aspect presumably appealed to parents, because many families with children were visiting the exhibition. Quotes in the form of short notes in capital letters at the end of each caption play on the word ‘crazy’, giving a wide range of different examples of what crazy might be. Here are some examples:
Crazy is to see there is benefit in seeing things differently
Crazy is experiencing a collapse that brings about a turning point
Crazy is giving a new look at the past
Crazy is feeling the enchantment of one’s own fragility
Crazy is having the courage to show your intimate side
Crazy is overturning your own expectations
‘Starless’ by Massimo Bartolini is a multisensory work, a lighting and audio system that appeals to the viewer with its intermittent coloured lights. It is a reminder of the illuminations used in celebrations and festivities, though on this occasion they do not light streets or squares but lie on the floor and evoke the neuronal synapses of the brain, that is, the creative process in the artist’s mind. Petah Coyne’s ‘Color of Heaven’ comprises chandeliers of sorts made of multicoloured wax flowers hanging from the ceiling. They are fragile and appealing and celebrate nature.
Fifteen thousand black paper moth cut-outs on a white background line the walls of the stairs to the upper level. ‘Black Cloud Fashion’ by Carlos Amorales is a vision the artist said he had in his travels. According to him, ‘the butterflies represent the compelling force of the creative impulse’; the artwork immerses the viewer in an overwhelming mesmerising fluttering.
The next section of the exhibition focuses on textiles. ‘Fuori dal Buio dell’Armadio’ (Out of the darkness of the wardrobe) by Sissi displays clothes and accessories hanging from cloth rails. It is an incredible show of all sorts of clothes made from different materials including sticks, ropes and ceramics. The human body is investigated, focusing on the garments and masks that we wear every day. They reflect our experiences and also our intimate thoughts. The next room is covered with bushy, coloured synthetic hair and the last room displays three gorgeous costumes from the performance ‘Un Ballo in Maschera (Courtiers III)’ (A masked ball) by the British artist Ynka Shonibare. The context is a Carnival party at an aristocrat’s household and refers to Giuseppe Verdi’s opera composed in 1859. The fabrics are inspired by an Indonesian design while the silhouettes are from the 18th century.
In the café, the ‘Fallen Fruit’ work, made of printed fabric and vinyl wallpaper, covers the walls and the upholstery of the Sybils’ room. The American artists David Allen Burns and Austin Young aim to represent the environment with fruit, flowers, animals, birds and human figures, which are reminiscent of classical art such as angels and putti. It is a captivating space that invites the visitors to sit and plunge into the bright colours and crowding images.
Leaving the exhibition, we feel that would like to start again from the beginning, revisiting each room and enjoying the show once more. The display of artworks is enthralling and enjoyable at the same time; it engages the viewer with provocative images and actions and conveys joy and pleasure as only good art can. It is a reviving experience that stimulates thoughts and creativity as well as new, fascinating views.
Carla Scarano © 2022.