Objects of Desire: "Vetrinetta delle Meraviglie: Cabinet of Wonders" at Spoleto, Italy | Review by Jill Conner

May 21 to June 1, 2010 / Spoleto, Italy

Aqua, 2008, collage, 15 x 15 inches by Yi Chen

“Vetrinetta delle Meraviglie: Cabinet of Wonders,” revives the romantic love-triangle of fantasy, myth and memory with a series of small-scale collages, found objects, drawings and paintings by Yi Chen, Benedetto Marcucci, Fulvio di Piazza, Sapna Shah and Nicola Verlato. Numerous glass vitrines display these contemporary works of art, evoking a mysterious longing that bridges one back to the heart of imagination where dreams percolate, simmer and abound. Set within the ancient Italian city of Spoleto, this group exhibition overlooks the 13th-century Duomo and appears like a handful of jewels that contrasts thematically with the bountiful landscape seen in the surrounding hillside.

Lady in Black , 2008, collage, 15 x 17 by Yi Chen

Reality breaks away in Yi Chen’s paper collages, which contain layered cutouts found in fashion magazines, distorting the allegories of advertisement while suggesting an association of someone new. “Tiffany,” (2007) finds its title from the blue bag of Tiffany & Co. located on the composition’s left side. A halo of hair hangs around an unknown face with the S-curve of a model’s body positioned directly below. Three additional pieces titled, “Lady in Black,” (2008) “Aqua,” (2008) and “Afro Lady,” (2008) reflect the same technique but feature various colors in the background that add a sense of depth to these spritely, lightweight portraits. Chen’s single oil painting, “Self Rejuvenation,” (2010) continues to flatten form and reflects the use of sharp-angled brushstrokes that render an edgy figural abstraction as seen in his earlier work.

Sulla strada (On the Road), 2008 by Bendetto Marcucci

Benedetto Marcucci’s collection of jar sculptures feature books sealed in a low-acidic oil, treating these objects of the printing press as relics of a by-gone era. Like Chen, Marcucci explores the flattening of knowledge and culture. “Sulla Strada (On the Road)” (2010) by Jack Kerouac became the narrative of Beat culture upon its publication in 1957 and paved the road to freedom for generations that followed. However “Dizionario delle idée (Dictionary of Ideas),” (2010) strongly hints that the Internet, and other new forms of communications technology, has created a larger a-historical moment leading to a downgraded Western society. As the son of a collector, Marcucci became familiar with methods of assemblage and preservation early in his career. As seen in the two previous objects, “L’Arte dei rumori (The Art of Noise),” (2010) “Il contratto sociale (The Social Contract),” (2010) and “Il restuaro (The Restoration),” (2010) capture paperback editions of classic texts although the artist presents them as rare, archaeological objects of study.

Cascalcada, 2008, oil on board, 31 x 50 cm by Fulvio di Piazza

Fantastical landscapes spin forth in four paintings by Fulvio di Piazza. “Cascalcada,” (2008) for instance, is a phenomenal depiction of knitted yarn and plastic house plants. However when seen from a distance, this painting feels otherworldly. “Catedral,” (2009) and “Fog,” (2009) are saturated with blue, green and black hues that depict volcanic-like masses, punctuated with small areas colored either bright red or white, signifying either lava or smoke. Similarly “Nativo,” (2009) draws upon the details of some fairytales and portrays a face emerging within the surface of a large tree trunk. Fantasy shifts to myth in the small pencil drawings of Nicola Verlato, which set up a heroic narrative. “The Beginning,” (2010) conveys a male figure walking past two Greek-style murals that depict warriors in battle. “Warrior Spirits,” (2010) represents a cave-like interior with limp, male figures floating in space waiting for selection whereas, “The Shield Room,” (2010) reflects the transformation of society’s man into someone who is ready for military battle. “Ritual,” (2010) and “Ritual 2,” (2010) furthermore, portray men and women wildly celebrating Dionysus, the god of excess.

Ritual, 2008, drawing in pencil, 11 x 8.5 inches by Nicola Verlato

The colorful abstract paintings of Sapna Shah add a meditative effect to the earlier themes of distortion, archaeology, fantasy, loss, and betrayal. “Philosophical Fragments XV,” (2009) “Philosophical Fragments XIV,” (2009) and “Philosophical Fragments XXV,” (2009) consist of blue, red, yellow, green and white that interlock and pull the eye into the paintings’ pictorial depth. Two additional color studies titled, “Purple Rain,” (2008) and “Stained Glass,” (2008) focus on the vertical movement of colors using blue, red, green and purple. The subtle color contrasts appear so quickly lending both studies a pleasant, shimmering impression. As part of the larger exhibition, Shah’s paintings provide a quiet, subjective conclusion to a larger group of ideas that are free-floating, imaginative and also undefined.

Purple Rain (from Color Study series), 2008, acrylic on wood panel, 12 x 12 inches by Sapna Shah

This unique collection of curiosities that comprise “Vetrinetta delle Meraviglie: Cabinet of Wonders,” brings together a group of cross-cultural genres that play on feelings of longing and desire. The virtue of this particular cabinet of wonders is the way in which contemporary works of art, such as these, expand upon the narrative of fantasy and offer a new space for dream-like meditation. Encased in glass-covered compartments that recess into sheer white walls, these charms of metaphor not only convey where we come from but also lead us back to the authentic origin of the new.