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"Viaggio in Italia II: Konrad Helbig - Herbert List&quo

BOLOGNA, ITALY.- The Galleria d’Arte Moderna presents "Viaggio in Italia II: Konrad Helbig - Herbert List," on view through December 1, 2002 and curated by Peter Weiermair. Viaggio in Italia II marks the continuation of the series of exhibitions that the Galleria d’Arte Moderna is dedicating to the works of foreign photographers who have helped spread the image of Italy around the world. In the spirit of the great tradition of the “Grand Tour”, artists and writers as well as common tourists have visited Italy, fascinated by its history, its great artistic traditions, its landscapes, and also by its people. All these aspects are to be found in the images captured by the two photographers featured, who – like so many travellers from Northern Europe – come to Italy to rediscover a primordial, archaic dimension in which the mythical splendours of the Classical Era may still be sensed.

Born in Lipsia, Konrad Helbig (1917-1988) coupled his work as a tourist guide with an ever-growing passion for the history of art and classical archaeology, as is to be seen in his photographs. He was particularly fascinated by Sicily, where he spent long periods of time after the second world war. He assiduously portrayed works of art and landscapes, but also young local people who he saw as incarnating the myth of pre-industrial or even Arcadian culture. Through his images carefully composed from a formal point of view, young fishermen with their impertinent charm embody the canons of classical artistic perfection – it is no coincidence that the photographer had interspersed these portraits with images of ancient bronze sculptures in a trial volume compiled in collaboration with the archaeologist Herbert von Buttlar. The Bolognese exhibition gives the opportunity at last to exhibit previously unseen parts of Helbig’s works, among which several pages of this very volume, never before published. The exhibition is laid out so as to explore the subtle link between modern day Sicily (albeit post-WWII Sicily which seems so far away from us now) and that of an idealised past, a branch of the mythical culture of ancient Greece, loosely following in the footsteps of Wilhelm von Gloeden. 

Herbert List (Hamburg 1903, Munich 1975), doted with a solid classical education and forced to leave Germany following the racial persecutions of the Nazi regime, was fascinated by the magical atmospheres emanated by the classical ruins of Greece and southern Italy, which he brought out using astute tricks of light and shade under the influence of Man Ray and the school of surrealist aesthetics. Yet List considered technique as a secondary element and the camera as a tool useful for representing reality; he saw the interpretation as being given by the subjectivity expressed in the shot. The art historian Gunther Metken, reflecting on List’s visionary images, coined the expression “metaphysical photographer”: Herbert List’s photographs in fact offer a metaphysical vision of nature found in his images to be laden with lyricism and mystery. The shots taken of town squares or of moments of daily life are often conceived as metaphors: sometimes integrating the juxtaposition of events and visions, reality and illusion are mixed together while a conventional approach to the subject is replaced by an attempt to unveil the ultimate sense of the universe. Art is “a vision made visible,” says List, who prefers magical realism to objective neutrality. Through his photographs, he is able to shape these visions, loading them with spiritual and symbolic textures. Most of the photographs on show here come from the Herbert List inheritance, and will be exhibited here for the first time ever.

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