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Special Report

Francesco Clemente at IMMA

Francesco Clemente
Five Steps, 2001
Oil on canvas, 203 x 203 cm
Private Collection, Courtesy Galerie Bischofberger

Francesco Clemente
Water, Taormina 2003
Private Collection, Courtesy Galerie Bruno Bischofberger,
Zurich. Photo: Greg Fuchs


DUBLIN, IRELAND.- The first major exhibition in Ireland by the internationally-acclaimed Italian artist Francesco Clemente opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 4 February 2004.  Francesco Clemente: New Works comprises more than 60 works, including some 20 paintings, 10 pastels and 30 watercolours.  All have been created since Clemente’s comprehensive retrospective at the Guggenheim, New York, in 1999 and most are being shown publicly for the first time.  The exhibition is presented in association with THE IRISH TIMES.

Francesco Clemente first came to international attention as part of the Italian transavanguardia group in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, a period which saw a renewed interest in painting internationally, evident in the success of artists such as Julian Schnabel and Anselm Kiefer.  From the start, however, Clemente manifested a singular personal vision, drawing on a diverse cross section of cultures and styles to realise his wide range of visual and conceptual ideas.  Extensive travels in Europe, the Caribbean, Egypt, Japan, New Mexico and, in particular, in India, have been a major influence, releasing him from the usual conventions of art making.

One defining characteristic of Clemente’s work, which sets him apart from many of his contemporaries, is the way in which he synthesises, rather than juxtaposes, these different influences into a rich and complex oeuvre which is completely his own.  Another is his perception of the human body as a membrane of experience, both physical and intellectual.  Francesco Pellizzi, editor of the aesthetics and anthropology journal Res, describes Clemente’s work as “making us newly aware of the connection between the outer surface of our skin and the inner one of our world, the world of our enveloping cave or womb.”

This view, of Clemente as an artist unlike any other, is one which recurs again and again in evaluations of his work.  Writing in the catalogue to the Guggenheim show, its curator Lisa Dennison concludes: “Clemente has made a new and unique contribution to the art and culture of his times.   His method is contemplative, meditative, and indulgent.  He maintains a fantastical, exotic vision, even when dealing with the commonplace.  The paradoxes in his work - the blurring of boundaries between interior and exterior, between self and others, between the physical and psychical – are what sustain its interest for us most deeply, and what continually open up its possibilities for the future.”

The recent works on show at IMMA include images of the human body and also of everyday objects, such as stairs, wheels, vases and animals.  Vincent Katz in his text for the catalogue of the show says about the paintings: “Though they employ recognisable subjects, they are not realistic; they do not partake of realistic spaces or even classical perspective.  Serenity is one of a group of works that make use of house of cards imagery to suggest the instability of life and also the significance of chance.... Equanimity is a tantilising image, a boat filling with water in the foreground suggests a smiling mouth, while books or newspapers fly against a wall and land on the surface of the water, which suddenly appears to be a solid floor.”

Born in Naples to a professional family in 1952, Francesco Clemente had already begun his life-long travels by the age of two, visiting museums, churches and palaces throughout Europe with his parents.  In 1970 he moved to Rome to study architecture, but lost interest before taking his final examination turning instead to drawing and poetry.  In 1973 he made the first of many visits to India, a country whose culture and philosophy was to have an immense influence on his work. 

In 1975 he had solo exhibitions in Brescia, Milan and Turin and a group show in Rome.  At the Venice Biennale in 1980, Clemente commanded the attention of an international audience and following this went on to play an influential part in the international revival of Expressionism in the 1970s.  Numerous exhibitions followed, including the Whitechapel, London, (1983); the Nationalgalerie, Berlin, (1984); the Fundacion Caja, Madrid, (1987); the Dia Art Foundation, New York, (1988-90); the Sezon Musuem, Tokyo, (1994); Helsingin Taidehalli, Helsinki, (1995) and the Metropolitan Museum, New York, (1997).

Francesco Clemente: New Works continues until 25 April 2004.

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