I had two tabs open for weeks now. One on the Bologna Massacre, a tragic episode in Italian history when an attack carried out by a neo-fascist group killed 85 people and wounded 200 on the 2nd of August 1980. The other open tab was on the Painter's Studio of Courbet. The Painter's Studio was created in 1855.
In January this year, on a trip to Milan, I had a few hours left and the chance to see the famous show about Romanticism. There was an entire section dedicated to portraits of artists' studios, and, alongside these, paintings of scenes from the Italian Risorgimento, the period in which Italy was unified and the Italian state was created. The scenes depicted were cruel and violent: a child laid dead on the floor, while in the background the cities rose. The unification was a violent process, it didn't occur organically, it was imposed, and where there is imposition people fight back.
I returned back to Berlin soon after, and at a dinner with a friend we got to speaking about Italy and Milan, and somehow we ended up talking about the Italian youth culture phenomenon from the 80s which is known as Paninaro. I suddenly thought that the idea to create a show which would center around a Paninaro artist would be somehow a fitting proposition for a group show. The phenomenon always interested me. There were magazines printed, and most of the youth in big cities celebrated the fashion of the Paninaro.
At the same time in Italy a very difficult political climate was forming, in the context of the ratcheting global instability of the Cold War's uncertain denouement. There were multiple terrorist attacks carried out by left- and right-wing extremists, political figures kidnapped, and anti-mafia lawyers being blown up on highways. And then, on a larger scale, the proxy conflicts and escalating threats between the U.S. and Soviet Union.
And then there were the kids in Italy, the Paninari eating burgers, hanging outside McDonald's, wearing Timberlands and big sweatshirts and puffy coats which emulated the rich and famous from Aspen, and they didn't seem to worry. A pair of fresh Timbs and a ride with your ragazza on your Ciao motorino were enough to keep them going.
The portraits I had seen in Milan of the romantic painters in their studios — or just the studios alone — offered up the prospect of laying someone's work process bare, and letting the spectator be part of a creative environment and the painter's life. All of a sudden art was not anymore about allegory or complicated mythology, it was about a human — sadly at the time mostly male — showing his world. His interior world and his struggles. How he lived and how he put himself in-scene. These paintings didn't help me understand the critical and violent times of the 19th century, they sort of veiled them and made life look dandy and chic.
The Paninaro did mostly the same. He put himself in-scene, made it look like all is fine, siding with American youth culture and capitalism, veiling history in idealism.
The show will be a portrait of an artist studio in the tradition of romantic portraiture of the artist in his studio. It will be a tableau vivant brought into the present. The works become like props to serve an idea and to create a playful setting.
"L'Artista Paninaro" doesn't aim to discuss history now, but might one day serve as a document of a political and cultural moment, the works on display certainly evoke and reflect upon many issues we are facing today.
Text number two, a few words on the works. A little side note.
Davide's works reflect on the environment and its rapid decay. Ellinor, Elizabeth and Mikael's work on the playfulness and humour one has to always have to get over every day life. Filippo's work touches on the split self, the constant fomo, the search for the soulmate. His other work is placed in Berlin and can never stand in relation with the one in Vienna because the works, like us today, can't face themselves, as we can't face ourselves. Natalia's works mimic a phenomenon of trolling, politics digested through Facebook or message boards, where anything can become a meme. Alex's photo reflects our ability to mimetize, hide, filter in and out through technology. Jakob's work is an iconography of American politics and the their decay, from super-power to being reduced to ridicule. Lindsay's work reflects our broken, fragile self, the chair stands barely on its own and wears big boots to boost its confidence, but everyone can see, the chair is just a sad symbol of its glory days. Simon's jacket hangs inside out, once standing for a political group, then converted to a fashion icon, now it is just a piece of fabric, hungry for more, consumed way too fast. We process and digest faster and words end up being just words. Bruno's silver scroll holds those words, captures poetry in fine metal just as we like to adorn ourselves in fine designer clothes, and Edin's painting captures a landscape; the garden of Eden we dream about in our lunch breaks eating a sad sandwich, hoping for a more healthy life, to get back to nature, a nature we try desperately to save. Our generation is the most hopeful, seemingly outfitted with all the tools one needs to make life better and more comfortable, and yet all future prospects seem to increasingly recede before us.
Photography: Maximilian Anelli-Monti