Ettore Spalletti: For I Can See With My Own Eyes How Far Off Is The Land 

 Lia Rumma, Milan

15 May - 30 September

Review from ArtReview, Issue 44, October 2010

Lia Rumma’s inaugural exhibition at her new gallery in Milan – a structure that boasts four floors, two terraces and, thanks to its large windows, plenty of natural light – is a particularly harmonious showcase for more than 20 years of Ettore Spalletti’s ‘paintings’. The Italian artist came of age in the mid-1970s and has continued to develop a practice that focuses on blurring the boundaries between painting and sculpture, abstraction and external reference. For the occasion, Spalletti has evoked Homer’s Odyssey via the show’s title: it’s a quotation that lends an air of classicism to works entrenched in a modernist aesthetic.

On the ground floor, one enters a room only to encounter another white room built within it, with a series of monochrome silver-grey panels inside. Here, a type of rope lighting gives the impression that light emanates evenly from the ceiling, lending an almost chapel like feel to the space. The artist links the silver-grey of these panels to the sea, while on successive floors the viewer is also confronted with works containing soft blues and pinks: blue, Spalletti recounts in the press release, is equivalent to atmosphere, while pink signifies flesh. On the second floor, for example, several large-scale blue panels surround the viewer, creating an atmospheric, enveloping impression of the sky. One work in particular, Untitled, Tenuous Blue (1989), draws the viewer’s gaze to three edges of the rectangle where there is a shift from blue pigment to a golden hue, a technique reminiscent of certain early Jules Olitski paintings, in which colour on the edge of the canvas is meant to emphasise the work’s flatness. Spalletti, however, seems less interested in such matters than in using the framing device as a means to indicate to the viewer how his painting extends onto the wall. Art thereby merges seamlessly with architecture, creating an environment where a theme begins to emerge, especially when surrounded by large atmospheric blue panels and plenty of natural light: that the sky is one of life’s most poetic constants.

On the third floor, three sculptures positioned on the ground are accompanied by a horizontal black panel and two vertical pink rectangles on the walls that surround them. These sculptures, entitled Lost Columns (2000), appear like isolated column fragments from an old Greek temple and reiterate the artist’s intrigue with classicism; the pink panels, meanwhile, and despite their abstract, monochromatic nature, invite one to consider potential figurative narratives due to the suggestions of flesh in their coloured pigments. One comes away feeling that Lia Rumma’s decision to inaugurate this venue with Spalletti, who is less well known than many of her stable of artists, is a demonstration of farsighted vision on her part. Evidently, she’s aware that one need not choose an internationally fashionable artist to make an opening feel grand.