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Frist Art Museum opens first North American museum exhibition of Italian artist Claudio Parmiggiani
Claudio Parmiggiani. Untitled, 2018. Smoke and soot on board, 23 5/8 x 35 3/8 in. Private collection. Claudio Parmiggiani. Photo John Berens.

NASHVILLE, TENN.- The Frist Art Museum presents revered Italian artist Claudio Parmiggiani’s first North American museum exhibition, Claudio Parmiggiani: Dematerialization, in the Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery from February 2 through May 5, 2019. Organized by Frist Art Museum executive director Susan H. Edwards, the exhibition features a selection of fifteen two- and three-dimensional works that address the passage of time, mortality, absence, memory, and silence.

“Parmiggiani’s art stands against the grain of our frenetic, cacophonous, image-infused culture,” says Dr. Edwards. “His works are nuanced responses to and cautionary warnings about overabundance. His aesthetic calm provides room for reflection and the opportunity for a contemplative and transformative experience.”

More than forty years ago, Parmiggiani developed his signature process, delocazione (displacement), when he was first inspired by how contours are left in dust after objects are removed. The process creates negative shadows of forms and shapes, similar to those in photograms, cyanotypes, or batik prints. Instead of using photosensitive materials to achieve this effect, Parmiggiani harnesses fire and combustion in a controlled environment and allows soot, dust, and pigment to settle on objects such as bottles, books, butterflies, musical instruments, or shells. When objects are removed, indexical signs similar to a footprint or a photograph are left on the backgrounds—walls, boards, or canvases—showing what was previously there.

Parmiggiani was born in 1943 in Luzzara, Italy, a commune on the banks of the Po River in the region of Emilia-Romagna. As a teen, he saw his family home, where he made early drawings, engulfed in flames and destroyed by fire. Later, he would use the destructive power of fire as a creative tool. From 1959 to 1961, the artist attended the Accademia di Belle Arti in Modena. During that time, he became a regular visitor to the studio of Giorgio Morandi, whose incomparable mastery of light and focus on humble subjects made a lasting impression, which is evidenced in a major installation at the Frist where delocazione bottles on shelves fill an entire wall. Marcel Duchamp and Piero Manzoni are also often cited as influences. Although Parmiggiani is associated with the Arte Povera movement and conceptualism of the 1960s and 1970s, he works somewhere in between.

In a powerful delocazione panel (Untitled, 2017) books appear burned and vaporized. “Parmiggiani places high value on the importance of reading and libraries. He collects rare books and is surrounded by books in his home and studio. His art is richly informed by philosophy, poetry, literature, and history,” says Dr. Edwards.

The artist is also interested in the growth patterns found in nature articulated through the Fibonacci sequence and associated with classical ratios found in architecture and music, an example being his delocazione of a nautilus shell (Untitled, 2014) with its empty chambers rhythmically configured. For decades, he has incorporated butterflies into his art, and this exhibition includes four such works. “Caterpillars and butterflies are ancient and universal symbols of change, personal transformation, and the stages of the life cycle, including resurrection,” says Dr. Edwards. “By capturing their dynamic and inert states, Parmiggiani freezes time for the scrutiny and pleasure of viewers.” She adds, “By placing butterflies on the strings of an antique harp [Untitled, 2011], motion and sound are paused. The stillness and silence imply fleeting beauty.”

To sum up the exhibition, Dr. Edwards notes, “Parmiggiani: Dematerialization asks probing questions that lead to more complex uncertainties rather than to definitive answers. Prolonged engagement with his art confirms that there is always more than meets the eye.”

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