Michele Chiossi: "Finally, art has also restarted. But we need to work harder and better."


Interview with Michele Chiossi, one of the leading contemporary marble sculptors, who discusses his new projects and offers his views on the contemporary Italian scene.

With Art Week in Milan, we can officially say that the contemporary art world is back in full swing, live. Among theartists in pole position is Michele Chiossi (Lucca, 1970), one of the most well-known and interesting names in contemporary marble sculpture in Italy. Chiossi presented his latest works at the ongoing Orbital exhibition at the Vivienne Westwood boutique in Milan. We caught up with the artist to let him tell us about his latest works and his views on the restart of the Italian scene. The interview is edited by Federico Giannini.

Michele Chiossi
Michele Chiossi

Yourexhibition at the Vivienne Westwoodboutique in Milan, your latest project, is coming to anend .Can you tell us about this exhibition? How did it go?

Orbital is the second project I am doing at Vivienne Westwood (the first exhibition, titled Artyvisme, was held in 2018): I am the only artist to have exhibited at their place in Italy, and for this second project I was invited as part of an event at this year’s Fuori Salone. The exhibition was fortunately a success: the title refers to an installation composed of a zigzag marble and steel sculpture, which is my hallmark, suspended like a piece of furniture by Calder, and in which I reinterpreted the Vivienne Westwood logo, with a critical text by Marco Tagliafierro. I have often worked on the appropriation of images, of company logos, of emoji that I rework in a postproduction process, and I did it in this case with the Vivienne Westwood logo, inserting it in a backdrop and creating this spatial installation composed of panels covered with a wallpaper made for Creative Space, a company made in Italy that makes part papers and wall decorations. It is a very veined Carrara marble, in which I wanted to see a kind of space, a galaxy, where I inserted, always painting them in zigzags, emoji of the stars, of the sun, of the moon, of Saturn, and for Vivienne’s event I also inserted her logo, the Orb, in which I tried to see a saturnine, spatial form, to be re-represented by placing it in this cosmic sphere, and creating a new cosmogony with the sculpture that revolves around it. Then, in this very large boutique, arranged on two floors in Corso Venezia in Milan, I exhibited other pieces, all produced between 2020 and 2021, which although not created for the event are part of a selection of works that have a linguistic contingency with the world of Vivienne Westwood (of whom, moreover, I am also a brand ambassador). Thus, a more extensive exhibition was born, one that does not stop only at the showcase: it is a universe that orbits around the world of Vivienne Westwood. So I presented other works: bronze sculptures, aluminum sculptures, paintings, a sculpture from 2000 (the most “historical” of those on display: it is my homage to Botticelli’s Venus for a project I did in Florence, titled precisely The Birth of Venus), a series of paintings from the solo show Inter Caelum et Terram that was held at Galerie21 in Livorno last year, and then new sculptures like Save the Fate Tattoo: “save the fate” is a motto I coined last year between the first and second lockdowns, paraphrasing the typical “save the date” of events at a time when events were banned and consequently there’there were no more “dates” to save, either private or especially public, so I turned it into “fate” (“destiny,” “fate”). I strongly believe in this infusion or channeling of energy: it is something salvific, something positive, which I then turned into mirror sculpture. An idea that moreover is related to a tattoo I got as a result of a project I did last year, just when the motto was born, rereading the old school of tattoos: the motto then became a black marble sculpture illuminated with LEDs, visible in the boutique.

This is not the first time that your art meets fashion: it is a world to which you are very attached....

It’s true, it’s a world I like very much: on a personal level I appreciate the possibility that fashion gives you to be able to express yourself projected into society through clothing, through accessories. Also in the past I have also worked with some companies, for example with Les Copains and with Vivienne Westwood herself for the Artyvisme exhibition. I consider my work, or many of my works, as still lives or as still lifes: I did classical and academic studies and I have always been struck by this subject, since the first representation of the still life theme, even in sculpture, in Greek reliefs, in Pompeii, in Herculaneum, all the way to the seventeenth century, to the Flemish and Italian schools. I have always admired the visual seduction of a genre that may appear simple at first glance but which conceals, only to reveal, messages of another kind, a bit like what happens in Caravaggio’s Basket with the wormy apple. I find that the transience of fashion somehow comes close to the idea of still life: then just think of the representations of popes, kings, rulers over the centuries and how costume has also connoted, for example, social positions throughout history. I really love this aspect of fashion, I like how it is codifying.

We were saying that many of the pieces on display at Orbital were born between 2020 and 2021. How did you go through the period of forced lockdown that we were forced into by the pandemic?

That’s an interesting question because we all went through, and I think we are still partly going through, a very particular period. I am characteristically always a positive person, and despite the difficulties that were really contingent, I tried to take that period to my advantage. On the one hand, I was lucky because coincidentally, before the March 2020 lockdown, I left Milan after 20 years for an unspecified period and came back to live in Versilia, so I was also lucky enough to have a garden where I could devote myself to taking care of plants, flowers, an activity that I really enjoy and that gave me the opportunity to have a private outdoor space. During the first lockdown there was the most beautiful spring of our lives, with heat that we had never seen in March and April, and we could not enjoy it because we were all cooped up in the house-I luckily got to be outside a little bit. Then I had another good fortune, because at the beginning of 2019 I started painting again, with a new technique of painting on polyester that I then apply to marble. And as luck would have it, I bought enough polyester to work at home: most of my sculptural work, 95 percent of it, I do in workshops, and at that time it was obviously not possible to go to the workshop. So I was lucky because in the first lockdown I painted a lot and thought about possible works to make once we were in a position to leave the house again. During the second lockdown, that is, during last winter, I painted blooming wallpapers for Creative Space, and so it was a time of great reflection and, as far as I am concerned, also of productivity.

Michele Chiossi, Orbital (2021; marmo statuario, acciaio, corde nautiche, 100x100x62 cm). Su gentile concessione dell'artista e Vivienne Westwood Milano
Michele Chiossi, Orbital (2021; statuary marble, steel, nautical ropes, 100x100x62 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Vivienne Westwood Milan.
Michele Chiossi, Mnemosine (2021; marmo statuario, acciaio, car varnish, 64 x 38 cm). Su gentile concessione dell'artista
Michele Chiossi, Mnemosyne (2021; statuary marble, steel, car varnish, 64 x 38 cm). Courtesy of the artist
Michele Chiossi, Save the Fate tattoo (2021; marmo Marquina, acciaio, led, 120 x 32 x 12 cm). Su gentile concessione dell'artista
Michele Chiossi, Save the Fate tattoo (2021; Marquina marble, steel, led, 120 x 32 x 12 cm). Courtesy of the artist
Michele Chiossi, Cimopolea (2021; bronzo, palladio, candela, 37x18 cm). Su gentile concessione dell'artista
Michele Chiossi, Cimopolea (2021; bronze, palladium, candle, 37 x 18 cm). Courtesy of the artist
Michele Chiossi, Natura Naturante (2020; marmo, poliestere, smalti, acciaio verniciato, 64 x 31 x 4 cm). Su gentile concessione dell'artista e Galerie21
Michele Chiossi, Natura Naturante (2020; marble, polyester, enamel, painted steel, 64 x 31 x 4 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Galerie21
Michele Chiossi, Save the Fate Mediterranea (2021; specchio, alluminio, bronzo, candele, incensi, 74 x 60 cm). Su gentile concessione dell'artista
Michele Chiossi, Save the Fate Mediterranea (2021; mirror, aluminum, bronze, candles, incense, 74 x 60 cm). Courtesy of the artist

Reflection but also return to your origins, since you are nevertheless originally from Versilia and spent the first part of your life here.

Yes, although I am not really from Versilia but from Tuscany: my mother was from Lucca and my father from Emilia, but I did all my studies in Tuscany and part of my life was spent precisely in Versilia. Then as an adult I discovered Carrara and Pietrasanta and their workshops: this is my place of choice and also of the heart, where I can realize all my projects and dreams, it is a place to which I am very attached, I like it from the natural point of view, I like the view of the rock, the stone, the Apuan Alps, I love its nature so beautiful and wild, its sea, the sociability of Versilia and Forte dei Marmi. There is in short a nice balance, and although Milan is also in my heart I often try to return to Versilia.

How, on the other hand, was your return to Milan and with the big events? Orbital was part of Art Week, and although we had a somewhat muted Art Week this year compared to previous years, for obvious reasons, it was still the first opportunity the contemporary art world had to come together ...

It was a great joy to come back in the week of Miart and Art Week to meet again with friends, collectors, gallerists, artists after two years of social: with some we had obviously seen each other live as well, however, not with everyone, so it was very exciting. I have to say that I found a world a little bit like out of practice, I found that there is a little bit of breathlessness, breathlessness, there is a lack of that usual sprint that was there before, but I think it is normal and it was for everybody. Going to fairs is always an important time, but before we almost took it for granted, there was a very busy calendar. To see Milan alive again with Miart, with Art Week and with Fashion Week was very nice. I myself had very good feedback on the work. Of course: I find that everyone, including myself, is a bit guarded because of the unknown about the coming winter, but I can certainly say that both in the art world and in the fashion world, which I have tested by spending almost every day in boutiques, there is a lot of desire to do, to start again, to be social. I think it’s really in the spirit of man to live in community and not as ascetics or retreatants, so I found that very positive.

How do you see the Italian contemporary art scene after this year and a half of downtime? Are we ready to start again?

I think we need to roll up our sleeves and work a lot (as always on the other hand): the Italian scene has a lot to give, it has reached a level of artistic production that I think is more competitive in the global market than even just a few years ago. It is clear that then the Italian scene is, let’s say, a bit more “country” and more struggling than the American scene or even the German scene, but on the other hand we have unique specificities that I think it is right to maintain and safeguard. I hope that, at least on the level of culture, globalization will stop a little bit, in the sense that it is nice that the uniqueness of expression of individual artists belonging to certain nations will continue to remain so. Then, of course, contamination, as it should be, is part of human evolution, but I think Italy from this point of view, and I speak as an artist, is really rich in talent. And as it is for artists, also the system of galleries and museums I think has to work hard and do a little bit more: We all have to improve: from artists to private realities like galleries and to public ones like museums, we have to learn from the Americans and the British, try to improve ourselves more and more just to give birth to an art system that is also professionally more and more valid.

To close this conversation of ours: what are the projects you will be proposing in the near future?

Thank you for the question: I have several proposals to consider, but I cannot name specific names yet, however, I can say that there will be events concerning me soon. In addition, also soon a book will be published that will take stock of all my production in recent years. I don’t want to call it a “monograph,” however, it will be a nice book where I will touch on all my various points of expression and production.


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