Jackson Pollock, Michelangelo and the ubiquitous dialogues in exhibitions

Preparations are underway in Florence for the Pollock and Michelangelo exhibition. Yet another 'dialogue' that was not felt to be needed.

The word dialogue, when used outside of proper contexts, is one of the ugliest and most overused words in the Italian language. Increasingly, in the world of culture (or pseudo-culture), but especially exhibitions, the term dialogue is invoked almost as an excuse to juxtapose works or artists that have no traits in common with each other. It is chic to make them dialogue, though probably, if these works could be given a chance to talk, they would have nothing, but really nothing, to say to each other. There is no escape from this trend in the much-discussed exhibition starting in April in Florence featuring the “dialogue” between Jackson Pollock and Michelangelo. However, this is not the only case (obviously).

Take for example the exhibition now underway at the Galleria Borghese, the one on Alberto Giacometti: the press release tells us that “the exhibition is an opportunity to tell about the artist [...] and above all to show his work in dialogue with the masterpieces of the Gallery.” And to see connections between L’Homme qui marche and Bernini’s Aeneas and Anchises group takes some serious imagination. But dialogue is not the prerogative of press releases, but also (and perhaps especially) of newspapers, and the one that loves the term “dialogue” the most is Repubblica, which has often used it to introduce us to the exhibitions that could not be missed in this article: those of the indefatigable Marco Goldin. So here it is that even Goethe is inconvenienced to introduce us to the elective affinities of masterpieces: the exhibition is From Vermeer to Kandinsky (which took place in Rimini two years ago), where the works were placed in a “long-distance dialogue” that traced the entire history of art. Those at Repubblica however are big Goethe fans, because the elective affinities were also chosen as a metaphor for the exhibition on Matisse and Michelangelo held in Brescia in 2011: “an ideal dialogue with the Florentine genius, recounting his elective affinities.” But shall we talk about Mimmo Paladino’s installation in late 2012, the one that saw dozens of Apuan marble blocks brought to Piazza Santa Croce in Florence as part of Florens 2012? The operation was presented like this, “Paladino’s cross will enter into dialogue-contrast with the 19th-century facade of Santa Croce.” And to make the facade of the basilica of Santa Croce dialogue with a heap of shapeless blocks of marble placed in the square in the guise of a cross is a bit like making a Carrarese ultras and a Spezia ultras dialogue during a derby: not much positive can be expected. Not to mention the cultural value of this and other operations, such as those listed above: making a musical comparison, it would be a bit like comparing Tomaso Albinoni with Sandy Marton.

The exhibition on Jackson Pollock and Michelangelo was mentioned. It is interesting that one of the two curators is Sergio Risaliti, who knows a lot about these “dialogues”: always at Florens 2012 it was in fact he who curated the exhibition (pardon: theostension, as it was defined in the event’s press release, almost as if the visitor were going to participate in a religious event rather than a cultural event) that put the crucifixes of Donatello, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo in “close comparison.” So here it is that, not even two years later, Risaliti offers us another “dialogue,” this time assisted by Francesca Campana Comparini: far too much has already been said about the very young curator (read this article by Tomaso Montanari on the subject to find out what we all think here at Finestre sull’Arte). I only add that, given that Francesca Campana Comparini goes on to say “I am a professional, philosopher, journalist, writer [...] And I am 26 years old” (from this interview that appeared in Repubblica), to such a star Renzi should have, at the very least, assigned an undersecretary position.

But back to the Pollock and Michelangelo exhibition, a fantastic exhibition that “could attract a record-breaking audience (”One million visitors,“ the organizers half-heartedly speculate),” as Repubblica wrote last summer, although perhaps it is better to drop the ads where the number “one million” is expected, since we have already given and we have already seen the results. On what solid scientific, artistic and philosophical foundation will this incredible and unrepeatable event be built? We are helped by the press release of the City of Florence: the exhibition will take its cue “from the youthful studies of the American painter and his interest in Michelangelo’s work.” In short, one would think that since this is the basis, almost all students of fine arts academies around the world would be entitled to an exhibition in the Palazzo Vecchio. For “a virtual confrontation with the genius of the Renaissance,” of course. And it almost comes as a laugh to read the next sentence, “Pollock’s formlessness will thus be in the mirror with Michelangelo’s unfinished, the Renaissance of classical Florentine and Italian form will be ideally placed in dialogue with that of the American artist’s anti-form.” And for what arcane reason should two ways of understanding art that have nothing to do with each other be “compared”? One does not know, or rather: one tries to give a semblance of meaning to this operation by saying that “the two worlds have, however, a trait d’union in Pollock’s youthful studies.” But what was said earlier applies: just walk into any fine arts academy and find dozens of students copying drawings by Michelangelo. If this is the assumption on which the whole exhibition is based, one gets the very slight suspicion that this umpteenth “dialogue” (of which we did not feel the need at all) is configured more as a marketing operation than a cultural one. The press release of the City of Florence indicates, in the title, the exhibition as a “confrontation between two furious geniuses.” This is the most sensible statement in the entire release: if there is an afterlife, furious they will indeed be, given the exhibition and given the curatorship.

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