“The purpose of the six short films by Italian directors about contemporary Italian artists we are going to screen is not to ‘explain’ art”, announced straightforwardly Stefano Albertini, Director of Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò NYU, while opening the movie soirée at Casa Italiana on December 9. “The aim is to provide the viewer with the intellectual tools needed to have a more complete and multifaceted aesthetic experience.”
This is indeed what the six movies succeeded in doing: offering the audience a perspective on the artwork of renowned masters of Italian art as shot by the camera of talented Italian film-makers. Art within art, one might say, which is also the agenda of ArteCinema, the international film festival of documentaries on contemporary art, in collaboration with which the evening at Casa Italiana was organized.
Established in Naples in 1996, ArteCinema screens a selection of documentaries about prominent artists, architects and photographers who have been active during the past fifty years, and aims at making the multi facets of contemporary art known to the public. Under the supervision of curator Laura Trisorio, ArteCinema cherry-picks each year thirty documentaries from all over the world, including interviews, filmed biographies and narratives based upon archive material. Thanks to such a rich and world-covering shortlist, it brings more than 7,000 spectators to the splendid location of San Carlo Theater to join its program. The festival was held in Naples in October and now a selection of films is being presented to the American audience.
Director Albertini was indeed right: you do not necessarily understand contemporary art while watching these documentaries. They are more peepholes through which you can look at the artwork of an artist via the eye of another artist ― the film-maker.
In Capo dio monte, the brief documentary shot in occasion of Luigi Ontani’s exhibition held at Naples Capodimonte Museum in 2009, film-director Pappi Corsicato investigates the artist’s world by leading us on a journey within classical, Chinese and Indian iconography. Confronted with thought-provoking sculptures and unconventional combinations of colours and materials, the viewer attains a unitary vision, which encompasses both Ontani’s work and the Museum’s historical collection. The soundtrack is incantatory, the sculptures challenging and the movie, though definitely not overt in its intents, is a peculiar tour in the artist’s displayed artwork within such a stunning location as the Capodimonte Museum.
A similarly evocative atmosphere soaks two other works: Corsicato’s Le Heaume Enchanté on the work of Mimmo Paladino, the Transavantgarde sculptor renowned for his giant iron helms, his over-sized statues, which synthesize mysticism, contemporary art and ancient forms. And Cara Cera by Francesco Vaccaro on Naples-based artist Gregorio Botta, whose wax sculptures celebrate the pliability of this material and slow pace of creation.
The screening went on with Francesco Arena – Posatoi, a documentary shot by Domenico Palma on the work-in-progress of Posatoi, a site-specific work by artist Francesco Arena commissioned in 2014 by Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu for their property in Garrison, NY. The artwork is a sculpture featuring five bronze totems, each standing for a member of the family. Yet the artwork is not only a portrait/celebration of a family group ― their wholeness, their union ― but it concurrently hints at their discreetness as individual beings, each one of them having their own different point of view on life and reality.
The documentary that probably stood out of the crowd was Schiaffilife by Roxy in the Box, a visual artist from Naples who grew up with ArteCinema, and eventually succeeded in being part of its program ― being herself at Casa Zerilli-Marimò, she confirmed to which extent ArteCinema is treasured by Naples and her fellow citizens. Massimo Andrei’s Schiaffilife is a collage of truly ironic, madly mocking, deeply hilarious videos blending Roxy’s colorful, pop-artish art with her own story. Exaggerated and funny, the documentary is an animated, acid-colored ride through issues concerning Naples and our current times, with a critic ― at times trenchant ― take on them.
The finale was a tribute to Piero Manzoni, the artist who questioned avant-garde art with an unprecedented ironic approach. Made in concert with Piero Manzoni Foundation and benefiting from the contribution of the artist’s friends and family, along with vintage videos and archive material, Andrea Bettinetti’s Piero Manzoni – Artista, is a documentary that portrays Manzoni’s personality and his artistic path by walking us through his most famous works. Sold for astonishing sums ― an Achronome was purchased at Christie’s for $12 million dollars and change in 2013 ― “a mixture of poetry and irony”, his art relied on humorism and wit to subvert the artistic establishment. With work such as Consumption of Art by the Art-Devouring Public, in which he distributed hard-boiled eggs marked with his thumbprint to the audience, or Living Sculptures, where he signed the bodies of Azimuth Gallery’s visitors and issued them a stamped certificate, he interrogated traditional methodology of art making and investigated the ties among artistic practice.
Although we may have the feeling that the ultimate meaning of contemporary art slips away from our hands the very moment we are about to grasp it, it is helpful ― even comforting ― to know we can try our luck with art cinema for an extra support. We might keep chasing pavements. But we might just as well be presented with unexpected revelations.