The work of the Italian artist Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) has struck a major chord with the British sensibility for over half a century. Morandi's Legacy: Influences on British Art is a groundbreaking exhibition which explores his influence on British artists by juxtaposing a number of his paintings, drawings and etchings with works by such well-known and diverse figures as Patrick Caulfield, Paul Coldwell, Tony Cragg, Michael Craig-Martin, David Hockney, Christopher Le Brun, Ben Nicholson, William Scott, Euan Uglow, Rachel Whiteread, Victor Willing and Paul Winstanley. This engaging exhibition will be on view at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art Wednesday 5 April to Sunday 18 June 2006.
The exhibition is curated by the artist Professor Paul Coldwell, Postgraduate Programme Director at Camberwell College of Arts, and has been organised by the Estorick Collection in collaboration with Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal. The aim of the exhibition is not primarily to show the direct influence of Morandi on the selected 20th-century British works but rather to set up "conversations" between them and suggest connections that may not be immediately apparent in order to enhance the visual experience. It will also explore the special appeal of Morandi for the British public, who perhaps respond to the cool, muted quality of the light and the sense of understatement and reserve that mark his work.
Giorgio Morandi is one of the most admired Italian painters of the 20th century, best known for his contemplative still life paintings of familiar objects such as vases, bottles, jugs and boxes, painted in subtle combinations of colour using a narrow range of tones. Morandi lived in Bologna all his life and mainly worked in a tiny room containing a bed, writing desk, drawing table and bookcase. He never visited Britain and yet the popularity of his work has grown steadily here since the 1950s when his intimate still life paintings were first seen in this country at the Tate Gallery‚s Arts Council exhibition of modern Italian art in 1950. He has since been the subject of many solo and themed shows in major British galleries.
Although Morandi's work belongs to the traditional genres of still life and landscape painting and is characterised by the domestic and unassuming nature of its subject matter, it contains radical ideas about the nature of picture-making and artistic practice that have made it consistently relevant to subsequent generations of artists.
Frequently on the cusp of abstraction and figuration, his work‚s emphasis upon formal values has been an inspiration to artists such as William Scott and Ben Nicholson, the latter having stated: "I always paint my still lifes with Morandi in mind." Like Morandi, Scott and Michael Craig-Martin draw upon a "personal archive" of domestic objects, constantly re-arranged and combined to produce new relationships and dynamics within a restricted range of subject matter.
Morandi's interest in recording the passing of time - allowing dust to settle on his tabletop compositions - and his penetrating scrutiny of the physical world recalls Euan Uglow's essays in the mechanics of looking, whilst David Hockney's well-documented admiration for Morandi is evident in the technique of his etchings for Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm of 1969.
A particularly striking juxtaposition will be Morandi's 1944 still life pencil drawing with Rachel Whiteread's 1998 cast aluminium piece Untitled (Twenty-Four Switches). The Italian artist‚s compositions set up relationships between positive and negative space that are frequently ambiguous, making us unsure as to whether we are looking at an object or the space created between two others by their placement. This sense of ambiguity is a defining characteristic of the casting process - in which negatives are rendered as positives and vice versa - and as such is at the heart of Whiteread's work.
The objects in Morandi's paintings are often spoken of in anthropomorphic terms, his compositions being seen as "group portraits" or compared to stills from theatrical performances. This idea is explored in the Theatre of Mistakes‚ Homage to Morandi of 1980, a performance piece taking the form of a series of vignettes and tableaux in which actors gradually take the place of the minimal stage props, becoming wardrobes, chairs and suitcases. A recording of this performance will be shown in the exhibition alongside a still life of 1955 in which the two bottles ˆ one large, one small - seem to evoke the theme of mother and child.
The exhibition will include important paintings, drawings and etchings by Morandi on loan from public and private collections in Britain and Europe, including several from Italian collections such as the Museo Morandi in Bologna and the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo. Other major loans come from the British Museum, the Arts Council Collection and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, as well as the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and National Museum of Wales.
Morandi's Legacy: Influences on British Art is a deeply illuminating exhibition that will bring a new dimension to the appreciation not only of the Italian master‚s work but also of those British artists who share some of his pictorial concerns. An illustrated catalogue published by Philip Wilson accompanies the exhibition, including an essay by Paul Coldwell and interviews with several of the participating artists, discussing their interpretations of Morandi's work. Among these is sculptor Tony Cragg, who says: "one can imagine that the world would be a much poorer place without his [Morandi's] work - it is very rare in our culture that you'll find something of such intensity, in its information gathering or in its resolution of form, as in Morandi."