Just down the street on West 24th, Italian-born photographer Paolo Ventura’s whimsical new series, Winter Stories, enlivens the walls of Hasted-Hunt Krauetler’s impressive new ground floor space. Photographing intricate miniature 3-D constructions, Ventura, the son of a well-known children’s illustrator in Milan, has created a series of elegant large-format tableaus depicting what critic Lyle Rexer described as a flood of memories flashing like photographs before one’s eyes during “the last twenty minutes in the life of a dying man.”
Winter Stories, shown previously in Paris, Verona and Moscow, follows Ventura’s earlier series War Souvenir, in which like David Levinthal, he dealt with themes of war through elaborately staged scenes of soldiers and civilians during World War II. In contrast to his earlier work and to Levinthal’s nearby exhibition, Ventura maintains an ethereal childlike innocence to these fascinatingly detailed color images. One could easily imagine his whimsical photographs adorning the pages of a children’s book.
Set in an unknown Tuscan village and filled with a magical array of harlequins, carnival workers, horses, tightrope walkers, clowns and sword swallowers, Ventura’s chimerical digital C-prints are both inflated in scale and surprisingly intimate. Accompanied by a series of original watercolors that served as preliminary designs and some examples of his meticulously-crafted figures, the exhibition gives the viewer both a sense of the artist’s process and his range.
The theatrical elements within each scene suggest various acts in an unknown protagonist’s life. Using the muted winter palette of his native northern Italian city, Ventura explores the role of memory and imagination in transforming mundane events into transformative moments. Like Levinthal, he skillfully toys with the viewer’s perceptions of reality and rejects the idea of photographic ‘truth.’ His photographs aren’t meant to look real, yet have a wistful cinematic quality reminiscent of Fellini’s magical peacock appearing during a snowfall in Amarcord.
Winter Stories is lighter in spirit than War Souvenir, yet these richly imagined tales told through an intriguing mixed media mélange, express Ventura’s uniquely poetic vision. A sense of Old World craftsmanship permeates each delicately wrought tableau, as if they were created by a wizened master toy maker in his studio. Like the turn of the century writer, Luigi Pirandello, known for “showing how art and illusion mix with reality and how words can be both true and false,” he has created a richly textured dreamlike world that’s rife with metaphor.
Whatever the exhibition might lack in political content, it makes up for in psychological and emotional depth. One must delve beneath the surface of these images to discover their true secrets, rifling through the plethora of Jungian archetypes. The artist has created a lustrous string of fictional lost moments that are vastly intriguing. Winter Stories is a lovely, haunting series that should not be missed.
Images: All images from the series Winter Stories (2009). Courtesy Hasted-Hunt Krauetler.