Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Art review: For Adami, everything is allegory

La Nuvola‭ (‬The Cloud‭)‬,‭ (‬1991‭)‬
‭ ‬by Valerio Adami


By Jenifer‭ ‬M.‭ ‬Vogt


They may look like comic book art,‭ ‬but there is a‭ ‬perturbing sadness‭ ‬to the world that Valerio Adami creates in his large-scale paintings,‭ ‬23‭ ‬of which are currently on view until Jan.‭ ‬9‭ ‬at the Boca Raton Museum of Art in a retrospective‭ ‬exhibit that spans four decades of the Italian artist‭’‬s work.‭

The exhibit is merely a glimpse into Adami‭’‬s vast oeuvre,‭ ‬which has been shaped by global travel and friendships with some of the world‭’‬s most notable cultural icons.‭ ‬Adami‭’‬s work tells a visual story,‭ ‬allowing him to infuse social commentary in paintings that portray global hotspots such as Israel,‭ ‬India,‭ ‬Cuba,‭ ‬and the post-World War II Europe that seems the underlying theme to most of his work.‭ ‬Each painting is a visual storybook.

‭“‬Adami sees‭ ‬around him,‭ ‬in the real world,‭ ‬the world of his visions,‭ ‬a world of metaphors,‭ ‬those evocations from depiction that are replete with ideas beyond depiction,‭”‬ writes George S.‭ ‬Bolge,‭ ‬the Boca Museum‭’‬s executive director.‭ “‬He assumes all objects are inherently allegorical‭; ‬‘moderated‭’‬ by him,‭ ‬they become more intensely so.‭”

Adami was born in‭ ‬1935‭ ‬in Bologna,‭ ‬Italy.‭ ‬As a young man,‭ ‬he spent his summer vacations in Venice,‭ ‬where his ideology as an artist was shaped by meetings with prominent artistic figures,‭ ‬including W.H.‭ ‬Auden and Oscar Kokoschka.‭ ‬He went on to study art at the Academia di Brera,‭ ‬first as a draughtsman,‭ ‬but by‭ ‬1954,‭ ‬he was studying under the tutelage of the then-renowned figurative painter Achille Funi.‭

Funi‭’‬s influences had included Boccioni and the Futurists,‭ ‬whom he later rejected,‭ ‬finally settling on a style influenced heavily by Renaissance masters.‭ ‬Funi‭’‬s struggle between the old and the new may have influenced Adami‭’‬s rejection of abstract expressionism in favor of a figurative style‭ ‬with abstract elements,‭ ‬which has remained his trademark for the past‭ ‬40‭ ‬years.‭ ‬It is decidedly the struggle betwixt modernity and antiquity,‭ ‬and it remains pronounced throughout his work.

Capriccio‭ (‬Caprice‭)‬,‭ (‬1983‭)
‬by Valerio Adami‭


It‭’‬s clear that Adami‭’‬s initial training with drawing dramatically influenced his painting,‭ ‬which includes sharp lines as significant feature.‭ ‬These lines are part of his deconstruction of the human form to what is essential to capture a moment and evoke a mood.‭ ‬Each painting begins with a study and he has said,‭ “‬I look only for the anatomies and the virtue of the profile,‭ ‬the point of the pencil becomes the lamp that illuminates the path in the dark.‭”

By‭ ‬1955‭ ‬Adami was working in Paris where he became part of the‭ ‬Nouvelle Figuration movement‭ ‬— often described as the French intellectualized version of pop art.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬there were vast differences in the influences and ideologies of American and European artists at that time.‭ ‬The visual imagery in Adami‭’‬s style,‭ ‬and his use of color is,‭ ‬in fact,‭ ‬remarkably similar to the‭ ‬Action Comics‭ ‬of the‭ ‬1930s,‭ ‬which introduced the Superman character.‭ ‬But the use of a commercialized,‭ ‬glossy surface,‭ ‬unlike American pop art,‭ ‬is a tool to draw the viewer into a world of introspection and allegory,‭ ‬and not just a commentary on materialism.

Metamorfosi‭ (‬Metamorphosis‭)‬ (‬1982‭)‬
by Valerio Adami‭


In Adami‭’‬s hyperreal world,‭ ‬women are‭ ‬eroticized,‭ ‬but not romanticized.‭ ‬They are fully present,‭ ‬but menacing.‭ ‬For example,‭ ‬in‭ ‬Metamorfosi‭ ‬(1982‭)‬,‭ ‬Adami depicts Ovid‭’‬s myth of Actaeon,‭ ‬a hunter who has‭ ‬stumbled upon Diana and her nymphs bathing.‭ ‬Diana,‭ ‬irritated‭ ‬that he has seen‭ ‬her nude,‭ ‬transforms him‭ ‬into a deer.‭ ‬His dogs subsequently chase him down,‭ ‬kill him,‭ ‬and‭ ‬eat him.‭ ‬In Adami‭’‬s painting,‭ ‬Actaeon is trying to embrace Diana.‭ ‬She appears to be kissing him farewell as he morphs into a deer.‭

In Capriccio‭ ‬(1983‭)‬,‭ ‬a sturdy female figure is poised to play the violin‭ ‬– an instrument that appears multiple times throughout many of Adami‭’‬s paintings.‭ ‬As a capriccio is usually a lively,‭ ‬short musical composition,‭ ‬the message is unclear.‭ ‬The woman has a striking profile,‭ ‬her stance is elegant,‭ ‬her bosom is attractive.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬her legs are oversized and unappealing‭ ‬– they seem far too large for her body and this distortion,‭ ‬along with a skeletal arm and a heavily lined face,‭ ‬make her too harsh for feminine appeal.‭ ‬

Overall,‭ ‬Adami‭’‬s women‭ ‬are powerful,‭ ‬albeit indelicate.‭ ‬In‭ ‬La Nuvola (‬1991‭)‬,‭ ‬a woman is poised coquettishly above a man who appears either spent,‭ ‬or perhaps dead‭? ‬Though we can‭’‬t see the woman‭’‬s face,‭ ‬her body language seems triumphant.‭ ‬She seems unconcerned about the man.‭ ‬The two figures appear to be floating amidst the clouds‭ (‬nuvola translates as‭ ‬cloud‭)‬.‭ ‬A lone figure in the background rests upon a shovel,‭ ‬perhaps watching the two.‭

La Notte dello Stambecco‭ (‬The Night of the Wild Goat‭)
‬ (‬1988‭), ‬ ‭ ‬by Valerio Adami‭

The female figure in‭ ‬La Notte dello Stambecco‭ ‬(1988‭)‬ again appears triumphant and larger than life.‭ ‬She holds books and a canvas‭ ‬– perhaps Adami‭’‬s sketchbooks and painting‭? ‬She is depicted in the evening sky and the figure of a goat is upside down beneath her.‭ ‬The woman‭’‬s face is skeletal,‭ ‬empty,‭ ‬and morose.‭ ‬Though she seems to hold‭ ‬important tools of the artist‭’‬s trade,‭ ‬she take no pleasure in these possessions.

Adami has adopted his own visual language with color that is both unsettling and thought-provoking.‭ ‬While the American pop artists,‭ ‬like Warhol and Lichtenstein,‭ ‬chose cheerful color palettes,‭ ‬Adami has chosen the colors of war as the foundation for much of his work.‭ ‬His canvases contain blocks of camouflage‭ ‬— colors of war and strife.‭ ‬Shades of putrid green are often accented with blocks of assaultive yellows and‭ ‬deep,‭ ‬sanguine reds.‭ ‬Adami‭’‬s world does lure you with its charm,‭ ‬but rather its symbolism,‭ ‬which invites analysis and demands further contemplation.

While the American artists embraced the sheer commercialization of art as a rebellion against the intellectual elitism of the abstract expressionists,‭ ‬Adami,‭ ‬like many of his Europeans counterparts,‭ ‬goes deeper.‭ ‬On the surface his work seems childlike,‭ ‬his figures robotic,‭ ‬but this simplicity is what drives the work‭’‬s complexity.‭ ‬To a certain degree,‭ ‬Adami‭’‬s work is artistic journalism and he has remarked,‭ “‬Analytical drawing and figuration are forms of thought,‭ ‬the challenges to seeing,‭ ‬that new pedagogy for the education of our eyes.‭”

In‭ ‬Quadri nel Paesaggio (2008‭)‬,‭ ‬Adami paints himself‭ ‬— identifiable by his signature round glasses‭—‬ inhabiting a grayscale world.‭ ‬His foot is stuck to something and he points to a picture of a simmering volcano.‭ ‬But in front of him is a color painting that depicts crops and the hazardous figure of a locust.‭ ‬A self-commentary within the broader context of the nation of Italy and the ongoing struggle to maintain antiquity,‭ ‬it also tries to embrace a new modernity.‭

And that is‭ ‬Adami‭’‬s sheer genius,‭ ‬his ability to be both observer and participant:‭ ‬“I become a spectator and a protagonist:‭ ‬then in my unconscious other associations move.‭”‬ Like his audience,‭ ‬Adami is observer,‭ ‬but also narrator.‭

Within his art,‭ ‬he makes available his dialogue with the world-at-large,‭ ‬and we are invited to participate.‭ ‬As he has said,‭ ‬“The important thing is not to develop new possibilities of vision,‭ ‬but to clarify and organize the reality in which we live into a representation,‭ ‬to make it available.‭”

Valerio Adami‭ ‬is on view at the Boca Raton Museum of Art until Jan.‭ ‬9.‭ ‬Hours for this exhibition are Tuesday through Friday from‭ ‬10‭ ‬a.m.‭ ‬until‭ ‬6‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Wednesday from‭ ‬10‭ ‬a.m.‭ ‬until‭ ‬9‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬and Saturday and Sunday from noon until‭ ‬6‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Admission is‭ ‬$8‭ ‬for adults,‭ ‬$6‭ ‬for seniors,‭ ‬and‭ ‬$4‭ ‬for students.‭ ‬For more information call‭ ‬561-392-2500,‭ ‬or visit www.bocamuseum.org.‭

Jenifer‭ ‬Mangione Vogt is a marketing communications professional and resident of Boca Raton.‭ ‬She‭’‬s been enamored with painting for‭ ‬most of her life.‭ ‬She studied art history and‭ ‬received her B.A.‭ ‬from Purchase College.

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