Mimmo Paladino’s Symbolic Humans Bridge Antiquity and Modernity

Artsy Editorial
Nov 17, 2015 9:12PM

It’s difficult to categorize the work of the prolific Italian artist Mimmo Paladino. But many of the pieces currently featured in “Works in Transition,” a special exhibition at Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, have something rather noticeable in common—an image of the human head.

Stupor mundi, 2010
Zane Bennett Contemporary Art

The motif appears in a variety of forms throughout the exhibition: gracefully elongated and embedded in glittering gold in the lithograph-and-mosaic Stupor Mundi (Head) (2011); in silhouette in the colorful woodblock print Stupor Mundi (2010); and primitive-looking and overlaid with numerals in California suite 6 (2004). 

It’s clear here that Paladino takes inspiration from a variety of sources, including ancient Egyptian art, Etruscan art, and tribal art. His human figures aren’t realistic or naturally proportioned, but rather simplified and highly stylized— more like symbols of humans than images of actual people. At times, his work brings to mind the Modernist tradition of incorporating primitivist motifs. 

In his native Italy, Paladino has long been associated with the Italian Transavanguardia (“beyond the avant-garde”) movement—a version of Neo-Expressionism—and he’s credited for helping revive painting in the late 1980s in Milan. At different points in his career he has focused on drawing, which has informed his monochromatic paintings, printmaking, and sculpture.

Left: Installation view of “Mimmo Paladino: Works in Transition” courtesy of Zane Bennett Contemporary Art. Right: Installation view of Mimmo Paladino, Senza titolo, at the Italian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale. Photo by Alex John Beck for Artsy.


“Works in Transition” includes all of these different media. At the center of the exhibition is a rough-hewn sculpture of one of Paladino’s enigmatic human figures on horseback. The work calls to mind a majestic installation of 30 carved horses emerging from a “salt mountain” (made with resin) that he created in at Milan’s Piazzetta Reale in 2011, as well as his contribution to the 56th Venice Biennale this year, Senza titolo (2015), an installation featuring a sculptural human figure surrounded by white walls scrawled with charcoal markings. The exhibition brings to light Paladino’s elegant embrace of antiquity and modernity—a mix that has become, in short, his hallmark.

Bridget Gleeson

Mimmo Paladino: Works in Transition” is on view at Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, Oct. 30–Nov. 27, 2015.

Follow Zane Bennett Contemporary Art on Artsy.

Artsy Editorial