The 60-year career of Italian sculptor/artist and all-around pioneer of midcentury European modernism, Fausto Melotti, is being presented with new fervour at Hauser & Wirth’s uptown gallery space in New York. While renowned for his influence and friendship with Lucio Fontana (a fellow student at the Accademia di Brera in Milan) in Europe, Melotti is less recognised in the United States, hence the premise of Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition.
Staged over three floors of its intimate gallery space and curated by Douglas Fogle, formerly the chief curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, ‘Fausto Melotti’ invites visitors to experience the thoughtful, delicate sculptures of the Italian master up close. Opening with a series of abstract plaster works from the 1930s that simultaneously showcase Melotti’s interest in classical music and mathematics with its motifs, and leading towards ceramic sculptures that demonstrate his later return to figuration circa the 1960s, the breadth of Melotti’s creations is apparent.
Shapes that mimic and articulate the human form in a variety of scales, such as The Seven Sages (1960) and various devil-like figures (1945) coincide with Melotti’s personal coming to terms with the reality and repercussions of the Second World War, which he lived through. In fact, the artist’s foray into ceramics was a result of his studio being bombed at the time, and he gravitated towards working in clay simply because the material was easier to come by.
The themes of humanity, harmony, geometry and order, along with highlighting the range of emotions that make up the human experience, are recurring aspects in Melotti’s works. Whether it’s the poetic simplicity of The Rain (1966) – a gold sculpture that ingeniously captures the movement of falling rain – or the graphic theatricality of his renowned ‘Teatrini’ ('Little Theatres') and of works such as The Shadow of the Soul (1984), Melotti was a master of invoking fragmented realities, with a gift for capturing the imagination of viewers that’s still so powerful today.