Images of Italy
Contemporary Photography from the Deutsche Bank Collection in Milan

The poetic clarity of neorealism, the subtle colors of Luigi Ghirri, Heidi Specker's excursions into Giorgio de Chirico’s apartment: the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan is showing Italy through the lens of German and Italian photo artists and developing insights far removed from all clichés. Immagini dell'Italia presents photographs from Deutsche Bank’s headquarters in the Bicocca area of Milan, from the bank building on Via Turati, and from the bank’s branch in Rome. The exhibition brings together works from the 1950s to the present day. They all relate to Italian history and culture, albeit in very different ways. But no matter whether the pictures reflect the phenomena of mass tourism, the legacy of modernism, or the classical beauty of architecture and landscape, the focus is always on formal experimentation, as well as on an aesthetic or social vision of Italy. The location of the exhibition also plays a role: the contemporary photography corresponds to the opulent neoclassical interior of the Villa Reale, which houses GAM, a museum featuring eighteenth- to twentieth-century art.

Naturally, the show begins with images of Italy, whose motifs are combined with collective memories, emotions, and the touristic view. The latter is called into question. In our globalized world, Venice can also be in the middle of Las Vegas. Here, in the middle of the desert Armin Linke photographed the "Venetian Hotel," which presents itself as a commercialized compact edition of the lagoon city, complete with the Canal Grande and Rialto Bridge. Venice, a city steeped in history that today is struggling with mass tourism and ecological problems, is copied here in a purified form. Such appropriations show how powerful the cliché images of Italy are. It is precisely these historical monuments and of course also the Arcadian landscapes that have shaped the image of the "bel paese" worldwide – reproduced millions of times by magazines, travel brochures, and websites. Or postcards such as those collected by conceptual artist Jonathan Monk at flea markets for his work The collectors' leftovers. The previous owners were less interested in the pictures of the Trevi Fountain or St. Mark's Square than in the stamps. Now, the upper left-hand corner is missing on all of the postcards, which humorously counteracts the motifs depicted.

In the first section of the exhibition, the photographers contrast classic postcard views with their own distinctive view of Italy. One of them is Luigi Ghirri, who is particularly interested in the everyday, the peripheral. His subtle photographs give back the aura even to tourist attractions such as the Parco dei Mostri. In contrast, Vincenzo Castella and Giovanni Chiaramonte focus soberly and distantly on large cities: while in Castella urban structures of Milan overlap, in Chiaramonte Rome’s history and present intersect. Both photographers participated in Ghirri's legendary 1984 exhibition Viaggio in Italia. The show presented a group of photographers who were concerned with an image of the country far removed from all clichés. Candida Höfer and Olaf Metzel look at Italy from the outside, showing architectures in which high but also everyday culture manifests itself: the opulent reading room of the Biblioteca Riccardiana in Florence and a beach bar on the Adriatic. The large-format works lend their motifs an almost magical presence – and let us see them with new eyes.

Artists who work with staging, montage, and digital image processing are showcased in the second section. In 2011, Adrian Paci welcomed more than 700 people to a square of the Sicilian baroque city of Scicli with a handshake. The Encounter alludes to Paci's identity as a migrant: the artist fled Albania with his family. The ancient ritual of shaking people’s hands symbolizes opening oneself up to others who have found a new home in Italy. Martin Liebscher and Moira Ricci also put themselves in the limelight. Liebscher's panorama functions as an ironic commentary on the traditional genre of the "self-portrait." For A Lidiput, Ricci went to a beach, where she stages herself as a Gulliver-like figure. In spite of her size, she is not noticed by bathers – a poignant symbol of alienation.

The last section deals with interior and exterior views, but also examines Italy's cultural heritage. Heidi Specker and Günther Förg investigate modernity and explore architectures and their structures, and contextualize them. Luca Andreoni and Antonio Fortugno prove that architectural photography can also be symbolically charged. In their photographs taken in Valle d'Aosta, they make tunnels appear like gates to another world. Luca Vitone's wall installation Mare Nostrum completes the circle of the exhibition. Postcards of beach promenades and sunsets form a silhouette of Italy on blue waves. With gentle irony, Vitone presents his homeland as an idyll, but at the same time puts the country’s role in history and the present up for discussion.

Immagini dell'Italia
September 26  – October 28, 2019
Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan