The Milan Triennale juxtaposes the work of Thea Djordjadze and Fausto Melotti: a sort of near-silent dialogue between two acrobatic artists, united by their fondness for modest materials.
The strength of this new exhibition hosted by the Milan Triennale (open until 27 August) lies in the original and highly successful juxtaposition that sparks a dialogue between the work of two artists. On one hand is the Georgian artist Thea Djordjadze. Born in Tbilisi in 1971, she moved to Germany after the civil war, where she studied at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf with Rosemarie Trockel, and where she currently lives and works. On the other hand is the Italian Fausto Melotti, who was an outstanding sculptor and ceramist, but also a poet, pianist and electrical engineer. Born in 1901 in the Rovereto of Depero and Carlo Belli, he spent most of his life in Milan – he studied under Adolfo Wildt at the Brera Academy and had Lucio Fontana as his classmate – until his death in 1986.
Djordjadze (who is represented in Italy by the Milanese gallery Kaufmann Repetto) has done away with the temporary walls in the Triennale’s first-floor space and thrown open the windows designed by Muzio. Then, with a watchful and well-trained eye for chromatic and material harmonies, she has arranged her minimal sculptural assemblages at point-blank distance, nose to nose. With an elegance all of their own, Djordjadze’s pieces seem like derelict skyscrapers of a recently discoloured civilisation, leading one to call them chairs, consoles, shelves or platforms, although they are much more than this. Her work is displayed side by side with Melotti’s Teatrini
– small masterpieces of innocent volition (this show features 25 of them, created between the 1940s and ’80s) in the form of scenic boxes inhabited by impalpable figures and infused with that provisional character that sustained his early abstract sculptures of the 1930s. With this show, in truth what emerges is something of a dialogue. Yet if it’s a dialogue, it’s verging on silence. And it’s the silence that sets the music.
Like Djordjadze’s works as a whole, at first glance the exhibition’s title – Jumping out of an age we found uninhabitable
– seems somewhat distant in its dramatic force. Or at least far from Melotti’s world, which may be pained, but by an anxiety that is more sentimental than tormenting. “Initially it was supposed to be All the World’s a Stage
, taken from the famous monologue of Shakespeare’s As You Like It
,” reveals the curator Lorenzo Giusti, who conceived a fine exhibition design with the help of the Triennale’s art director Edoardo Bonaspetti, and in close collaboration with the Fausto Melotti Foundation. “I found it representative of the metatheatre principles that inspired us from the start. But in the end, Thea decided to proceed more freely, interpreting a passage from the speech written by Jean Cocteau in 1941 for the death of Jean-Michel Frank, a great theatre man and an extraordinary minimal designer. In this project, these two worlds meet and interact.”
The exhibition comes across with clarity and delicacy, permeated with Melotti’s own brand of restless metaphysics (one recalls his book Lo spazio inquieto
[“The Restless Space”], and here in the Triennale another current exhibition, titled “The Restless Earth”, is also dedicated to the same sentiment). But it’s metaphysics charged with an alienating force, albeit bitingly calm, impressed by Djordjadze, who injects his works with new vitality. Acrobatic in their working in weightlessness, the two artists are united by their fondness for the applied or minor arts, temporary arrangements and modest materials such as wood, steel, glass, cardboard, fabric and papier-mâché for Djordjadze; terracotta, gauzes, cloths, dominoes, coloured chalks, brass chains, twine, pieces of glass and corrugated cardboard for Melotti. Studio leftovers, remnants of daily life, things found here and there and joined together.
Melotti (an anti-rhetorical sculptor who tackled the least sculptural subjects such as wind, snow and malice) called them teatrini
, or “toy theatres”. The name is as enchanting as the things it conjures up. One thinks of stand-alone performance, street shows, touring companies, the town square, the market, marionettes and street traders. Just a few pieces. Minimal and frayed registers. With the ethereal and ephemeral reigning over all. The lightness of tulle. The warmth of an oven. Djordjadze pushes all this into her production and inventions, with apt formal insights that materialise in steel structures (with red, black and white as the prevailing colours) anchored to the load-bearing walls, floors and columns. The walls also feature some freely arranged drawings by Melotti, where, as he wrote, “The line, like a soul, trembles with indecisions, certainties and deliberate deceptions.”
pursues an image. Not exactly “scenes”, dramatically, melodramatically or farcically completed, they are more evoked or murmured. Here, copper and brass merge in a gaggle of figurines turned towards a boat, which is so fragile it can only bear the puff of a sigh (it is the first work visitors encounter: Gli addii
[“The Farewell”, 1982). There, another figure flush with a fence bends under the weight of many brass chains and a leaden sky pierced by a pale moon (Il gregge è fuggito
[“The Flock Has Fled”], 1984). Then there’s the Teatrino per Scheiwiller
(“Toy Theatre for Scheiwiller”,1962), a kind of terracotta hive with cubicles, dedicated to the publisher who in 1944 printed Melotti’s first collection of poetry titled Il triste Minotauro
(“The Sad Minotaur”). Next to it is a box, again in painted terracotta, suspended in the middle of the wall. Inside one sees three men, one of whom gesticulates and has horns and goat-like feet, while the other two stand listening (Il diavolo che tenta gli intellettuali
[“The Devil that Tempts the Intellectuals”], 1939).
Every now and then, one comes across particularly bewitching subjects that are slightly unintelligible (Credenza magica
[“Magic Belief”], 1945; Le maldicenti
[“The Slanderers”], 1962; and Il passo della zingara
[“The Step of the Gypsy”], 1983). Other works are disarming and disarmed in their simplicity, such as Scale
(“Ladders”, 1980), which is admirably resolved in a few traces of cloud and some small sloping paper ladders. It’s as if these portrayals were concealing trap doors or secret exits, just like in children’s toy theatres where everything is manoeuvred from above or below. And one can almost picture Melotti, escaping to his studio in Milan with a kiln at Via Leopardi 9, all alone, busying himself with his small constructions, applying strips of gauze at different heights, modelling curls of clay into frail little bodies. Djordjadze detracts nothing from the reserve of these delicately poised constructions, and instead she has made them even more exclusive, while also inclusive.
In a book on Joseph Cornell, Charles Simic writes that Fausto Melotti – and in part Thea Djordjadze – was the maker of small, silent universes, which were mostly impenetrable and unknowable in their full sense: “I’ve read that Goethe, Hans Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll were managers of their own miniature theatres. There must have been many other such playhouses in the world. We study the history and literature of the period, but we know nothing about these plays that were being performed for an audience of one.”