A ball placed on the floor: “Rubber ball (fallen from 2 meters) in the moment immediately before it bounces back up”, 1968-70. Gino De Dominicis with very little effort focuses his research marvelously, characterized by an obsession with immortality and the idea of going across the concept of time as well as stopping it.
Alighiero Boetti, with “Rosso Gilera 60 1232, Rosso Guzzi 60 1305”, a piece composed of two simple iron panels with two numeric series, puts a light not only on two different colors but also on a stile, an age, and he doesn’t omit the aesthetic and technical aspects. With its synthetic attitude, what does Rosso Gilera Rossi Guzzi consist of? It is a plaque, a pure painterly artwork, highly conceptual, in which a language has an advertising quality to it (like in Boetti’s Arazzi). It has both a “povera” use of materials and a cynically ironic quality to it that are blended (he emphasizes a huge rivalry; the two shades of red he paints are slightly different than the original shades originated by the two motorcycles industries). In “Concetto Spaziale. Attese” (appearing for the first time in 1957), through a “simple” cut on the canvas, a very direct gesture, Lucio Fontana aims to overcome the separation between painting and sculpture and generates a universe that will influence many generations of artists to come and that even today is still very pertinent. To synthesize in art doesn’t mean to empty an artwork of its meaning, it means on the other hand to reduce in order to reach a certain expressive point in a strong, direct, spontaneous and clear way. After all isn’t water, the most essential substance, made of just two elements?
Gabriele De Santis work is synthetic, ironic, cynic, illusory. He is like a magician that doesn’t need to show his technical skills, or better said, he shows them by hiding them at the same time. In his early works, through his use of marble (a metamorphic material with a mysterious quality to it), capitals combined with cocktail glasses, blades, straws etc, he focuses his attention on the content, despite the technique, with an aesthetic result that is particularly eloquent. His intellectual twirls sometimes bring about an effective result that is fully detectable only through deep and conscious thoughts. Also with “We are short a guy” De Santis fully succeeds in conveying his investigation avoiding any kind of aesthetic self-congratulation.
In the first room of the exhibition, We are Short a guy shows a locker room to the viewer. A locker room on one hand can be interpreted as a place to find concentration and on the other hand puts the viewer in an interactive condition, almost performative. A locker room is par excellence a place that precedes an action, a performance of a soccer team in this case. But what deflects the viewer’s attention from all this pragmatism? What takes us back to the idea that art is also unreal? Portraits of soccer players in action represented with the typical graphic of a very popular video game, are on the locker room’s wall. The viewer is exposed to a very interesting visual fluctuation. It is also a fluctuation the snarky, bold way in which De Santis propose masters of contemporary art as they were champions of A.S. Roma soccer team. Where is the question mark?
The exhibition press release underlines two essential moments and a sort of conclusion, that actually is a question. The first moment refers to the soccer game and the concepts that through the meaning of Captain Tsubasa, a hero of a very popular cartoon from the eighties, were shown: a spirit of collaboration, an orientation to work as a team and a struggle to achieve results. In the second moment, in opposition to the first one, the press release emphasizes the single character of a basketball champion, Michael Jordan, a star that alone, without the help of anyone works out a complex – even close to a situation resembling failure. It is the consecration of the particularist culture, of the star meant as deus ex machina, the “savior” hero , unique and unreachable. Through these two premises De Santis lets the viewer decide if to act in a team or with an individualistic mentality. Going back to the contemporary masters proposed as soccer champions through their names on the back of A.S. Roma t-shirts, the question is the following: Fontana, Manzoni, Boetti, De Dominicis, Merz,meant as “players in a system” – are these people heroes or stars? Are they celebrities where each one on his own has contributed to shape the art system or have they been elements of a team that acted together? We are short a guy, the latest De Santis show is the field on which this match is played.
The artist with this exhibition doesn’t aim to give any answers and forces the viewer to ask her/himself in which category De Santis would put himself. Does he feel like playing as a lonely star or in a team?
Considering his artistic path one would be tempted to include him in the “star” category but this would be a superficial, incorrect conclusion. In his works there are definitely references to grand traditions. I tend to interpret his text paintings, for example, as Boetti’s Arazzi 2.0 due to their visual strength, due to the irony that they convey, due to their synthetic quality and a certain effectiveness that is related to the advertising language.
Unlike Boetti’s Arazzi, that normally are made of sentences and very short texts, in De Santi’s work are represented short words like Ciao, Miao, Foul, Goal, Love, Nooo. De Santis is an excellent painter, it is enough to look at the recent series of Arlecchino (and not only) to prove that. But in the case of the text paintings, he paints words, he paints with a “reduction” attitude, and does it with a certain cynicism; synthesis, irony, sarcasm are never enough for him. He is a puppet master. He inverts the order of the words, he mixes capital and lowercase letters, puts some letters horizontally instead of vertically, forces the viewer to never stop analyzing the artwork and to receive each moment a different suggestion: image, shape, color, whisper, onomatopoeia, symbolical strength of the word, slang, graphic power, gestural ability. If the works realized by laces and resin bring the viewer to ask her/himself why they appear so simple, with the photographic prints of the soccer players and their “digital surrealism” De Santis forces once again the viewer to relocate her/his center. Once again, as a perfect puppet master, the artist surprises, amazes, leads.
A synthetic work is violent, it is a punch in the face that doesn’t bring pain but pleasure, it brings to consideration, curiosity, laughter, shock, doubt; it is a punch whose entity can never be fully perceived, because the end of the gesture is constantly missing, the very last millisecond. That missing millisecond makes the artwork sublime and universal. Without that missing instant, the artwork becomes merely a story, something purely didactic.
The entire artist’s oeuvre is like a very powerful punch and we might say that De Santis is a boxing champion that doesn’t like to show his muscles.
Courtesy Galerie Chez Valentin, Paris