In 1967, Italy’s Arte Povera artists, the radicals of their time, were hanging out at the Piper Club, a nightclub of, by and for the avant-garde in Turin. At a nighttime happening, young women danced in tunics made of polyurethane birch logs and ponchos studded with foam rocks resembling riverbeds. Like elves of nature, the dancers frolicked on “nature carpets”, foam carpets made by the Turin artist Piero Gilardi. Guests sipped their Camparis lying on mock cabbage patches.
In the radical sass of a forest glade-like nightclub, Gilardi delivered a serious message, embodying the ecological lesson of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”” wrote a few years ago: Chemicals were poisoning the earth. Nature begins at home. Live with it, respect it, protect it.
Now, some 55 years later, in the show “Gilardi: Tappeto-Natura” At the Magazzino Museum of Italian Art in Cold Spring, NY, two long-legged models dressed in the same tunic survey more than half a century of Gilardi’s natural rugs, as if gazing at a farmers’ market during a summer of watermelon.
Magazzino takes the same environmental message to another institution just down the street in Garrison, Manitoba/Russel Wright Design Centerr, an architectural version of Gilardi’s nature rugs. Magazzino presented Milan-based design firm Formafantasma with what is essentially a modernist treehouse, where its two directors, Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, refreshed the wooden structure with a subtle placement of its own organic product designs throughout. the organic building.
In hindsight, given the current environmental crisis, Gilardi’s natural rugs and Russel Wright’s wooden structure, both from the 1960s, are historically prescient examples of art with an environmental message – although Gilardi and Wright have sounded the same alarm through different artistic expressions: iconoclast, contemporary impertinence against Walden Pond.
At Magazzino, Gilardi sculpted a roughly hewn Technicolor landscape of fruits and vegetables from the most synthetic industrial materials, polyurethane painted with synthetic pigment. On thick contoured beds of moss, he stuck sea urchins, pumpkins, ears of corn, grapes, even the occasional passing armadillo. “Furniture” allowed families to experience the idea of the outdoors in their living room, reconnecting city life to an increasingly fragile and defensive nature. He was bringing nature into the overindustrialized world that was killing it.
Gilardi, now 79 and living in Turin, was an intellectual nomad, in and out of the art world, pursuing ideas ranging from ecology to digital technology to community art. But in his 60-year career, the backbone of his production has remained nature rugs, a genre to which he returned almost every decade, always with an ecological message delivered with modest delirium: brightly colored, slightly caricatural, sometimes exaggerated. pieces that escaped the dominant hand of a master. He was a Geppetto, an anti-Michelangelo carving cheap material incapable of the refinement of a masterpiece. He seemed to be mocking the item while he was making it.
In 1966, Gilardi was already dreaming of bringing all the rugs together in one space, an idea that curator Elena Re honored at Magazzino. Natural carpets form a small field, each tile of this man-made but cornucopian paradise charming in its own microcosmic way, some alive with fluorescent greens, others topped with seagulls soaring above the ocean. A carpet is fixed to the wall on an axis, as if to say that carpets are not precious, but sold by the meter.
In Italy, the nascent environmental movement was one of many forces breaking the country’s long tradition of classical masterpieces that seemed to block art’s entry into contemporary life. Across Western Europe and the United States, a new era was dawning on an older one. Students rose up against consumerism. Television has swallowed lives. A decade of social turmoil has proven particularly violent in Italy, with bloody protests and weekly kidnappings.
Radicalized artists and designers have drawn inspiration from Italy’s storied artistic and architectural past to create a future that speaks to changing times. Gilardi traversed the art world, escaping success, fame and signing as he migrated through a succession of interests, reinventing himself and then disappearing. He traveled extensively outside of Italy, including New York, to understand the ever-changing panorama of art. To maintain his artistic autonomy at the start of his career, Gilardi rejected the gallery system, breaking ties with several galleries, including Sonnabend in Paris. Back home in Turin, he integrated with workers and activists in collaborative art projects aimed at involving communities. Democratic art had to be accessible and artists had to remain free.
Gilardi became an early member of the Arte Povera (“poor art”) group, anti-formalist artists who produced anti-masterpieces using everyday materials, often casually assembled: concept rather than beauty mattered. American land artists left the gallery system to work in the landscape. Gilardi brought the landscape inside.
Open since 2017, Magazzino is a US airstrip for Arte Povera and other post-war and contemporary Italian works. Gilardi’s rugs culminate a suite of lit Magazzino galleries containing Arte Povera classics, all displaying attitude more than form. The galleries loop around a courtyard in a former farmhouse warehouse – magazzino means warehouse in Italian – remodeled into a museum in a white, minimalist style by the Spanish architect Miguel Quismondo.
With bright interiors, the immaculate yet unassuming building is a subtle container for his subversive and challenging art, and a geometric leaf of the surrounding landscape, which itself embodies the lessons suggested by Gilardi’s micro-ecosystems. Meadows lined with native plants give way to an orchard and a protected wetland beyond. The sculpture is embedded episodically in the lawns. A corral of 16 donkeys just up the hill suggests the museum’s rural affinity. Black bears occasionally observe the scene from the hill. A new monumental wing is under construction, designed by renowned Madrid minimalist Alberto Campo Baeza, in collaboration with Quismondo.
Magazzino has cultivated relationships with other Hudson Valley institutions, including Manitoba/Russel Wright Design Center, a famous house built into a ledge of rocks overlooking a freshwater pool that was once a quarry. The Wright Center, in collaboration with Magazzino, invited Trimarchi and Farresin of Formafantasma to comment on the house with their own contemporary product designs.
Like Gilardi’s carpets, Wright’s design, an implosion of nature built into a hillside from 1958 to 1961, was ecologically prescient, with its earthen roof and interior columns made of felled tree trunks in the surrounding woods. In its relationship to nature, its design perhaps even surpasses Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater (no relation), and takes its place among the great houses of early modernism, including the Farnsworth House outside of Chicago, and the Eames, Stahl and Schindler housesall in Los Angeles.
Wright designed her home to saturation with handmade details, such as fluttering butterflies in acrylic door panels, as if flying through amber. Wright was an industrial designer, best known for the American Modern tableware series, but he spent years perfecting a house that, reflecting Japanese inspiration, lives in nature rather than looking at it: the house disappears into the woods which swallow him up. Yet he wisely weaves acrylic and fiberglass with natural materials. Like Vivaldi, Wright composes for the seasons, designing panels and fabrics to change in the fall and spring. He tuned and played the house like an instrument.
In the current exhibition, Formafantasma? the exhibition designer for the central pavilion and armory at this year’s Venice Biennale? seamlessly suited their contemporary pieces into interiors. Lighting from its Delta collection, a discreet wall lamp of two lunar discs, one reflecting and the other eclipsing, illuminates the entrance. By recycling animal parts, Formafantasma has designed glass carafes stoppered with stoppers made of cow vertebrae. A chandelier above the dining table made of resin-covered cow bladders cascades through a double-height space beside a cliff of cyclopean rock.
The organic design is not dated: the original interior and the new parts blend together.
The rooms above the living room have been converted into a gallery of Wright’s domestic drawings, specimens selected by veteran New York curator Donald Albrecht, and displayed in sleek, curving cases of blond wood by the New York architect Wendy EvansJoseph.
The main house opens onto a pathway that climbs to the nearby guest bedroom and studio, where Wright invented every detail. The windows surrounding the studio disappear out of sight into waist-high boundary walls, transforming the room into an open-air pavilion. The studio opens onto a lunar terrace, which in turn leads to trails that meander through the surrounding wilderness, 75 acres of an estate entirely owned by nature.
Wright and his wife, Mary Small Einstein Wright, named the Manitoga estate after the Algonquin word meaning “place of great spirit.” The house, inside and out, appears as a momentary pause in the landscape, a halt in the spirit of things, a carpet of nature in nature.
Through Jan. 9 at Magazzino Italian Art Museum, 2700 Route 9, Cold Spring, NY; 845-666 7202, magazzino.art. Advance reservations are requested.
Formafantasma at Manitoga’s Dragon Rock: Designing Nature
Manitoga/The Russel Wright Design Center, 584 Route 9D, Garrison, NY; 845-424-3812; visitmanitoga.org. Advance reservations are required for access to the house, studio and interior quarry landscape.