I found this show spectacular but a bit inscrutable. It’s summed up - though maybe not in the way the curator, Kenneth Baker, intended - by the artist’s own quote from the show notes: “When you are confronted with the work of art, either you feel that it is it, or it leaves you soulless.”
On entering the Mazzoleni gallery, behind one of Mayfair’s less functional doorbells and beyond one of its less populated front desks, I was confronted by the spectacular in search of a soul: Avvoltoio, meaning ‘vulture’, a new work, free-standing and grand, made out of burnt wood.
The feathery boards are simultaneously light (in weight) and dark in colour, organically irregular but forming a neat pattern, scrolling and unfurling across the floor like a pair of wings. It’s an impressive object in search of a meaning; craft in search of style.
Elsewhere, there are a range of wall works, incorporating lead as well as burnt wood. I wonder though what Nunzio provides the viewer, what’s new, what’s not been done. I’m thinking of his compatriot Burri’s first, and angriest, charred canvases, from half a century earlier. Or whether the arte povera group, from a couple of decades later - but still several decades ago - did more inventive and arresting things with metal. Nunzio works in Turin, home of arte povera. Does he look at that group and compare himself with them?
I liked looking at that burnt-black vulture, trapped, crouching ominously and craggily in the cool gallery space. Then I forgot it, remembering it again as I write. I thought about its soul, whether it has one, or whether I just couldn’t see it.
Then I realised I'd misunderstood Nunzio's words. In the quote from the show notes, he's talking about whether the viewer feels "soulless" after the work of art, not whether the art lacks soul. And the confusion just deepened.
Burn this review!
Nunzio - The Shock of Objectivity is at Mazzoleni (London). June 07 - September 18 2019