Giovanni Anselmo, Invisibile, 1971, projector. Courtesy Ikon.
Roslyn Tappenden breezes down to the Ikon to check out art between a rock and a hard place.
A thought provoking show by a seasoned Italian master is currently on display at Birmingham’s Ikon gallery until March 28.
But, far from being a collection of Renaissance oils, this exhibition features one of Italy’s most prolific avant-garde artists, Giovanni Anselmo.
Born in Turin in 1934, Anselmo has been most closely associated with the 1960s and 70s Art Povera movement. His monolithic installations are precarious and imposing, while a more gentle side is also revealed in works involving a variety of media, including photography, steel, and even a lettuce!
Giovanni Anselmo, Particolare, 1972, projector. Courtesy Ikon.
The impact of Anselmo’s more impressive works at the Ikon is diminished somewhat by the presence of numerous concrete breeze blocks scattered throughout the exhibition space. These blocks form Anselmo’s latest work, Where the stars are coming one span closer…, which was specially commissioned by the Ikon for this exhibition. The work in itself could have justified a separate space but its dispersal throughout the gallery seems to detract visitors from the most impressive works of all.
While picking your way though the concrete blocks on the gallery floor it is surprisingly easy to miss a giant stone slab, entitled Verso oltremare (Towards oltremare), which is suspended by flimsy wires and seemingly on the brink of collapse.
Giovanni Anselmo, Entrare nell’opera, 1971, automatic photograph. Courtesy Ikon.
One of the most powerful pieces in the show, Respiro (Breathing), consists of two giant steel girders laid across the floor. Between them, almost crushed, is a sea sponge. The juxtaposition of the two elements and the difference in scale gives visitors both an initial wow factor upon entering the room as well as something closer to inspect.
The impressive venue also adds to the impact of the show and enhances the imposing nature of Anselmo’s larger works. Housed within the refurbished 19th century neo-gothic building of Oozells Street School, the high ceilings and large rooms of the Ikon especially lend themselves to large-scale installations of this kind.
The varied nature of this exhibition means that there is something here for almost everyone.
Giovanni Anselmo, Senza Titolo, 1968, granite stones, lettuce, copper wire, sawdust. Courtesy Ikon.
On the far wall of the second floor gallery is a series of tiny squares, which on closer inspection reveal twenty black and white photographs. The piece, 'Documentazione di interferenza umana nella gravitazione universal' (Documentation of human interference in universal gravitation), features 20 tiny photographs, no more than two inches square, taken at intervals of 20 paces while walking towards the setting sun.
Anselmo’s most well known work is possibly 'Senza Titolo' (Eating Structure) where a lettuce is crushed between two blocks of granite, held together by wire. Should the lettuce dry out, then the second stone will fall, meaning that fresh lettuce must be applied regularly to maintain its fragile stability.
Giovanni Anselmo, Il panorama con mano che lo indica (detail), 1982-1984, pencil on paper, stone. Courtesy Ikon.
There is a multitude of other works on display, possibly too many to appreciate in one visit, and upon first impressions this show may not appeal to everyone. But visitors should take their time in walking around. There are many subtleties in this display that could easily be missed.
Roslyn Tappenden is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer in the West Midlands region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.