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The new dream of eleven American artists on show in Florence Nightmares, restlessness and nostalgic fantasies: more like an escape from reality than a project for well-being and freedom in the art of the under-40’s in the difficult post-9/11 decade by Pietro Marino
Thomas Doyle. Acceptable. 2008. Detail
“American Dreamers” is the title of a collective that presents, in Florence, (until 15 July 2012) 11 artists of the recent generation (between 30 and 40 years old) in the Strozzina. That’s the name of the space for contemporary art which has opened in the basement of the prestigious Palazzo Strozzi, where the exhibition, “Americani a Firenze”, is in progress, about the artists who from the other side of the ocean landed in Tuscany between the second half of the 19th century and the first few years of the twentieth, following the Italian dream of the beauty of art and nature. But the American Dream of today’s artists is not that which has inspired and motivated the growth of the United States since its foundation, the collective project of a society aiming at progress, well-being and freedom, strong in its claim to “the right to happiness”. It is the dream itself which has become the escape from reality, an oneiric projection of desire and individual fears, or a metaphor for the turning to the habits of lives that have lost their way, like lives in touch with nature, domestic or “women’s” work, the innocent pleasures of the senses… In general, a “tendency to withdraw into the private sphere or the reinvention of the relationship between the individual and the community”, observes Franziska Neri, curator of the exhibition and head of the “La Strozzina” Center.
So, wandering and contrasting fantasies go to make up the variegated route of the Florence review. Thomas Doyle puts cute little models of typical American houses inside transparent spheres like soap bubbles. But the houses are perched on the edge of a precipice or are suspended over deep ravines. Similar little houses are painted in limpid landscapes of a reassuring rural serenity by Adam Cvijanovic; but they are panels of light fabric, which can be dismantled and transported like props in cheap theatres. Patrick Jacobs lets you spy charming landscapes in tri-dimensional miniature, with flowers and mushrooms through small portholes: they seem to be at arm’s reach but they are inaccessible. Christy Rupp presents skeletons of large, extinct, prehistoric birds, but they are made from the bones and cartilage of chickens and turkeys gathered from the cast-offs of fast-food restaurants and barbecues.
These nightmares and restlessness is counterpoised by the nostalgic fantasy of Will Cotton who depicts pop heroines as nude models stretched out on pink cotton-wool clouds like in the frivolous rococo paintings by Fragonard, and landscapes made of candy floss, sugared almonds and candies. The lovely women photographed in c-print by Adrien Boom float in the night air and in water like seductively veiled ghosts. Kirsten Hasserfeld builds starry lamps and shiny diamonds and decorations that remind you of Christmas or the Thousand and One Nights with transparent, multi-colored parchment paper. Enchanted forests with the exuberance of tropical vegetation and fabulous “heavenly kingdoms” with just moons and stars are evoked by Mandy Greer, by weaving colored waste fibres, crocheting wool, buttons and beads.
The most visionary of all is Nick Cave, protagonist from Chicago of Fashion Design. A spectacular series of his Soundsuits is on show in Florence: mannequins of people with musical instruments, completely covered in “costumes” made with the most disparate of materials; synthetic furs, patchwork quilts, hats, bottle tops and so on. They thus become grotesque colored ghosts, reminding us of South American Carnivals or those of New Orleans. At the opposite extreme the paintings in distinct colors and stylised post-pop graphic contours with cold cut-out profiles by Richard Deon. He has invented a solitary personality called “The Subject”, usually a loser, evoked in surreal situations of abandonment or in an urban desert.
It is not easy to decide what the collective weight of these diverse experiences in the contrasting panorama of contemporary American Art. They are certainly a symptom of restlessness. An “escape route from the chaos and indifference that they see in the world around them” says Bartholomew F. Bland. And this in a precise moment in the States, “the age of uncertainty” that seems to have started with the two falls, that of the Berlin wall and that of the Twin Towers. But is there a remedy, an answer? In the catalogue there is an article first published in The Nation, on 10th October 2011, referring to the birth in Washington of an “American Dream Movement” shouting, “Take Back the American Dream”. And followed, straight after, by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in Zuccotti Park in New York. But how much chance does this challenge, on the part of citizens who want to “take back the American Dream”, have of succeeding in these rocky times of Barack Obama in the White House? Robert Borosage and Katrina Vanden Heuvel pose the question in Italian and in English at the end of the catalogue. But everyone knows that it is not the task of art to provide the answers, but to ask the questions. And to dream, sometimes.
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