A review by guest author Clare Ann Matz.
PATTI SMITH „Higher Learning“
120 photographs by Patti Smith and THE NY SCENE „Art, culture and the new avant-garde movement in the 70s – 80s“
150 works of art by Galella, Ginsberg, Gorgoni, Makos, Warhol …
Palazzo del Governatore
Until July 16, 2017.
Higher Learning is a meditative journey on creativity and the passage of time, presenting 120 black and white Polaroid photographs taken by Patti Smith during her travels around the world, its title comes from the record Land, published in 2002.
The exhibition, organized by the University of Parma, the City of Parma and produced by International Music and Arts, celebrates the work of Patti Smith in occasion of the honorary doctorate in classic and modern literature awarded her by the University of Parma on May 3rd, 2017.
The small photographs, taken with a vintage Land 250 Polaroid camera, are a visual diary showing the locations, the furniture, the statues, tombstones, and other objects which belonged to artists who contributed in developing Patti Smith’s cultural heritage, including Herman Hesse’s typewriter, Frida Kahlo’s bed, corset, crutches and medicine bottles, Paul Verlaine’s revolver, Margot Fonteyn’s ballet slippers and other relics.
Printed with gelatin silver process in limited 10 copy editions the photos defy the modern concept of digital photography, most images are out of focus and badly exposed, as if on a nostalgic quest, a longing for artistic masters and mementos from the past.
A yearning which has been at the heart of Patti Smith’s visual work from the very beginning, and whose embryo can be found in the book Babel published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in New York in 1974.
Speaking about the honor of receiving a Laurea honoris causa Patti Smith comments:
„When I was young I dreamed of going to a big university. It is an honor to receive the Laurea honoris causa from Parma University, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities of Europe. I have always believed in the importance of education, and receiving this award from this eminent institution for higher education both embarrasses and stimulates me. This exhibition is a homage to another form of education. The university of life, of travelling, of books, artists, poets and teachers.
The images are visual representations of the pilgrimages and of gratitude, an ongoing love and respect for our cultural voices, for their great works and the humility of their instruments. A brush, a typewriter, the beds on which they dreamed. The places of their eternal peace.“
The THE NY SCENE „Art, culture and the new avant-garde movement in the 70s – 80s“, produced by Photology in collaboration with the City of Parma, exhibits 150 images linked to the artistic environment which developed in New York City between the 70s and the 80s, when the city became the world capital of contemporary art and launched the Pop Art movement and the Beat Generation.
The photographs exhibited illustrate a cauldron of art, sex, drugs, pop culture and literary avant-garde through the eyes of the artists that contributed in the creation of these movements: Galella, Ginsberg, Goldin, Gorgoni, Makos, Mapplethorpe and Warhol and others.
However the alembic container of the Palazzo del Governatore purges them of the nitty-gritty, grubby, noisy reality of the Big Apple, distilling an essence of refined photographs, carefully enclosed in sober frames, which defy the very purpose of the exhibition, which is to illustrate the energy in the Big Apple in the 70s and 80s.
The exhibition is divided in two sections „The East Side“ with Allen Ginsberg’s „Beat+Pieces“ portraying the poets of the Beat Generation with refined gelatin silver prints, including John Giorno, Gregory Corso, Julius Orlovsky and other interesting players of the scene such as Annie Leibovitz, John Cage and Judith Malina.
Gianfranco Gorgoni who focuses more on visual artists with both b/w as well as striking, large Lambda color prints depicting Richard Serra, Francesco Clemente, Claes Oldenburg, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.
Nan Goldin’s Cibacrome „Everyday“ photographs recall the more familiar atmospheres of those years.
There are also two films: A documentary by Gianfranco Gorgoni about the owner of renowned art gallery Leo Castelli and the work of Swiss filmmaker Albert Schepflin shot in Sandy Daley’s room at the Chelsea Hotel with a soundtrack by Patti Smith chanting the poem „Thief“.
The second section „The West Side“ begins with Andy Warhol’s „Instant Polaroids“ of artists and the jet set which gravitated around each other including Jane Fonda, Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, John McEnroe, Joan Collins, John Denver and artists Jasper Jones and Roy Lichtenstein. „Altered Images“ by Christopher Makos is a series of stark portraits of Andy Warhol in normal clothes, but heavy facial make up. „Not a drag act but 8 wigs, 2 days and 349 shots“, as Makos recalls, to capture the king of Pop Art in his multiple facets. At last Ron Galella’s „Disco years“ are just that, Polaroid pictures of celebrities at the Studio 54.
A small room with just one large photograph of a skull is dedicated to Robert Mapplethorpe yet one can spend a good hour there (they have placed comfortable benches) watching a clever 2016 HBO documentary film by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey. „Look at the pictures“ depicts the extra-ordinary life of the controversial photographer through interviews with friends, school mates, colleagues, clients and gallery owners, plus historic footage, drawings made as a child, multimedia experiments at Pratt Institute and of course many exceptional photographs. Especially touching is the extensive interview with Robert Mapplethorpe’s brother Edward and the trial during which the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center was charged of obscenity twenty-five years ago.
As one exits the gallery a final room houses the double screening of Andy Warhol’s 1967 film „Chelsea Girls“, maybe an interesting experiment for the time, but quite insignificant after the overwhelming experience of a full immersion in Robert Mapplethorpe’s world.