Mario Ceroli

Mario Ceroli – “faccia a faccia”
MAMbo, Bologna
21 December 2012 – 1 April 2013

Mario Ceroli
From 21 December 2012 to 1 April 2013 MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna presents the exhibition “faccia a faccia” by Mario Ceroli, paying tribute to the internationally renowned sculptor, a leading member of the new generation of artists that in the early sixties initiated on the Italian scene a unique season of change in the course taken by the language of art.
The wide-ranging anthological exhibition, curated by Gianfranco Maraniello, retraces the entire creative career of the artist, who was born in Abruzzi and has made Rome his home. It presents a representative survey of his inexhaustible inventive gift for experimentation with material and exploration of a conceptual universe that makes constant reference to the tradition of art history.
The 47 works on display at MAMbo include some of his most famous large-scale environmental installations, as well as new works presented specially on this occasion.
The artist has conceived the exhibition as a single project, sculptural and architectural at the same time. Turning on its head the principle underpinning his celebrated work-environment of 1966, Cassa Sistina, Mario Ceroli has taken over the extraordinary spaces of the museum’s Sala delle Ciminiere and, starting out from that condensed introversion of architectural elements has projected his art into the extroverted space, heightening its visual impact and expressive force.
Thus the exhibition in Bologna becomes a single entity in which an attentive play of cross-references and connections turns the works into the ‘exploded’ version of a space invented by the artist: the exhibition is laid out in a way that the older works hold a dialogue with the more recent ones, in a direct dialectical exchange that eschews chronological and historiographical criteria.
The title “faccia a faccia“ (‘face to face’) refers to the comparison between the human and the divine that has been inspired by MAMbo’s great central hall, so reminiscent of a cathedral.
After starting out as a very young assistant in the studios of the sculptors Leoncillo Leonardi, Pericle Fazzini and Ettore Colla, Mario Ceroli began his artistic career concentrating on ceramics under the influence of the nonrepresentational climate. The recognition of wood as his ideal expressive material took place at the end of the fifties, prefiguring the intuition of an original line of research that was to develop into a complex formal language of great inventiveness.
In this first phase of experimentation, Ceroli undertook rigorous research into profiles in which the modelling of the figure was taken as an archetypal principle in a process of progressive deconstruction, synthesis and reduction of the real aimed at grasping the metaphysical essence of the image.
The chronological starting point for the exhibition, the two-fronted work ZOAS of 1962, characterised by the use of lettering, testifies the strong tendency of the artist to turn words into form, already suggesting a spatiality that goes beyond the natural dimension of the individual letters.
Over the course of time Mario Ceroli has been associated with various artistic tendencies while never being linked with any of them in a coherent way. In the mid-sixties he tried out a new approach with a figurative repertoire influenced by American Pop Art, which brought him into relation with the fertile scene of the Roman avant-garde through the use, not without irony, of images drawn from contemporary reality. Another current of research with which his work ran parallel was that of Arte Povera: the artistic act carried out on a poor material like rough wood, invested with a powerful capacity for representation, brought him close to the contemporary experiments conducted by that group, ensuring the presence of his work in the first exhibitions devoted to the movement defined by Germano Celant, who described the Roman artist as ‘the “poor” constructor par excellence’.
Some works like Centouccelli of 1967 and the surprising modular structure Primavera of 1968 can even be regarded as precursors of developments like Minimal Art and Environmental Art: marking the evolution from the early simple and flattened silhouettes towards ensembles articulated in space in the manner of genuine installations, they opened up the possibility of using sculpture as a means of spatial expansion, leading the artist to carry out interventions in which the environment became a fundamental element in the creation of the work of art.
Ceroli’s ever more consciously monumental approach to the construction of sculptural space resulted in a progressive move beyond the objective limits of tradition into a theatrical spatiality in which the works, truly spectacular structures in their volumes and composition, literally invade the setting, in some cases inviting viewers to abandon their contemplative role and participate actively in the work.
His 1966 masterpiece La Cina investigated and developed the themes of the relation of sculpture to space and the interaction of the work with the viewer, emblematically marking the beginning of the second phase of Ceroli’s artistic career. In this work, in fact, for the first time the reiteration of stylized profiles and forms of the human figure in wood assumes in their orderly advance a narrative dynamism of great communicative efficacy thanks to a construction that, proceeding by stratifications and successions of planes, defines a true installation.
The works created from the end of the sixties onward reflect a progressive spatial extension of the artist, with a strong leaning towards the spectacular and theatrical, marking the beginning of a fertile involvement in a field of activity that would lead to Mario Ceroli establishing himself as one of the most original figures in the history of contemporary Italian set design for the theatre and opera, collaborating with – among others – Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luca Ronconi.
Over the course of the seventies Ceroli consolidated a mature and complex plastic language, accompanied by a limpid formal rigour in the skilfully handcrafted use of the raw material and a strong conception of volume and spatiality worthy of the Italian Renaissance vision. Exemplary of his constant cultural reference to the classical Italian tradition is the work of extraordinary formal elegance Battaglia (1978), an imposing reconstruction of Paolo Uccello’s famous masterpiece The Battle of San Romano in wood that constitutes one of the most spectacular undertakings of scenic articulation carried out by the artist.
The exhibition at MAMbo also documents other significant trends in the artist’s plastic and thematic experimentation. For example, the rational component of the structures marked by an abstract geometricism is evident in works dating from the sixties, like Mappacubo (1966) and Mappatondo (1966), and recurs in Ceroli’s more recent production with the series of geometric projections made in iron in 2012.
Another recurrent element that lends a symbolic depth to Ceroli’s work is lettering, as in the sculpture-inscriptions Terra, Fuoco, Aria, Acqua (1972) which evoke the concept of nature through a sequence of words, while the silhouette and profile as iconically decisive components are still present in works from the early nineties, such as Il Raccoglitore di miele (1991).
In the eighties and nineties Ceroli’s research was focused chiefly on the plane of the material, with a freedom in chromatic choices and experimentation with materials of natural and industrial origin that expanded and enriched his expressive alphabet, characterised after two decades by a pre-eminent use of wood. Glass, coloured earths, cloth, sand and ashes are some of the materials that Ceroli has worked with extraordinary craftsmanship and imaginative originality, as in the work Sopra di noi il cielo (1989), realized with copper sulphate of a brilliant deep blue colour, and Scala di vetro (1990) that returns to a recurrent figurative theme in the artist’s imagery with fascinating chromatic effects of transparency and luminosity.