Monday, July 22, 2013


The Piazza, Pietrasanta

Having enjoyed over a week of the beautiful Pietrasanta Piazza being free of obstructions, I took a seat in my favourite bar, looked up and found that a  gigantic 16 foot bronze statue was obscuring my view of  Sant' Agostino. I breathed a sigh of resignation and thought “What now?”

It turned out to be a monumental sculpture of the moment when French footballer Zidane head-butted an Italian opponent because he was taunting him. The sculptor is Adel Abdessemed,  a conceptual artist who lives and works in Paris.

Samson Slaying a Philistine

 The subject of violence is certainly not new in art.

There is a large marble sculpture by Giambologna (John from Bologna) called Samson Slaying a Philistine. Samson apparently was taunted by the  philistines so he set about slaying a few thousand of them with an ass's jawbone.

It was commissioned in about 1562, by Francesco de Medici for a fountain in Florence, and later it was gifted  to Spain. Then in 1623 it was given to the  Prince of Wales, later to become King Charles I, while he was in Spain negotiating a marriage contract, and it soon became the most famous Italian sculpture in England and is now  the centre piece of the sculpture collection in the V&A Museum in London.

The sculpture is a perfect example of 3 dimensional form that offers no front and back views, but continually shifting  lines and forms that change as you circle it. View it as many times as you like - it will always surprise you.

 I could bore you for ages talking about the sculptural merits of the Samson against the lack of them in the Zidane, but I think the juxtaposition of the photos above says it all. The control of the sculptural language in the Giambolgna is in the sphere of genius while it's questionable that there is even a smattering of mediocre talent in the Abdessemed sculpture.

Adel Abdessemed
The Zidane sculpture  is conceptual art, it is not interested in the traditional lanquage of sculpture, but the question arises " why is it so large, in traditional bronze and in an historic Italian Piazza?"

Another work by  Adel Abdessemed
It might seem unfair to compare the Zidane work with a masterpiece from the Renaissance, like comparing a tv script for a soap opera with a Shakespeare play. One is pop culture; one is high art and everyone can choose what they want to engage with.  I have no objection to people enjoying Adel  Abdessemed 's work in a gallery,  I can choose not to go,  but this monument to ego is large, impossible not to see and blocking my view of Sant' Agostino.

Where is the Samson and his  jaw bone today, when you need him?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pietrasanta Sculpture

The Comune of Pietrasanta advertise the town as Citta d’Arte. For centuries it was the Italian centre for carving and casting religious art. The skills for this can still be found with  the artisans who live and work here today.  As the demand for religious art declined modern artists started to come here to have work cast in bronze or carved in Marble, 40 years ago you might have bumped  into Henry Moore, Jacques Lipchitz or Noguchi in the town.  The town was then a working town, studio space and living accommodation was cheap and few tourists visited.
When I first visited 12 years ago it was already in decline as a working town, since then the decline has continued rapidly.  The Comune has had a policy of forcing the small marble studios to move out of town and allowing development of the empty properties.
As the population of artists decreases the tourist population increases and today in summer almost every property in the main streets of the town becomes either a  restaurant or a chic art gallery.

The Piazza, Pietrasanta, Tuscany, Italy
It has one of the most beautiful Piazzas in the whole of Italy.  Through a collaboration of the Comune and gallery owners the Piazza hosts exhibitions of  large pieces of sculpture by well known sculptors throughout the year.
Currently in the Piazza is an exhibition of work by well known sculptors that has been made in the town by the studios. .

Igor Mitoraj

The new Mitoraj above the main door of San Agostino
There has been a very hot debate here lately between the Comune who allowed Mitoraj to make a sculpture for the tympanum above the main door to the church of San Agostino and many of the art community who felt it to be sacrilegious. My signature was among the 1300 on a petition against it. I imagined it might be one of his giant hollow faces, but when it was unveiled last weekend it turned out to be quite innocuous and barely noticeable and is a rather a weak affair compared to most of the great art that has decorated tympanums over the centuries.

A Close up of the new work by Mitoraj

A fallen angel by Igor Mitoraj
 I am afraid I find Mitoraj's nostalgic fake antiquities have a built in sterility. There is nothing about them other than their sense of presence, which admittedly can be very strong, but there is no real engagement with the language of sculpture, nothing to excite me in the way that a simple line of Picasso or a space in a Chilida sculpture can.

Fernando Botero

A sculpture by  Fernando Botero

Fernando Botero is a very well known sculptor everywhere except England. At any time of the year there is hardly a foundry in the town that is not casting and finishing one of his large pieces, his works sell all over the world, for large sums of money and this industry keeps many of the towns foundries in work. Personally I consider the sculptural quality of his work rather poor, and feel that once you have seen one Bottero you have seen them all, there seems very little development in his ideas.

Jimenez Deredia 

A sculpture by Jimenez Deredia
Another sculptor is the Costa Rican Jimenez Deredia, who also tends to use very bulbous forms, which like Bottero offer rather boring linear profiles lacking in tension and giving poor relationships of the various masses.

A sculpture by Rabarama

Rabarama, is a very successful female Italian sculptor with large figurative works that can be found in cities all over the world.  The following is a quote from her very slick website
The artist’s subjects mostly have absent gazes, blanked out by crystallized research which is conditioned by a world governed purely by cause-effect relationships, whose common denominator is the standardized programming of the species”
There you have it!!!

What all these sculptors have in common is that they have their work made in Pietrasanta by an army of highly skilled artisans. But for me  there is more to sculpture than just techniques and skill and I love to see work that explores, that tries to push the boundaries of the sculptural language. One person’s honest struggle with ideas of form, line, planes, space and masses is much more exciting than all the grand gesturing of these large sculptures.

 Kan Yasuda - Chiave del Sogno
Here is one that I do like. I love the contrast of the loosely flowing outer line with the tightness of the inner line and the very subtleway it sits on the ground.