Kurt Wenner, River God Detail
Museo d’Arte Moderna, Gazoldo degli Ippoliti.
Attached below is a link to a PDF of the catalog for a show I did at the Museo d’Arte Moderna, Gazoldo degli Ippoliti. The show was curated by Paola Artoni and Paolo Bertelli, with a preface by Renzo Margonari. Great Mantuan memories!
Here is the excellent preface in English by Renzo Margonari, (a corrected Google translation):
The performance piece – not unique in Mantua – that Kurt Wenner made on the asphalt on the occasion of Pope Wojtiwa’s visit to the Graces (about 23 meters high and 4.5 wide) was a colossal and exceptional undertaking in many respects. Not only for its spectacular dimensions and the dozens of anatomical figures large to life, but also for the fact that it is an ephemeral work, done in chalk and destined to disappear in a few days. Wenner must have worked in a spiritual state similar to that of Buddhist monks when they perform, concentrating days and days, the large and very complicated mandalas, depositing colored powders that the slightest breath of air disperses. The work is also exceptional for the theme undertaken: a Last Judgment, inspired by Michelangelo’s iconographic program but adapted to more Baroque than Renaissance similes, and studded with numerous optical deceptions. The undertaking illustrated Wenner’s imaginative capacity with its aesthetic quality and the beauty of the form for which, without exaggerating with silly comparisons referring to the Sistine, one can easily evoke the name of Luca Giordano. to illustrate to the detractors of modern art, according to whom today we do not paint like the ancients because we would not be able, that such work is still possible. It is just a poetic choice. There are in fact numerous contemporary artists who love to confront the themes and the great protagonists of artistic history, and they are numerous enough to be a trend. In painting there is a sort of temporal unlimitedness so that you can proceed over time having a path already traced in front of you.
See more about the Last Judgement here: https://kurtwenner.com/the-last-judgment/
Using the pragmatic American mentality, Wenner thought of approaching the problem as accepting a sports competition. But his reaction to the ancient example was different from that of Picasso who, pausing in front of Mona Lisa, the merry one, commented: “It can be done”. In this only apparently paradoxical statement Picasso is highly credible, but he did not stand to prove his conviction, while hundreds of copyists have churned out remakes of Leonardo’s work. Wenner, on the other hand, stands head down with the conviction that he can achieve the goal: a good quarterback must run fast, avoid tackles and reach touch-down; he can have no doubts. Therefore sets himself no limits when making use of a fervent imagination that inscribes him among the most interesting authors of a visionary vein. He paints fake domes asa a homage to Andrea Pozzo, who famously produced treatises transmitted in the Per- spectiva pictorum et architectorum, 1693-1702, (most spectacular of all is for me the fake dome of the church of Sante Flora e Lucilla, Arezzo, where in certain light conditions one does not realize that it is a large circular canvas a few meters from the ground, but the gaze stretches to the luminous eye of the lantern which appears tens of meters higher). All fake. But Wenner also overturns the normative calculation of those artifices by creating dizzying chasms under our feet from which suffering beings emerge with difficulty climbing, or he invents disturbing whirlpools of water in pools inhabited by newts and sirens, winged figures or ichthyoforms, he paints vast tanks that are actually a palm wide. And in all this the quality of the drawing always remains very high, endowed with an elegant sign, a frank and even captivating, attractive touch, a color that has not so much to do with classic paintings as with Hollywood Technico- lor, great risk on the edge of kitsch, but avoiding the useless and cloying minutiae, used by trompe-l’oeil painters from the nineteenth century to our times and which in itself does not attest to good painting.
Model for a Sculpture of “Time,” Museo d’Arte Moderna, Gazoldo degli Ippoliti
But anamorphosis is not a real trompe-l’oeil, that is, an imitation of truth so precise as to be deceiving so much as to appear tactile real. Instead, it is the result of very precise and sophisticated geometric calculations: therefore not a product of the maximum pictorial mimetic ability, basically linked to skill, but the result of a design ability that can be learned and taught. Jurgis Baltruaitis has been investigating these issues in depth since 1955, and it would be worth reading his essays on the subject to visit with adequate opportunity to enjoy the accelerated or slowed perspective, anamorphosis, catrottica, the most evident aspects of ‘Wennerian imaginary. It is an amazing anachronistic operation that would not avoid the unrealistic if it were not modernly imbued with the playful factor, a current value decidedly internal to the Western Epicurean morality of our years. Because we live in rich countries, it is ideal to represent the imaginary in a form that the bourgeoisie can acquire as its own culture without a sense of inferiority, indeed confirming their consolidated certainties and thus recovering the evocative moral force of the myth by adding the all-modern surplus of captivating packaging. Art-show, rich art, strongly sedimented and rooted, extraneous to the problematic uncertainties of chance, and revolutionary claims of the avant-gardes which, moreover, have not been able to concentrate either a unitary image, or a style capable of distilling the thousand contradictions that have characterized the philosophy of the last century. Wenner’s work – which he, among other things, also expresses plastically as a sculptor with a neoclassical vein, and architecturally disguising drugstores and anonymous houses as Greek temples, or designing eclectic buildings that would have delighted delight the skilled decorator and ceramist John Ruskin (especially ideal for decorating churches in style): Wenner’s work does not express any nostalgia. While it juxtaposes classical art alongside the anachronisms, it is marked by the very high poetic intensity, which has punctuated the development of the experimentalisms begun at the end of the nineteenth century. It is therefore equally modern, considering the living meaning of the social environment to which it addresses, of the history it lives, of the thought it illustrates.
Download the PDF with the Italian version of this text:
Kurt Wenner at the Museo d’Arte Moderna