L’ULTIMA GUERRA DI MARIO SCHIFANO 1988-1998
A project of Casa Testori
Curated by Davide Dall’Ombra
Castello Gamba – Museo d’arte moderna e contemporanea
Châtillon, Valle d’Aosta
22 Giugno – 25 Settembre 2022
Finissage: h. 17, Castello Gamba
L’ultima guerra di Mario Schifano 1988-1998 is the exhibition that the Gamba Castle-Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of the Autonomous Region of Valle d’Aosta devotes to the great protagonist of twentieth-century painting from June 22 to Sept. 25, 2022. The artist (1934-1998) is one of the most important presences in the museum’s permanent collection with Local Heat, Collinare, Per vedere, Orizzontale and Vista interrotta works that are the result of a period of Schifano’s residence in Valle D’Aosta between February and March 1988 and that are presented in the exhibition with a new arrangement in relation to the landscape that inspired them. Schifano worked feverishly in a wing of the former Saint-Bénin priory producing dozens and dozens of paintings, along with works on paper, that were exhibited at the Tour Fromage in the exhibition Mario Schifano. Physical Green, held from April 30 to July 24, 1988.
The exhibition L’ultima guerra di Mario Schifano 1988-1998 – born from a project of Casa Testori, curated by Davide Dall’Ombra and realized by the Autonomous Region of Valle d’Aosta, Department of Cultural Heritage, Tourism, Sports and Commerce – has as its starting point the 1988 Aosta Valley episode and aims to delve into the last extraordinary years of Schifano’s career, until his death in 1998. An unrepeatable decade for the artist: feverish and prolific years, perhaps contradictory, of hand-to-hand struggle with works, of return to painting and of “war” with painting itself, as with his own addictions and obsessions, years marked by the usual and unstoppable creative urgency.
In the beginning was “Chimera”
The major works from the 1980s and 1990s on view in the exhibition are introduced by a video, curated by Casa Testori, that recounts the birth of Chimera, the monumental work created by Schifano during a one-night-only performance in Florence in 1985. A pivotal moment for understanding the force of Schifano’s painterly gesture and the communicative nature of his work, which well explain the climate in which the artist’s willingness to experience his Aosta Valley residency a few years later was born. This is a pivotal episode for understanding Schifano’s confrontation with archaeology, which was fundamental to his training and also central to the Valdostan canvases.
Masterpieces for a look
In the dramatic months that Europe is experiencing today, the war “portraits” in the proper sense that Schifano dedicates to the Gulf crisis seem painfully relevant. It is a period, since the late 1980s, in which the artist is particularly marked by media and multimedia. In years of voluntary confinement in his home-studio, television becomes for him a window on the world and an obsessive source of inspiration. Turning his attention to the main news events of the time, of the war he returns us a personal and poignant look, declined in inescapable works of his path. In the main room dedicated to temporary exhibitions, two monumental works dedicated to the drama of the war in Iraq are presented: Tearful [In lacrime] from 1990, which has become a kind of ideal self-portrait of the artist, and Sorrisi Scomparsi from 1991, the only possible face of the Kuwait tragedy. In Tearful, the drama of war is seen from within the father-son relationship, starting with a photo cut from “Time” of Dec. 10, 1990, where a child looks on in bewilderment as his soldier father, leaving for the front, bows his head covering his face in tears. In Sorrisi Scomparsi, a crowd of new faceless faces overlays the Arabic translation of the work’s title and gives substance to the collective drama of Kuwait.
The pictorial reworking of television images complements the photographic one. Schifano sends dozens of rolls of film a day to print: photos of television screens that accumulate in clusters in his studio and are caught up in a process that is both devouring and germinating.
The exhibition presents four large compositions of framed plexiglass panels (293 x 186 cm each) with more than 1,300 10×15 cm photographs retouched with oil and marker, made in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They are the fruit of the artist’s voracious eye and personality, “I feel like a media…. Through this window [the television set] I capture the images that most strike me, the messages of the dramatic reality that presses upon us. But I am not a passive spectator. As I follow on the video the dizzying succession of events, I think, reflect, create.” An endless production that Emilio Mazzoli called Schifano’s “rosary,” poured out throughout the day at every free opportunity in an attempt to leave an imprint on what was happening around him.
Homage to Emilio Mazzoli
The exhibition was also created with the intention of celebrating the 80th birthday of such a pivotal personality in Schifano’s story as Emilio Mazzoli, one of the most important Italian gallery owners and his passionate supporter in those years. For the occasion, Mazzoli has generously made available to Castello Gamba, thanks to his relationship of collaboration and esteem with Casa Testori, the germinal works by Schifano presented and will exceptionally be on display with his double portrait, never exhibited before, executed by Schifano between 1994 and 1995: CARO EMILIO CONTINUA… (print and mixed media on paper applied on board, 180 x 135 cm each). A tribute to a key figure in postwar Italian artistic culture, capable of grasping the value of the artist in his early days and resolute in supporting and accompanying him, also thanks to the involvement of the most revolutionary critical pens of his time, such as Giovanni Testori and Achille Bonito Oliva.
Schifano among his nature
L’altana del castello is dedicated to the timely reconstruction, through works, documents, images and unpublished testimonies, of the story of Schifano’s residence in Aosta in 1988, thanks to the discovery of an unpublished photographic campaign of the exhibition and beautiful photos of Schifano at work in his studio in Aosta. This pivotal episode was part of a lively cultural moment in the Aosta Valley, with the establishment of the Region’s Exhibitions Office in 1986 and a focus on exhibition activities of an international nature. The energy of patronage and the commitment of art critics such as Janus (Roberto Gianoglio 1927-2020), led, in fact, to the creation of original exhibition events, often with a monographic slant, with a continuous flow of dozens of exhibitions a year, between 1986 and 1995, for more than one hundred in total. Artists were invited to exhibit their work, to share it with the community, and the exhibitions also enabled an important enrichment of the region’s collections. This is documented in the exhibition in the Fabbri “Valle d’Aosta Cultura” series, presented in the Gamba Museum room dedicated to the Valley’s commissions.
From July 2, a series of meetings will open at the Gamba Castle to explore the artist’s work through the interventions of some outstanding critics.
Saturday, July 2, 4:30 p.m.
Guided tour with the curator
Saturday, July 16, 6 p.m.
“Who is Mario Schifano?” Meeting with Francesco Guzzetti
Friday, July 29
6 p.m.: Conversation with Luca Ronchi, official biographer of the artist
9:30 p.m.: Screening of the documentary “Mario Schifano tutto” by Luca Ronchi
Friday, September 23
5 p.m.: Dialogue with Davide Dall’Ombra, curator of the exhibition
On the occasion of the closing of the exhibition, curator Davide Dall’Ombra talks about the most profound aspects of this tireless and multifaceted protagonist of twentieth-century painting.
INFO: 0166 563252
Reservations required, from Sept. 19
Fee included in the Museum entrance fee
Daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.