Exhibition investigates the production of Piero Gilardi during the 1960s

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Exhibition investigates the production of Piero Gilardi during the 1960s
Car Crash. Piero Gilardi e l’arte povera. Installation view of the exhibition at PAV – Parco Arte Vivente, 2023. Courtesy PAV – Parco Arte Vivente.

TURIN.- The PAV Parco Arte Vivente opened the exhibition Car Crash. Piero Gilardi e l’arte povera that investigates the production of Piero Gilardi (Turin, 1942-2023) during the 1960s. The exhibition aims to present itself as a homage to the founder of the PAV and to revisit the early years of the artist’s career, exploring the years from 1964 to 1969. This was a germinal season during which Gilardi’s multiple areas of interest became clear, together with his huge contribution to the origins of the Arte Povera movement. Car Crash is the first in a series of monographic exhibitions as part of one of PAV’s long-term projects which, by following a chronologically ordered sub-division, will examine the artist’s work in depth.

The exhibition covers a rich, even if brief, moment (five years in all), characterised by Gilardi’s involvement in some of the most important stages of the Arte Povera movement, amongst which were the Arte Abitabile exhibition (1966) at the Galleria Sperone, the creation of the Deposito d’Arte Presente in Turin (1967-1969), the theory of micro-emotive art, through to his definitive liberation from the movement with the exhibition arte povera più azioni povere at the Arsenale di Amalfi (1968). From the very start, what emerged was his interest in the relationship between technology, human beings and nature, together with the desire to create functional works of art animated by the spectator, as well as the opening up to other disciplines such as experiences within the ambit of radical design at the end of the 1960s. What became evident was Gilardi’s unceasing commitment to understanding and theorising the most profound sense of art and the work of the artists encountered at both national and international levels, passing from an inventor of forms to the inventor of formations: his definition of “micro-emotive art” being just one example. This commitment is evidenced by the numerous letters written to friends and colleagues, and by his correspondence sent from New York and various European cities for the magazine Flash Art, forecasting the importance of his theoretical contributions to two milestone exhibitions such as Op Losse Schroeven (Amsterdam, 1969) and When Attitudes Become Form(Berna, 1969). This analytical thought, that includes a critical position in relation to the mechanisms that govern the art market and the art system, beginning in 1969, brought Gilardi to temporarily remove himself from the national and international art scene in order to dedicate himself to political activism in continuity with the issues raised by the political movements of 1968.

The title, Car Crash, adapted from an unrealised project for the Piper Pluriclub where Gilardi refers to the image of “an automobile that skids silently on the black oil of the floor”, becomes the metaphor for those sulphurous years during which the encounter and clashes with the art system and the construction and deconstruction of relationships, theories and imaginations are the sign of the great issue at stake for art at that time. It is precisely with the dynamic Piper experience and the exhibition of the nature-carpets set up inside the venue in January 1967 that the PAV exhibition opens. The discotheque, or rather, the divertimentificio [amusement factory] in Turin, reproducing its definition in the words of Tommaso Trini, welcomed, from the second half of the 1970s, experimentations and various form of performative art, from Carmelo Bene to the Living Theatre, and it became a fertile terrain for artists, amongst whom were Pistoletto, Merz and Boetti, who, like Gilardi, revolved around the Arte Povera Movement.

The opening up to art created to be lived and directly involving the spectator took shape from the very birth of the nature-carpets, environments made in expanded polyurethane to be walked on and inhabited, on which the artist had been working since 1966. The series of works came from a thought conceived during a nature walk along the riverbed of the Sangone stream near Turin, during which the artist came across a mound of litter abandoned on the riverbank. This resulted in the desire to create forms representing an ideal natural context while using an artificial and contemporary material such as expanded polyurethane, a technology that permitted the construction of “practically usable aesthetic objects”. “I am the product of a great period for technology but, nonetheless, I love nature. Surely, there must be a way of combining these two sensations”, declared the young Gilardi in his article Sette più sette artisti d'oggi le loro opere i loro abiti published in the magazine Uomo Vogue in 1969.

Lastly, it was precisely during these years that Gilardi’s multi-form activities saw the elaboration of a method of working foam rubber, and specifically, the artist’s invention of a process of colouring and finishing that was resistant to manipulation. This formula was applied to the industrial production of audacious design objects by means of a collaboration with the Gufram company. This encounter engendered the iconic Sedilsasso (1968), a pouf designed by Gilardi himself, and other products that were part of the ferment generated by radical Italian design, subsequently internationally recognised with the exhibition Italy, The New Domestic Landscape, at the New York Museum of Modern Art in September 1972.

The exhibition, Car Crash - Piero Gilardi e l’arte povera narrates the story of the young artist Piero Gilardi by means of three fundamental themes (the extra-artistic space; from pop costumes to political costumes; the production of useful art) with the aim of getting to the roots of his work and raising questions based on his practices which, developing over his long career, brought about the foundation of the PAV Parco Arte Vivente. This experimental Centre of contemporary art currently interprets nature, beginning with a public park within the urban landscape, a place of encounter and workshop experiences with, at its very heart, ecology, the public and the artists, “the project of a life’.

Documents and works in the exhibition were collected thanks to Archivio Domus, Archivio Fotografico Enrico Cattaneo, Cittadellarte - Fondazione Pistoletto, Archivio Derossi Associati, Centro di Ricerca Castello di Rivoli (CRRI), Fondazione Centro Studi Piero Gilardi, Fondazione Merz, Galleria Giraldi, Galleria Lia Rumma, Gufram.

Within the ambit of the Car Crash exhibition, PAV’s Educational and Training Activities propose to schools and groups an articulated programme of activities entirely dedicated to the methodological research and works of Piero Gilardi that can be consulted on the website. Families can book every second Sunday of the month for a special visit to Gilardi’s interactive Biome itinerary which is followed by the activation of his didactic work Puzzle-natura Marina delle Canarie (2015, 53 items in expanded polyurethane, lactic rubber and willow baskets). This is an interactive work that can be entirely assembled using stones, shells, sea urchins, fragments of palm leaves, clods of volcanic or grassy earth. The puzzle is available to the visitors who are invited to interact with the work, constantly creating different forms. Other versions of the nature-puzzle are present in the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea at the Castello di Rivoli, at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (NL) and at the Nottingham Contemporary (UK).

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