GALLERIA CONTINUA CELEBRATES ITS 30 YEARS OPENING BEWILDERING AND ‘ENDLESS’ EXHIBITIONS OF JR, DANIEL BUREN AND MICHELANGELO PISTOLETTO

Text by Fiammetta Cesana
Exhibitions’ photos by Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

A gigantic photograph was being carried in procession and buried to praise the death, as well as the resurrection, of farmer… A film, more than 6 hours long, was born deliberately incomplete, having the ambitious (and never-ending) goal of telling the public the artwork’s true story… A room wholly covered with mirrors became a space-time gap that, by exposing ourselves completely, may let us, finally, step forward to the much-desired ‘third paradise’. 

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Galleria Continua has opened the dance of a new exciting artistic season starring JR, Daniel Buren and Michelangelo Pistoletto, which will last until January 10. With a full program of extraordinary events last weekend, the gallery inaugurated the exhibitions dedicated to the three artists on a trip to the Tuscan hills of San Gimignano, where the central square and the former cinema theater, where it is based, have become stage of surreal performances, projections and visits. Surreal because the works of these disconcerting talents question the reality we all too blindly rely on, to go further, by imagining and making changes, leading the transitoriness of artistic beauty to a collective durable awareness, and pushing our mind and body to destroy misconceptions and take a ‘turn’ in the everyday route to find profound connection with the other.

But let’s go with order.

Saturday, September 26, opened with a very special function. Dozens of people marched through the main streets and lush fields of San Gimignano raising together an enormous silhouette of a dead man. No, it was not a procession for the patron saint of the town or a bizarre mystical ritual, but rather a peasant homily.

A Funeral Full of Life_Galleria Continua_30 anniversary_solo exhibitions_JR, Omelia contadina, Iris Pulvano 2020, theater installation at Galleria Continua. Photo Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio
JR, 'Omelia contadina', Iris Pulvano 2020, theater installation at Galleria Continua. Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua. Photo Ela Bialkowska, Okno Studio

Twenty years ago his career took off thanks to a camera found in metro in Paris. The very young JR began to paper the walls of the city’s bourgeois neighborhoods with portraits of suburban kids, until in 2007 he created what many claimed as the most important illegal exhibition of all time by hanging huge shots of Israelis and Palestinians face to face in various Middle-East streets. From there, the French photographer’s various projects and installations followed around the world, in which art always places itself at the service of social change. Today, for his first solo exhibition in Italy, JR joined the award-winning Italian director and friend Alice Rohrwacher for the documentary ‘Omelia Contadina’ (Farm Homily), which on Saturday was transformed into a real procession-performance. The idea of ​​the two artists was to celebrate a ‘life funeral’: the death of agricultural work which, hopefully, will give way to a rebirth of small producers and a rediscovery of the treasures of nature.

A Funeral Full of Life_Galleria Continua_30 anniversary_solo exhibitions_JR, Omelia Contadina 2020, A cinematic action by JR and Alice Rohrwacher. Photo Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio
JR, 'Omelia Contadina' 2020, A cinematic action by JR and Alice Rohrwacher. Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua. Photo Ela Bialkowska, Okno Studio

“Last autumn, during a walk on the border between Umbria, Lazio and Tuscany, I told my friend and artist JR my concerns about the destruction of the agricultural landscape, violated by the intensive monocultures with which large companies are shaping entire territories. I told him, as the daughter of a beekeeper, of the great mortality of insects that similar plants produce, and of the struggles of small farmers who try to stem this tide of speculations, subsidies, pesticides. At a certain point we stopped at a crossroads: on all fronts, uninterrupted rows of hazelnuts departed til reaching the horizon. As we watched we said it looked like a war cemetery. On the way back we decided: if it looks like a cemetery, we have to celebrate a funeral. But let it be a funeral full of life!”, Rohrwacher said.

A Funeral Full of Life_Galleria Continua_30 anniversary_solo exhibitions_JR, Omelia contadina, Iris Pulvano 2020, theater installation at Galleria Continua. Photo Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio
JR, 'Omelia contadina', Iris Pulvano 2020, theater installation at Galleria Continua. Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua. Photo Ela Bialkowska, Okno Studio

JR’s artistic effort has always gone far beyond aesthetic complacency. It is a weapon, of stunning dimensions, for raising awareness and real activation of change. ‘Omelia Contadina’, presented at this year’s Venice Film Festival, is an artwork, an ode, but also a protest, a striking demonstration to protect those who, in this society full of controversies and economic ambiguities, is paying the worst consequences.

A Funeral Full of Life_Galleria Continua_30 anniversary_solo exhibitions_JR, Omelia contadina, Paper Block 4, Castel Giorgio, Italie, 2020, Colour print, synthetic plaster 55 x 40 x 8 cm, 21,68 x 15,74 x 3,14 in. Photo Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio
JR, 'Omelia contadina', Paper Block 4, Castel Giorgio, Italie, 2020, Colour print, synthetic plaster. Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua. Photo Ela Bialkowska, Okno Studio

Thus, afterwards the incredible agricultural liturgy, led by JR and Rohrwacher themselves, Galleria Continua continued with the celebrations for its thirty candles with the screening of the retrospective film by the great master Daniel Buren. Being able to describe the extent of such an artist, who has maintained an average of fifty-two annual exhibitions worldwide since the 1960s, has always been an impossible mission, even and above all for Buren himself. Having abandoned painting for architectural installations and public art in the 1980s, from Paris to Rome, Bilbao, Mexico and Tokyo, and therefore often seeing his works dismantled as soon as the occasion for which they were built came to an end, Buren realized from the beginning that it’d not have been easy to make his work truly known to the public. 

A Funeral Full of Life_Galleria Continua_30 anniversary_solo exhibitions_Daniel Buren, Fuori tempo, a perdita d’occhio 2018, 6h 24’ 23”, video still
Daniel Buren, 'Fuori tempo, a perdita d’occhio' 2018, 6h 24’ 23”, video still. Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua. Photo Ela Bialkowska, Okno Studio

Of course the rainbow colors, the trompe-l’oeil effects, the monumental dimensions, are hard to forget… but what happens to all the work when its fruits get removed? Finally the artist, or rather the visual arts operator as Buren prefers to be called, has found an enchanting solution. ‘Fuori tempo, a perdita d’occhio’ (Towards the time, as far as the eye can see) is a six-hour and twenty-minute film, which with a clear division in thematic and chronological chapters, tells us about his works and its background, leaving the end inevitably open, so that it’d be possible to continue in the future with the reconstruction of his artistic existence. Also the soundtrack, written by Alexandre Meyer, was composed in order to be modulated and extended to new potential chapters. An artwork about the artworks, in constant evolution, which gradually reveals to the viewer the facets of creative conscience, leading him/her to contemplate instead of the mere opera, the sensitivity and material components that made it true. The documentary is then completed with the words of critics, journalists, gallery owners, who offer further nuances and perspectives on the incessant work of the French phenomenon.

A Funeral Full of Life_Galleria Continua_30 anniversary_solo exhibitions_Daniel Buren, Fuori tempo, a perdita d’occhio 2018, 6h 24’ 23”, video still
Daniel Buren, 'Fuori tempo, a perdita d’occhio' 2018, 6h 24’ 23”, video still. Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua. Photo Ela Bialkowska, Okno Studio

From a film that aspires to last, potentially, for the whole life of its creator, to a room that projects us directly into the sequel of our existence, through a work that reflects the present and at the same time let us reverse into past. Galleria Continua dedicates its new space in Piazza della Cisterna to Michelangelo Pistoletto’s ‘Messanudo’ solo exhibition. A room whose walls are covered with mirrors, which amplify the space by making us see simultaneously what is happening in front, between and behind us. But we are not alone in this extension of reality: naked images of men and women of different somatic features and ethnicities are printed on the mirrors, creating, together with our multiple reflections, a unique, heterogeneous, united community. Mirrors reflect us and the others, making all the characters inhabiting the room a single whole with the opera and its transversal, transcendental power of vision. We can no longer hide behind false myths and useless preconceptions, our sight goes beyond time and space, we are all equally and totally exposed. We get to a universal-judgment condition forcing to look within and around us and realize that rigid mental schemes we took for granted are meaningless compared to the Absolute embracing us all.

A Funeral Full of Life_Galleria Continua_30 anniversary_solo exhibitions_Michelangelo Pistoletto, Messanudo 2020, exhibition view Galleria Continua, San Gimignano. Photo Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio
Michelangelo Pistoletto, Messanudo 2020, exhibition view Galleria Continua, San Gimignano. Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua. Photo Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

‘Messanudo’ (Laidbare) seems to represent a new step by Pistoletto towards the achievement of what the Piedmontese artist himself coined as Third Paradise. It refers to the fusion between the natural and the artificial paradise, the vital and harmonious co-existence between human beings, nature and technology that we’ve not been able to conquer yet, and that the pandemic exposed in all our extreme fragility to get it. As another master who has always got detached from art as an end in itself, obtaining two honorary degrees not only for the technical value of his creations but above all for the political and social development he has generated with his foundation, Pistoletto, we can say, has built his own iconography. The Third Paradise is depicted as an extension of the mathematical symbol of infinity, where a third central ‘ring’ represents the combination of nature and artifice. In fact, it is the circles to draw our worlds, to bind us to existing paradises, to get us closer to other planet’s dwellers and to ourselves… just as Pistoletto’s mirrors show us a reality in continuous, circular evolution. 

A Funeral Full of Life_Galleria Continua_30 anniversary_solo exhibitions_Michelangelo Pistoletto, Messa a nudo - I 2020, silkscreen on super mirror stainless steel, 250 x 150 cm, 98,42 x 59,05 in. Photo Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

“Progress is no longer linear, it is circular. It is a turning point, precisely because by turning we can overcome the obstacle of the mirror. Moving away from it we see ourselves entering in. While if we continue to go against it we crash. So in order to keep going into the mirror we have to do something that is almost a reverse. But a reverse that can be conceived as a turning point. Because we are in a time of turning points”, Pistoletto said.

A Funeral Full of Life_Galleria Continua_30 anniversary_solo exhibitions_Michelangelo Pistoletto, Messa a nudo – M 2020, silkscreen on super mirror stainless steel 250 x 125 cm, 98,42 x 49,21 in. Photo Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio
A Funeral Full of Life_Galleria Continua_30 anniversary_solo exhibitions_Michelangelo Pistoletto, Messa a nudo – L 2020, silkscreen on super mirror stainless steel, 250 x 150 cm, 98,42 x 59,05 in. Photo Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

“Omelia Contadina” by JR
“Fuori tempo, a perdita d’occhio” by Daniel Buren
“Messanudo” by Michelangelo Pistoletto

Galleria Continua
San Gimignano, Tuscany
Until January 10 on appointment 

Meanwhile, Galleria Continua’s twin, which is also celebrating 30 years of great public work, is Associazione Arte Continua. Born always by the will of the galleria’s founders, Mario Cristiani, Lorenzo Fiaschi, Maurizio Rigillo, the no-profit association has been building over these decades important collaborations with the local administrations for public projects. The aim was and still is to donate to nearby cities amazing pieces of art, revitalizing the discorse between contemporary art, architecture and countryside.

The latest project, called “Arte all’Arte”, was presented during the openings last weekend with an art tour through the permanent installations given to San Gimignano, Poggibonsi and Colle di Val d’Elsa. Have a look here to some of these stunning artworks – including Sol LeWitt ‘Concrete Blocks’ installation which has been reconstructed in Colle di Val d’Elsa permanently – which gave new social and cultural engagement to the cities.

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