It was a rainy day when we met, strange enough for a sunny place like Rome. A strange destiny for the opening of the biggest and most suffered Italian contemporary art museum. After more than 10 years of changes, delays and bureaucratic problems, Zaha Adid’s Roman baby, MAXII, is ready, with all the doubts, perplexities and enthusiasm it provokes. The spectacularity of its forms tried to contain the exuberance of Gino de Dominicis. It was May and the MAXXI and the retrospective of Gine De Dominicis (1957-1998) curated by Achille Bonito Oliva just opened.
I had the chance to meet Gino de Dominicis at the home of his good friend and artist, Emilio Prini, with whom he shared drinks, women, thoughts during a long period since the end of the 60s when Arte Povera became an international trend.
After a long hesitation, I decided to jump into the occasion of this important show at MAXXI to privately meet him for an interview.
So we arranged a meeting in Via del Teatro Pace, at Caffè della Pace, not so far form Boetti’s home. I think they were good friends, but I think Gino was too provincial for Boetti, who assumed the non-authoriality as the mark for most of his practice instead of reclaiming a centrality of art and the artist. However they shared a passion for symbols, for kabalah, and for good wine.
When I saw him arriving he looked like a caliph, long dark hair, an important nose which reveals the Hellenistic origins of south-Italians, deep-eyes and above all a special charm, acute and light.
He kissed my hand, in an old-fashion style and my mind stepped back to a different temporality, Rome is magic in this sense, but I felt the heaviness of such a long time and I’m sure he as well.
Anyhow, he just broke the moment with a long breath, “This place has changed a lot in the last years. I used to come and drink with some friends, we used to get drunk and then spent our time in stupid discussions. I always feel out of place here.”
Federica Bueti: I often usef to feel out of place too. But, I was wondering if the guy in 2a soluzione di immortalità (L’universo è immobile) from 1972 had the same feeling, of being in the wrong place?
Gino De Dominicis: I don’t say wrong place, I just say I feel out of place. There is a big difference. I think there are many places in one, you only have to find the keys to unlock them. There are so many temporalities and spatialities we inhabit. Most of the people do not realize this and they live miserable lives, completely projected in the illusion of reality, they move on a horizontal line and have a stupid desire for acceleration, that’s why our society is obsessed with technological progress. To be out of place is to move on a vertical line toward immortality. I’m here but I know I’m also elsewhere. I travel in time, not in space. Space is just an illusion. It is the place for body and not for soul.
With regards to my contribution to the Venice Biennale, I don’t want to talk more about it, it was such a big scandal, I’m still not understanding why people were so horrified. I think Italians have to be scared about other things, look at the political situation today, for example. However, at that time, I was interested in representing the idea of immortality and I thought you’d find immortality if you were able to stop time, so what better than finding a man who has maintained the appearance of a baby?
FB: So, he represented the immortality.
GDD: Yes, I think he was happy and amused about the situation and in any case he wasn’t alone, indeed on the two opposite sides of the room, on two chairs hanging on the wall there were other two figures, the Young and the Old Man.
The guy was certainly out of place, but the visitors were definitely in the wrong place if they were expecting to see simply a sculpture.
Would you like a “caffè corretto”? ( Editor’s Note: it is a traditional way of mixing together coffee and alcohol).
FB: No, thank you…I’ll take a cappuccino, it is too early for me. Well, I think people always have so many expectations especially when they pay for visiting a Biennale or a museum.
GDD: Yes, people pretend to experience something. It’s funny, when I started to work as an artist, around 1964, Rome was different, people aimed for a new culture, for rights and a better life, we all knew that things were gradually changing and what we were doing was just to get on the wave, climb the mountain to discover a marvellous heaven. Today society is more bourgoise than ever and people pretend to understand and control the whole world. Please, don’t get me wrong. But I think we were dreamers and now it is all a nightmare. Look at the MAXXI, they needed 10 years of fighting and controversies and what is the result? A monument, not really a museum, they only satisfied the needs of politicians who are pursuing consensus and the caprices of some starchitect.
Where is the love and appreciation for art?
FB: Oh, I agree.
GDD: Of course, I’m right. And what about my colleagues? Some are dead, sucked away by their own bad habits. I think of my dear friends Mario Merz or Alighiero Boetti, Pino Pascali, and even Emilio Prini... and the ones who are still working, well.. now they are poor men corroded by their own fame and glory. They dealt with the evil but they don’t understand that immortality pertains only to the art, not to the artist.
Immortality is something immobile. You could run but you will die one day or the other. Steel, gold, stone, they will remain forever.
FB: I know you are a traditionalist in artistic terms even if you are a pioneer of performance practices in Italy. What about painting? Once I read your interview where you said that a painter is like a magician who must be able to surprise himself.
GDD: Painting is the purest gesture of art. I always have the feeling that painting was the only and necessary solution to the problem of immortality. Its two-dimensional surface opens lines into time. It is incredible! In the last years I worked only on painting, especially reproducing the geometric shape of the face, which reveals the geometry of cosmos. It is so beautiful. When I was really young I started to paint, but then I realized that the context was not right for a painter. Gallerists, critics and collectors were all impressed by what was happening in New York, for example. At that time Minimalism, Happenings and Conceptualism were the main tendencies. I was disappointed with such a way of making art. I’m a traditionalist and I’m proud of this. Anyway, I started to experiment with objects and bodies, in order to reveal the essence of reality beyond reality.
Art makes visible the invisible, the hidden and the unknown. In this sense I’m a romantic.
FB: The body and female figures have been always your favourite subjects.
GDD: Exactly. First, I began working on the body, especially on the skeleton. I’m cynical, I think the part which really represents our condition is the skeleton. We are no more than this, bones that the passing of time completely cancels. I hope one day we could redeem our condition, freed from the body we will become one with the cosmos, pure energy without chain.
We are calamite cosmiche ( cosmic magnet) and we will return to cosmos.
With regards to the women, I think the gaze of a woman is as pure as painting. Simply beautiful. I’m searching for immortality and beauty is a high expression of it. And women are really beautiful.
FB: The body is a geometric form, like a sphere, a cube or a line.
GDD: Like a triangle, a pyramid. I’m fascinated by pyramids. I remember all the time I passed at Vettor Pisani studio at Pyramid of Cestium, near the English Cemetery. I remember all the conversations.
FB: I met once Vettor Pisani, he is a really kind person and he talked to me about you and your work, I think he loves you.
GDD: Oh, yes. Let’s say he is really obsessed with me and my work. I’m glad, but I don’t like the way he quotes me every time. I don’t think it is necessary.
FB: Actually, once I invited him for a sound project and he produced a laugh loop. But I think quoting is part of his practice.
GDD: I think an artist has to be original, quoting is simple and secure. Where is the risk? I tried all my life to risk and I didn’t care about any kind of bad opinions. And I can assure you, even if now things have changed I was always mocked by the so called “art world”. I don’t like the beau monde like most of the artists today.
FB: What memories do you have of your adolescence? Could you tell me more ?
GDD: Well, I don’t like to talk about my private life, but in any case I was born in Ancona in 1947. I was an eccentric but shy guy. In 1964, I came to Rome where I attended the Academy of Fine Arts and where I made friends such Pascali, Pisani, Prini. Then in 1969 I began to exhibit my works in important occasions such as the Venice Biennial. I remembered my first exhibition in a garage in Via Cesare Beccaria, at the time Attico Gallery’s headquarters. In any case, you could read my biography, if you like you will not find any information. My private life is private. I think there is always a certain distance between people and an artist, and you have to respect it.
FB: Of course, I think your work talks to us enough. (long silence)
What you could say about your exhibition at MAXXI? Are you happy?
GDD: I really don’t know, people say I must to be happy. So, in a certain way I’m absolutely glad for this homage especially because it is important that this happened in Rome, the city I love and where I spent all my life. Of course some works have been undermined by the over-important presence of architecture. For example Calamita Cosmica. I would position it in a different space. Now, placed under such a concrete surface, well , it looks like it’s been squashed by a meteorite. But this is a curatorial decision and I don’t want to discuss it. I really appreciate Achille Bonito Oliva, we are good friends and we know each other since a long time, but he is inflexible sometimes in his decisions and as I told you I’m too shy to spend my time in stupid diatribes.
FB: One of the things I really liked of the show is the way your sound piece was installed. I think that no more appropriate time than this for your D'IO - ( (Di me stesso/Dio), a long laughter from 1971. It is a laugh against the stupidity of our time.
GDD: It is a laugh because laughing is living. Because I don’t care about stupid things, of course, as the dead do not. I have always imaged death as a beautiful woman who smiles and laughs at the world.
Living is also dying and I want to laugh, laugh, laugh.
Now I have to go. Much more important things to do, here it is much too hot for me.
- Federica Bueti