Paladino and his brand new antique on display in Bologna. Twenty great works at Palazzo Boncompagni


By John

Palazzo Boncompagni would in itself justify a visit to Bologna. Ugo, a cardinal who became Pope Gregory XIII in 1572 in a conclave that lasted less than 24 hours, lived there. A highly cultured and eclectic man, this Pope had very modern views, so to speak. Deciding it was appropriate to create an heir to keep his huge assets in the family, regardless of the obvious scandal he secured the Boncompagni lineage through an unmarried young lady whose son he recognized. Being a man of law (the Pope) he also worked on healthy reforms, such as the reorganization of canon law and promoted a vast missionary work with Jesuits sent to China and Japan. Returning to Palazzo Boncompagni, today Benelli (belonging to the Pizzighini Benelli family), the sumptuous building is one of the most beautiful examples of the Bolognese Renaissance. It is included in FAI visits and also used for the staging of prestigious exhibitions.

Now, on the 50th anniversary of Arte Fiera di Bologna, with the support of EmilBanca, it is underway until 7 April the exhibition «Mimmo Paladino in the Pope’s Palace»edited by Silvia Evangelisti, author, together with Paola Pizzighini, of the catalog published by Pendragon, written in Italian and English.
About twenty large works are on display. Paladin «or of the horse», like Pomodoro «or of the sphere». The horse, Paladino’s icon, is a large, very elegant animal, standing on endless legs. It is found everywhere. It also dominates the Vittoriale, where the Theater of the poet’s sumptuous residence dominates. Rightly so, this exhibition also opens: 13 black horses invade the Papal Audience Hall. This time, however, the horses have lost their brave legs. They are almost shapeless masses who seem to be struggling in a mysterious imprisonment from which they want to free themselves. The context is pertinent: the grandiose sixteenth-century room suggests epochal events, impressive manifestations.

Paladino has always looked to ancient culture, transferring it to the present with a sort of stratification. What was there is brought into today’s world through new forms and new concepts. Nothing has been lost over time, everything returns. With additions, other languages, other images. A stone wall is rebuilt on pre-existing elements. Here we recognize – as the Artist himself recalls – his strong cultural component as a man from the South (Paladino was born in Paduli, Benevento, in 1948, and entered the world of art thanks to his paternal uncle, a painter). An ancestral force, dark as you see it, explores arcane paths, almost like a shaman.

Having focused on this aspect of Paladino’s work is the main merit of the Bologna exhibition. In addition to the masterful display of the 13 horses in the Audience Hall, at the entrance to the covered Loggia there are two great warriors and seven character-ideograms belonging to the famous work “Respiro” of 1995 and a gigantic bronze helmet (1998) on which they are traced magical signs, mysterious figures. It makes you think of Chile, of the never deciphered figures of Nasca.

A fortunate and almost unique case, Paladino is not included in the «Nemo propheta in patria»: he was immediately understood and accepted in the art world. Thanks to the critic Achille Bonito Oliva, whom he met in Naples, with whom he established a stable relationship, at the age of twenty he was already exhibiting at Portici and from there soon at the Venice Biennale, where in 1989 he even had a personal room.

Exhibitions and awards throughout the world, in prestigious spaces, from the Forte del Belvedere in Florence to the Forbidden City in Beijing (1994), the first Westerner to have been admitted there. Fascinated by Pop art as a young man, Paladino went through all possible experiences, starting with photography and then collage, engraving, artist books, set design. Contacted by the Transavantgarde group, in 1980 he was even presented in Venice as a leading exponent. He has always been attracted by large environmental spaces and monumental undertakings: the housing complex built in Paduli with the architect Roberto Serino; the reconstruction of Gibellina after the earthquake, with the «Mountain of salt» (actually glass block and resin) strewn with black horses; the collaboration with Renzo Piano on the church of San Giovanni Rotondo. And that “gate of Lampedusa”, almost a wreck, an archaeological portal imperiously stuck in the sand of the dunes, facing the sea.

In painting Paladino has a confident and imperious gesture. The colors are always alive and pure. The techniques are multiple: mixed media, oil on canvas, gauze. He doesn’t rule anything out. Not even in subjects: from the immaterial to the figurative. As happens in the Mostra where his “black Madonnas” are also exhibited, hieratic, rigid, intransigent.