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Does a Visual Artist Need Words? A New Show Opens at Mayfair Mazzoleni




Does an artist that works mainly with form and colour need the use of the written text? Are they not supposed to be the materials for writers and poets? Does it not interfere with the creation of a visual language? The answer to the questions is sometimes. One should be never forget that words consist of letters which are intrinsically a drawing and, therefore, attached of an aesthetic value. Words when read produce a sound; the primary medium of sound art and rather common in installations, performances and video. Of course, the written language consists of layers and layers of meanings and expectations of meanings, the perfect ground for an artist to reconstruct, de-construct and expand narratives in a visual sphere.


The new show titled: More Than Words... has just open at Mazzoleni at 27 Albermale street in Mayfair until the 12th of May, free entrance. It concentrates on the use of words and the written text in the Post-War Italian art to then expand to international artists and, then, the current such as Tracey Emin, Rebecca Moccia and David Reimondo. An ambitious and very satisfying survey curated by Daniela Ferrari, who is currently the curator and conservator at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto (MART). The starting point by Baldessari, titled Paper clip, opens up the dilemma. Is the text Paper clip necessary? Presented below an elongated face of a horse simplified by the use of colour blocks, somehow mimics the shape of a paper clip. Baldessari succeeds in unearthing the subconscious register. A poetical Cy Twombly scribbles an almost monochromatic abstract painting. Utterly beautiful. A Fontana with his trademark cut with a twist to entertain the viewer. An unusual addition. The section with the neon works perfectly complements the exhibition as well as the presence of contemporary artists. The show is of museum quality which I highly recommend as a superb introduction of artmaking in the modern and contemporary era. Other artists that deserve a special mention are Boetti, Dadamaino, Manzoni, Kosuth and Kounellis as well as other lesser known artist that makes interesting discoveries.


Ferrari responds to the following questions:


1. Where does the idea of exploring the text and written word in post-war Italian Art come from?

The theme of the word in art is one of the great strands of research that goes through the art of the twentieth century. It is part of the great themes of modernity, which countless artists have faced in their research. Words and writing emerge into art from the historical avant-garde and a close relationship between word and image can also be seen back in time, during ancient civilizations or past centuries.

This exhibition is to some extent an anthology. In the vast and complex system of verbal-visual research, the area that has widened its margins most is certainly that of conceptual art. In the Italian artistic panorama post war, many principal artists have considered the use of letters, phrases or the insertion of written or signs in the context of the work: I think for example of Piero Manzoni, Vincenzo Agnetti, Mario Schifano, Mimmo Rotella and Gastone Novelli.

2. Do you think it was important in Modern Art and why?

This project aims to shed light on the value of the concept, the meaning expressed or deducible in the work: the word as a question and affirmation, as a highlight of research, of the scrutiny of thought. With the advent of conceptual art, words invaded the space that was previously reserved only for images. Even the pop world, with its figures, brands, words, slogans, helps to enrich this kaleidoscopic communication system. The artists absorbed their contemporary life and transmitted it to the work. This method is typical of Italian as well as international art.

Certainly Italian artists have had an important historical precedent with the masterpieces of the Futurist avant-garde, with the words in freedom and the use of onomatopoeia in poetry and painting.

3. How did you make the selection of artists? And why did you decide to invite contemporary artists?

The focus of the exhibition is all in the sense of the title. More than words ... simply means that through the use of the word in the work the artists have amplified the sense conveyed by their work. Drawing on life and the multifaceted kaleidoscope of verbal, literary, philosophical and poetic communication, each of them has been able to give the word a power that goes beyond mere meaning.

All the artists on show, Italian and international, are united by a series of keywords - concept - light - dictionary - pop - time - philosophy - chirography – it is this focus on their work that allow us to identify harmony and affinity, and find the fil rouge that unites one to the other. Naturally, it was necessary to make a choice and find the works and artists that could give meaning to this hypothetical red thread.

The decision to include two contemporary artists in the project allowed us to tell the use of words or language also in current research. Both in the work of David Reimondo and in that of Rebecca Moccia, we find links with themes already dealt with by more historical artists, such as the erasures of Emilio Isgrò and the alphabets of Dadamaino's mind. The creation of new languages, the concept of excess, the value of silence, of sound, of the time of writing, are central themes, subtended by their work.


For more information, please visit Mazzoleni website on

Main photo credit: John Baldessari, Paper clip, 2015. Varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic paint 232.5 x 137.2 x 4 cm
91 1/2 x 54 1/8 x 1 5/8 in. Courtesy Mazzoleni.

Contact Information: 

Address: MAZZOLENI, 27 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4HZ
Gallery Hours: Mon – Fri 10am – 6pm, Sat 11am – 5pm
Admission: Free

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7495 8805