Gabriele Di Matteo is one of the mischievous band of Italian artists that includes Piero Manzoni to Maurizio Cattelan, who, like illusionists, like to play at reshuffling the cards of art and the art world.
When it comes to pranks, Di Matteo’s contribution is amongst the more playful: his work is an object lesson in showing that art is a fog (sfumato, as the Italians would say), white smoke that floats over the actual objects. He plays with the idea that the aura of art is more decisive than the piece of art itself, for in the end the artwork is merely an object, no more than basic worldly matter. By showing us that art is no more than white smoke (like the wreath of smoke that emerges periodically from the Vatican to signal the election of a new pope), he reminds us that he comes from the same family as Manzoni and Cattelan. Manzoni tells us that art is to be found in a balloon full of air or a sealed tin can whose contents are inevitably dematerialised. And Cattelan chose for his recent retrospective to suspend his artworks in the central air wells of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. A sort of public suicide by hanging and/or the wreath of fire from a rocket as it takes off into space.
But what exactly - now that we have told you about his aura, or rather about the manipulation that he effects with the aura of a work of art - is Di Matteo doing? He is not just interested in painting; he is passionate about it to the point of copying it, of multiplying it in order to increase the pleasure that comes from contemplating or owning it. The specific series that is exhibited here shows us the brush stroke of the true painter – a painter of the status of Van Gogh or Picasso. A painter who is a myth unto himself (to the point that one might even ask oneself if his painting is still necessary–in fact Di Matteo goes so far as to tell us that no, it’s not necessary any more; he authored a sumptuous artist’s book in which he made perfect copies of the catalogue for the 1982 Pollock exhibition at the Pompidou Centre by reproducing only those pages where the painter is shown and by leaving blank the pages on which images of the works were reproduced). Now let’s talk about Jackson Pollock. Master of dripping. A legend. And just as Pollock is a legend and everybody knows it, Di Matteo proves himself worthy of the name of pop/conceptual/appropriating artist once everyone sees it. He makes paintings that represent the painter himself: the ultimate figure of worship. And as this worship takes place through photographs (the photographs of the life of Pollock that adorn authorised biographies of the artist) he copies these photographs in paint. Yes, but now that the painter is represented and his portraits have been painted, where are the traces of this art, the aura, the smoke? Who owns it now? The artist, his follower, the copyist, you, me? The world suddenly surrenders like a vast desert filled with heart-stopping unasked questions, as overwhelming as a sandstorm.