On Giorgio Andreotta Calò’s Primordial, Totemic Forms

Giorgio Andreotta Calò’s dense, archaic-looking sculptures combine the symbolic forms of ancient cultures with the reductivism of modern and contemporary art. His work refers obliquely to the body and conjures images of magical rites enacted long ago, rediscovered for present audiences.

In his first solo show at London’s SPROVIERI, Calò, an Italian sculptor, photographer, and performance artist, presents “La scultura lingua morta III.” No doubt referencing a 1945 text by sculptor Arturo Martini, the exhibition’s title translates to “Sculpture a Dead Language III,” and indeed Calò’s work appears like something hauled from an archaeological dig or an ancient tomb. The materials he uses are plain—wood, bronze, clay—and the forms look corroded and archaic, as well as totemic. As Calò once explained, “I am more interested in the paradox of adopting a system so old that it stems from the origins of figurative art to create a contemporary vision of the present, and to do it in a place given over to the art of our times.”

Calò’s work carries an air of mystery, refusing to resolve into references to artifacts or incidental ruins. Two artworks, Clessidra (Hourglass) (2007–2015) and Clessidra (Hourglass) (2013), are large pillars made from a great post whittled at the middle to form a thin waist. The latter is cast in bronze; the former is wood and clay. Knots in its body have been retained, revealing themselves as memories of branches sprouting from the trunk. Clay has been applied to its form, and the entire thing form appears weathered and decayed. It recalls the work of sculptor David Adamo, at once finely crafted and spontaneous.

Some pieces, such as Untitled (2015), hark back to the work of artists from earlier periods: here, to the surrealism of sculptor Alberto Giacometti. The piece is a modestly sized bronze, with a branching, organic base and a scaly, pendant-like body in a flattened teardrop shape. The body resembles an eye, tooth, leaf, and shield, and brings up a myriad of archetypal associations.

Medusa (2015) is a similarly haptic sculpture—you can feel it with your eyes. Its bust-like form looks like a head, the mythical hair made from snakes reduced to ragged-looking sections of metal. Most of the artwork’s surface is beautifully patinated, with brown, purple, and gray hues overlapping and mingling. Medusa’s serrated neck is rendered as roughly hewn metal, warped by heat and labor. The entire piece is mounted on a thin metal base and a tripod-like four-legged stand, resembling a prize or an unexplainable machine.

The sculptures, pulled into the present from another time, represent possibilities for human life in the future. In an era when mass-produced goods are widely available and civil leaders worry about spiritual decay, Calò’s blend of mystical pre-modern images presented as contemporary totems resurrect a sense of primordial humanity, essential to life on Earth.

Stephen Dillon

Giorgio Andreotta Calò: La scultura lingua morta III” is on view at SPROVIERI, London, Mar. 5–Apr. 25, 2015.

Discover more artists at SPROVIERI on Artsy.