Follow Us on Twitter

United Artists of Italy - Estorick Collection

Gianni Berengo Gardin. Ugo Mulas, Como, 1969. Gelatin silver print, 30 x 39.5 cm.

Exhibition preview

UNITED Artists of Italy, an exhibition of portraits of some of the 20th century’s best-known artists by twenty-two leading Italian photographers, will be on display at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art from Wednesday, June 22 to Sunday, September 4, 2011.

The exhibition, comprising around 90 photographs of artists including De Chirico, Fontana and Morandi by such photographers as Mario Giacomelli, Mimmo Jodice and Gianni Berengo Gardin, tells the story of the Italian contemporary art scene from the 1960s.

This rich group of photographs has been assembled over many years by Massimo Minini, who was born in Vallecamonica, near Brescia. From 1964 to 1968, he studied law but, drawn to a career in art, he worked for Flash Art from 1971 to 1973, when he opened his own contemporary gallery in Brescia.

He also has a long-standing interest in prehistory and archaeology, having spent two summers on archaeological digs around Vallecamonica in his youth.

Minini’s strong personal interest in the subject of this exhibition grew through his contact with the photographers who welcomed and supported the project. His has been a journey into the world of photography, an expedition through archives, boxes, films and files which has resulted in a unique anthology of Italian photographers’ portraits that Minini conceived as an international exhibition.

The accompanying publication, also entitled United Artists of Italy, is published by Photology, Milan 2011, with texts by UK curator Gabriele Magnani, Stefano Boeri and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Lorand Hegyi, Massimo Minini and Pier Luigi Tazzi.

Although Minini’s initial plan was to select only portraits of artists, the project broadened and began to embrace portraits of writers such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Calvino and Alberto Moravia, as well as a number of foreign artists. In addition, there are portraits of some of Italy’s most important gallery owners such as Lucio Amelio and Leo Castelli. These brilliant portraits are by no means conventional ‘studio portraits’ as this exhibition reveals.

United Artists of Italy shows a cross-section of Italian photography spanning more than thirty years, revealing the extraordinary skills of the photographers while at the same time paying homage to the great artists who are the subjects.

The photographs present a history of contemporary art and artists not through their art works but through faces, poses and expressions. The most striking portraits capture the spirit of the times but this is more than just a simple collection of chronological images. Different facets of the artists’ characters are revealed by different photographers.

For example, Aurelio Amendola’s portrait of De Chirico reveals an elderly, passive and bemused man, while Claudio Abate’s image of Pino Pascali captures the artist in playful mood, engaging with his own work. At other times, photographers train their lenses on one another – as in Berengo Gardin’s candid study of Ugo Mulas, or Mario Dondero’s intimate portrait of Elisabetta Catalano.

As Massimiliano Finazzer Flory of the Milan Department of Culture observed: “A trip through this collection of works by great photographers and their portraits allows us to look in the eyes of artists…. In their gaze, we discover an attempt to depict the different routes of creativity and the process of ‘artistic creation’.”

He also wrote that “This gallery of artists’ faces … tells the story of the vision and the philosophy of Italian contemporary art beginning in the 1960s.”

The figure behind this exhibition, Massimo Minini, is represented in the show in a double portrait with the conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti by Giorgio Colombo. In this image the friendship, dialogue and mutual respect of the gallery owner and artist, collector and creator, are blended with the solitude of two men following their own paths.

The photographs on view at the Estorick Collection concentrate exclusively on the portraits of Italians.

They are by 22 photographers active since the 1960s: Claudio Abate, Aurelio Amendola, Gabriele Basilico, Sandro Becchetti, Gianni Berengo Gardin, Elisabetta Catalano, Giorgio Colombo, Mario Cresci, Mario Dondero, Federico Garolla, Luigi Ghirri, Mario Giacomelli, Gianfranco Gorgoni, Mimmo Jodice, Nanda Lanfranco, Uliano Lucas, Attilio Maranzano, Nino Migliori, Ugo Mulas, Paolo Mussat Sartor, Paolo Pellion and Ferdinando Scianna.

“Italian photography presents itself here in all of its glory”, writes Minini of United Artists of Italy. “No other nation has produced such a wide range of great photographers who have not only portrayed but also worked on the same level as the artists of their generation.

“Beyond giving a face to these already well-known auteurs, this show offers the viewer a cross-section of Italian photography during this period and reveals the extraordinary capacity for interpretation that the one of the two parties has to offer to the other.”

This London showing is the fifth venue in a European tour, the collection having previously been exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne, Saint Etienne; Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels; Fondazione Stelline, Milan, and the Biennial of Photography, Amsterdam.

United Artists of Italy Gallery

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, London, N1

Double Portrait: Zoran Music and Ida Barbarigo continues at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art until June 12, 2011.