The latest exhibition at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, one of my favourite galleries, is works of Cesare Tacchi, a Roman artist that passed away just a few years back. I knew nothing of Tacchi before going to the inauguration so entering the massive hall, I felt like a blank sheet ready to be impressed.
The visit to the Tacchi exhibition left my white sheet lightly coloured, no firm impression anywhere, more like shades or prints, much like those Tacchi himself used on the textiles he often created art with. But I’ve spent a few days thinking about it, and the exhibition did spur some thoughts in the end, mostly about artists and their ability to communicate with the rest of the world.
It’s curious that it should be Cesare Tacchi to make me think along those lines; the artist for long periods suffered from aphasia, the loss of the capacity to communicate through language. I suppose he used art to replace the words that he didn’t have – and at least in part, I think he did well.
Tacchi was an innovative artist, he used new techniques, painting on padded textiles for example, to create somewhat voluptuous paintings. Several of these are pleasant, soothing and emotive. I also liked his cars; Tacchi painted a series of paintings depicting parts of cars and they just have that appealing something to them that good art has.
Other parts of his work make no sense to me, in particular some of the installations. I have a hard time with installations in general; I often get the impression that they are more about the artist than about the viewer, something that can be slightly offensive because you sense that there’s a discourse going on that you cannot take part in. A closed circle if you will. That would be fine if it weren’t for the (imagined?) presumption that artists pretend to, and have a responsibility to I believe, interpret the world on behalf of the rest of us. But with what right can you interpret something on my behalf without being able to communicate your interpretation to me? Artists in that sense are a bit like politicians; they presume a role of representation but they have removed themselves from the group that they want to represent.
Now, to be fair to Tacchi, the name of the exhibition is ‘A Retrospective’ and the world has changed a lot since Tacchi’s heyday. If you see his work in historical light, it is more difficult to complain about lack of communication. The first decades of the post-war period were a period of extreme growth for Italy – it’s economy grew at pair with that of Japan, Italian luxury goods conquered the world and Italian lifestyle became an object of envy everywhere. Tacchi lived and worked in that boom and was one of the pillars of it’s artistic alibi, a leading member of that group of people that criticised and commented and stirred the pot of the success. He did so subtly, yet effectively, planting an inspiring little seed of contemplation in the audience. The best example is perhaps one of his most famous works, the useless armchair, an armchair too low to sit on and with armrests too high to be comfortable. It makes you smile, a relief when looking at art, but it also makes you vaguely uncomfortable.
Cesare Tacchi is in that respect a reminiscent of a world that a lot of people, intellectuals in particular, dream was still in existence; a world in which artists maintained an open dialogue with the rest of society. At the Galleria della Tartaruga and through the Scuola di Piazza del Popolo, both of which saw Tacchi as a protagonist, a circle emerged that produced both critique of and art for their contemporaries. It is hard to find – or create – something similar today. Artists, like politicians, have difficulties engaging the rest of us in a dialogue that matters to us, not to them.
I don’t know why, but I keep thinking that if artists and politicians solve their communication puzzle, we would finally find our way out of this apparent backwater that we seem to be living – artistically and politically. In the meantime, I guess one of the things we can do is to visit Palazzo delle Esposizioni and their Cesare Tacchi exhibition.