Saturday, July 3, 2010

MCCLUMP in ITALIA: De Chirico's Metaphysical Representations

To say that I was amazed by this show is an understatement. I was in Rome mainly to see the Caravaggio show and on my way there passed the Palazzo delle Esposizioni and saw the banner for this show.

I have always loved De Chirico’s work and had recently seen a show in Firenze (Florence) that dealt with his influences on the work of Max Ernst, Magritte, Balthus, and other Surrealists. This was a fine show but the one in Roma was far more spectacular!

It was a very hot day in Roma and very cool in the museum which is housed in a marvelous, neo-classical building built in 1883. The show was on the ground floor that has a massive, three story open rotunda styled after the Pantheon with a skylight at the occulus. The open rotunda had eight sides with seven galleries accessible from it (the eighth side was the entrance to the museum). Over 120 of De Chirico’s works arranged in these galleries each one dealing with a specific aspect of Nature, Water, Air, Earth, etc. The exhibition was mounted to celebrate 100 years since the birth of Metaphysical Art, what De Chirico called his work.

I would spend time in one gallery then go to the rotunda that had four large couches, each 4-sided in the center with small speakers suspended about ten feet above constantly playing De Chirico discussing his work. I'd lounge a while and then move on to the next gallery. I had two goals: take my time, relax and really see the show and use up time as my return train to Firenze was @ 7:45 p.m. Having seen and studied De Chirico’s work, I realized right away there were so many here I’d never seen, known about or hadn’t ever been shown before.

I discovered many things about De Chirico. For example, he had many paintings in the show that were signed with a date sometimes 30 years before he actually painted it. There might be a work signed Giorgio De Chirico 1927 that the gallery card noted was actually painted in 1963! He had a great sense of humor not only with this but also with the juxtaposition of objects in many of his works.

In the gallery that dealt with Water many of the paintings were from a series called I bagni misteriosi [The Mysteries of the Baths.] These were extremely surreal, but somewhat frightening and funny, enigmatic to the max! In I bagni misteriosi II, 1935-6 we see a man in a business suit sitting on a box looking at three unclothed men, two standing (?) waist deep in the bagno, the third knee deep. The pool contains three mysterious platforms supported by angled logs. On each is a sort of cabana with a different type of closed door. There is a second clothed man standing further away with his back to us. This all exists in De Chirico’s signature, starkly lit and shadowed, vast surreal plane.

The water is usually rendered as a series of lines that are triangular repetitions, here in black and orange, like angular waves; the same way an opera set might be constructed to show moving waves. These “bagni” in which all of the figures stood could be miles long but consistently narrow with the occasional circular bulge. There would always be at least one fully clothed (suit & tie) man either standing or seated. The paintings had a very strange atmosphere, very dream-like but edgy. At first you didn’t really see what was [possibly] happening. After viewing a whole gallery of around 12 of these I was easily taken into their world.

Then there were a series of Furniture paintings: La mobilia nella valle (The furniture in the valley), La mobila nell’oceano (at the ocean), at least 5-8 of each. In each of these there would usually be a large, high-backed armchair, a mirrored, tall vanity, usually with a bit of flourish at top and a bookshelf, all usually on a carpet. They would just be arranged in the valley, or on the mountain (La mobila sulla montagna) or on the seashore, as if someone had placed them there to use as an outdoor room. These never contained any figures. The way he painted these was, of course, all about atmosphere. The unusual placement was never in question, but where was everyone? Had they just left and were they coming back?

Being able to see a complete range of De Chirico's work emphasized his significance as one of the most important innovators and artists of the 20th century. He managed to create, populate, and establish a seemingly endless world of images that hold just as much ambiguity, humor, and unanswerable questions when viewed today in our society of instant information and high tech solutions, truly Misteri.

Links to the two shows mentioned:

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