by Dilpreet BhullarJul 22, 2023
To find resonance of the Arte Povera phenomenon in the current field of arts is not a regular occurrence. The term coined by the Italian art historian Germano Celant in the late 1960s debunked the classical logic of the art market and framework of beauty, in an effort to initiate democratic circulation of visual adherence and economy. The commotion it stirred in the face of the capitalist field of arts unravelled a lesser-spoken-about facet of the world, erected on the foundations of aesthetic sensibilities. The exhibition Human Scale at Galleria Continua, Havana with Italian multimedia artist Michelangelo Pistoletto and Cuban sculptor Yoan Capote spearheads a conversation between the artists, who are separated by distance—measured by geography and age—yet find a voice of commonality to trace the legacy of Arte Povera and the politics of materiality in contemporary times.
Human Scale brings together these two artists, whose respective practice, involves art, reality and the individual, in an extremely individualistic shape and form. The pieces in the exhibition show a clear interest in redefining the viewers’ aesthetic experience through a particular expressive power of featured materials and objects. In an interview with STIR, Niurma Pérez, gallery director of Galleria Continua, Havana, talks about the employed curatorial practices to let the works speak to each other within the framework of Arte Povera. “As a starting point, some paradigmatic works by the Italian master, Pistoletto, were selected, among them: Venus of the Rags, Caribbean Sea, Love Difference, and a series of works made with mirrors, some of which date back to 1976, which then entered into dialogue with already known works and others made especially for the exhibition, by Capote. Much of the Cuban artist's work shows a Neo Povera sensibility, conditioned at the beginning of his career by the context and its difficulties regarding access to state-of-the-art technical solutions, but at the same time by his interest in always finding the most expressive side of materials, whether humble or industrial,” shares Pérez.
In terms of the display, when the heap of rags are juxtaposed with the statue of Venus it leads to a dialogue, which could be seen as equal to the work mirror paintings. The perfection of the black statue acts as a foil to the myriad of waste, standing as the epitome of consumerism and the necessity to recycle. Here, materiality serves both as a ‘symbolic and emotional trigger.’ The visceral and tactile quality of particularly Capote's works could be gauged through the lens of weight, corrosion, fragility, and balance, which opens an opportunity for the viewers to interact with the space in a novel way.
The sea is a recurring leitmotif in the art exhibition; in the central space of the gallery, the sea connects the dialogue between the two artists. Capote's work reflects on emigration and expands upon strong meanings with social and political connotations, while Pistoletto's Caribbean Sea becomes the conciliatory scenario. The play on the texts of ‘Arrival’ and ‘Departure’ presents Pistoletto's idea of Around the World, Caribbean Sea. It creates a dialogue between an eclectic mix of cultures, languages, and political and religious visions, surrounded by the seas of Capote's Islands series, and his sculptures Self-Portrait and On our Shoulders. These works reimagine the notion of emotional weight and the spiritual burden of our body to talk about personal experiences with collective empathy and social allusion.
The exhibition subtly dismantles the inherent distinction between the outside and inside our built environment. Most of Pistoletto's works on display use mirrors, as does Capote's family portrait. The mirror places us before an infinite, changing reality, where our reflection not only describes a physical reality but also becomes a useful medium for human thought. “From the first work that we encounter, this space does not exist, made by the Italian master in 1976, there is a questioning of reality, of the notions of space and time. Capote, for his part, uses old houses and mirrors as the reference. Additionally, archival family photos are also displayed in our intimate spaces. With archaeological delicacy, he adds the quicksilver on the back, scraping and stripping it to reveal the transparency of the glass while engraving the image of the sea,” informs Pérez.
The exhibition is open to multiple readings. The phrase Love Difference rendered in deep red neon on the second floor of the gallery is a strident call to action to “define the discourse of this exhibition and its title.” The work Abstinence (tolerance) by Capote further heightens it. “For these artists, art not only goes beyond the field of aesthetics and enters the field of ethics and ideas, but also assumes real and concrete responsibilities in all areas of human life. Art becomes a necessary driving force for interaction and dialogue,” enunciates Pérez.
‘Human Scale’ is on view at Galleria Continua in Havana till May 14, 2023.