Street Wise

Naples
03.29.10

Left: Artist Danh Vo next to Benoit Maîre’s Medusa. Right: Madre curator Eugenio Viola, dealer Memmo Grilli, and designer Rosario Farina. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)


ON A RECENT FRIDAY in Naples there were openings at three different galleries scattered across town. Getting from one to the next was a challenge to anyone without a motorcycle and the nerve to mount the pedestrian walkways, a customary mode of travel for Neapolitans, who are in the habit of taking their wives and a couple of children along too—without helmets. (If you wear one it means you have reason to hide.) As it was, we took our chances on foot, dodging the aforementioned vehicles en route to our first stop, Galleria Raucci/Santamaria, on the hill behind the city’s Archaeological Museum.

But for me the real danger in Naples is sensory overdose, the eyes, ears, and the stomach—oh, and the pocketbook (emptied by my own deft fingers, alas). As we exited the Montesanto train station, the audacious aroma of food rose up and assailed our noses. We were forced to pass a series of enticing vendors and fishmongers along the descent through the street market. At the bottom we found the pičce de résistance: Cocktail d’Amore, a mixed bag of genital-shaped pasta.

Arriving at the gallery, we entered the seamless, understated group exhibition “Blind Mirror,” which pondered the treachery of the reflected and/or repeatedly reproduced image. Neapolitan artist Danilo Correale blew up to the edge of distortion iconic photos of historic events such as Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing and Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of JFK. Opposite, Liz Deschenes’s photograph of an adjacent black-and-white checkered R. H. Quaytman silk screen provoked dizzying eye twirling. Around the corner I ran into artists Danh Vo and Henrik Olesen, who were in town to see the Fondazione Morra Greco, where they will be doing a show together next year. As we discussed the fantastic potential of the decaying and eerily lit spaces of the gutted old palazzo, Irish artist Pádraig Timoney, a Naples resident for the past several years, joined in and then announced that he would be jumping ship for Brooklyn this summer.

Left: Riccardo Folinea, artist Tris Vonna-Michell, and curator Federica Bueti. Right: T293’s Paola Guadagnino with artist Patrizio Di Massimo and T293’s Marco Altavilla.


We hitched a ride to T293 with Madre curator Eugenio Viola, who expertly navigated the erratic traffic, with only a couple of near misses. We mentioned our earlier, inadvertent lack of bus tickets, ŕ la Napolitana. “Many people don’t pay, but they’ve actually been checking bus tickets the last couple of days,” he warned. “Berlusconi was here yesterday, and it still smells.”

Competing with the visual cacophony and licentious temptations of Naples seemed to pose no problem for artist Patrizio Di Massimo. The video Duets for Cannibals, which was projected in T293’s street-level space, portrays the artist attempting to cast a young African actor, who agrees to appear in his video and then demurs when he understands the salacious act required. The show, “With the Sun in Front of Me,” continued upstairs in the gallery with two videos, projected on walls in separate rooms, of men putting their faces where the sun doesn’t shine: First a black man feasts on a white man, who then returns the favor—a metaphorical examination, let’s say, of the power dynamics behind Italy’s colonization of Ethiopia.

Who could think of food after that? But these are the unsavory juxtapositions the traveling critic must endure. The T293 dinner was served at a very long table after a very long wait at the vegetarian restaurant Un Sorriso Integrale. (Macrobiotic food in Naples seems oxymoronic, and should perhaps be added to the list of deadly sins.) As soon as we finished our whole-wheat and god-knows-what lasagna we bolted out of there and hopped a cab back to Raucci/Santamaria, where we arrived just in time for the antidote: a cake orgy hosted by David Robbins. The party, in the dealers’ residence attached to the gallery, was winding down as Robbins’s Ice Cream Social continued to broadcast from TV monitors around the salon. Out in the garden, Vo mentioned that Neapolitan collector Maurizio Morra Greco is dentist to the cardinals, so he was hoping for a private tour of the Vatican. (One wonders what that might entail, given the reputation of the Catholic clergy these days.)

Left: Artists Seulgi Lee and Rafael Lain. Right: Dealer Carlo Santamaria, artist James Yamada, and dealer Umberto Raucci.


After an early start the next day, induced by a raucous marching band passing under our window in honor of the Festival of Spring, I managed to take in the “Barock” exhibition at MADRe—vivid-to-lurid evocations of ritual and death reflecting the memento mori of the streets—before arriving at the evening bash inaugurating Blindarte’s new exhibition spaces. The galleries lie just beyond the mouth of a tunnel in the peripheral Fuorigrotta—a tatty retro-futuristic area that saw better times in the Fascist era. The Blindarte auction house, located below, began as a safe facility for valuables of wealthy Neapolitans, many of whom live on the other side of the hill in the posh Posillipo, overlooking the Gulf of Naples. The show, “Undefined Borders for Unlimited Perceptions,” features work of thirteen gallery artists that evoke magical realism, including paintings by Benny Dröscher, Adam Cvijanovic, and Simon Keenleyside.

Among the well-heeled, black-clad crowd, I was surprised to find only one Naples dealer, Guido Cabib, and very few artists aside from those in the exhibition. Gallery director Memmo Grilli, who was flitting around from cluster to cluster bussing cheeks, confided: “Most dealers feel that it is more elegant to arrive when there is not a huge crowd; Lia Rumma will come in the next few days.” Attempting to have a real conversation in the noisy crush, Exibart writer Diana Gianquitto noted how great it is that Grilli “doesn’t pretend that art has nothing to do with money.” Nearby, artist Seulgi Lee painstakingly painted her teeth red with nail polish while Brazilian artist Rafael Lain photographed her. Viola arrived with his boyfriend, fashion designer Rosario Farina, and I spotted Angela Tecce, chief curator of Castel Sant’Elmo, and some clients of the auction house. Anna Milo, who works for shoe designer and collector Ernesto Esposito, was decked out in a motorcycle jacket and sleek black stilettos. By the time Esposito himself arrived, well after midnight, most of the demimonde and their attendants had left.

Viola steered our motorcade across town, where we ended the night at the Ex-Lanificio, a decaying former wool factory taken over by artists, where many of the other Blindarte guests were dancing to ’80s music. The air carried a perfume characteristic of an earlier decade: “It is Amsterdam here,” Viola noted. The taxi driver who took us home cautioned that the street we were staying on was dangerous—as he drove down it the wrong way. (He informed us that traffic signs in Naples are advisory rather than obligatory.) Having been ripped off by our previous cabbie, we gushed: “You are so honest.”

Cathryn Drake

Left: Curator Letizia Magaldi. Right: Marie Corbin and artist Benoit Maîre.