Currently on view at Hauser & Wirth’s expansive 22nd Street location in New York, a body of work by the Italian master Fausto Melotti spreads across the upper floors, a snaking, intricate series of pathways that draw the viewer into an intimate, almost theatrical relationship to the works on view. Presenting a series of varied scenes and arrangements of the artist’s delicate, surreal formal arrangements, the show is an exemplary demonstration of Melotti’s capacities to create other worlds and new sensations within the gallery.
At the core of the artist’s work on view is I Sette Savi (The Seven Sages) (1960), seven towering mannequins in white plaster, arranged as if in the midst of a deep conversation, a philosophical inquiry or casual discussion, around which massive rutted pathways wind and bend. Suspending time amongst these characters, notably absent any real, defining characteristics beyond the curvature of their bodies, the artist’s work feels reminiscent of surrealists like de Chirico, whose sense of reality and form moved through the human and the architectural to present something just beyond language. Melotti’s work here, by comparison, creates a new awareness, a mental shift that emphasizes space and pose rather than actual conditions or contexts, and gives rise to new conceptions of the real. This sense of the arrangement of works underscores Melotti’s fascination with text and poetics, drawing on constructs and pre-established ideas to build new languages and narratives. Melotti’s work might even be considered as an environment in and of itself, a built sphere that hovers between the earthly and the ethereal.
Elsewhere in the space, Melotti’s ceramics, which he created in response to the pain, trauma, and despair that crowded his thoughts in the aftermath of the Second World War, can be viewed. The pieces reference the bombing runs over Milan that destroyed his studio and profoundly altered his artistic vision, precipitating a literal and symbolic rupture in his idealized pursuit of abstraction. As a result, his attention shifted to the craft and production of ceramics and terracotta, a response to destruction . Rendered in polychromatic glazes, these works illustrate the artist’s urgent and necessary return to figuration that also speaks to an intimate need to connect with the human body. Using clay and terracotta to create his diorama-style Teatrini, an important series of metaphysical worlds enclosed within rectangular structures and filled with fantastical groupings of objects and figures, the artist seems to draw on lively and spontaneous narratives, an attempt to pull human and spiritual answers out from his work. This sense of the otherworldly, of the artist’s craft as a vessel to better understand, and live, in the world around him, underscores why Melotti’s work feels so vital today.
The show closes October 27th.
— D. Creahan
Fausto Melotti at Hauser & Wirth [Exhibition Site]