The appeal and influence of Giorgio Morandi’s quietly hypnotic still lives – studies in expert composition and tonal shifts – seems as strong as ever. And an on-going exhibition, 'Horizon', by photographer and occasional Wallpaper* collaborator, Brigitte Niedermair, will further fuel the fascination. Niedermair joins a growing list of artists, including Rachel Whiteread and Tacita Dean, to celebrate and riff on Morandi’s work. And – as with Whiteread and Dean’s ‘after Morandi’ work – Niedermair’s series of photographs is being shown at the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, which houses the collection of the Museo Morandi.
Morandi lived and worked in Bologna his entire life and Niedermair spent days in his small studio on Via Fondazza, shooting the same inanimate objects he painted. In Niedermair’s series of pictures entitled 'transition_Giorgio Morandi', these objects are blurred while the ‘horizon’ is in sharp focus. The project was recently immortalised in a new book by the same name, published by Rizzoli.
We caught up with Niedermair to discuss the Morandi's powerful influence and how this translates into the new exhibition in Bologna...
Wallpaper*: Why do you think the work of Morandi is still so influential? What is the appeal of his work?
Brigitte Niedermair: I have always thought that Giorgio Morandi influenced conceptual art in a very decisive way. His rigour, his concision, his metaphysical way of seeing things brought him to think about shapes as mental space. My desire has been always to compare painting languages with photography. A tough and perhaps too ambitious challenge, but its definitely stimulating to look for a dialogue with one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century. His rigorous poetry made me love him because he looks at art as an absolutely zen doctrine.
He seems to be a particular fascination for photographers, why do you think that is?
I think that Morandi’s painting caught photographers’ attention because he stops the gaze settling. His bottles force people to look beyond the steadiness of objects. His still-life paintings make everyone pause and think. And with his paintings he wants to show the fragility of existence, which is why he turns out to be a timeless painter.
You spent a lot of time in his studio. How did that influence the work that you created? What insight did that give you in to the way he worked?
I have always been fascinated by the mystery of his way of painting, the way it shows a sense of seclusion. That’s why I wanted to visit his studio in Bologna, to better understand his emotional sphere that made him to create in that tiny studio. I started my work about two years before I started taking photos of Morandi’s studio. I didn’t have the courage to do that. I felt like I wasn’t respectful to him and his art. After a while I developed the necessary courage. I wanted to talk about his deepest feelings but at the same time I wanted to talk about myself. Which is also why I wanted to call my work: 'Transition_Giorgio Morandi.' I put myself in his hands. We ‘profaned’ the temple by moving the bottles. But I moved them very carefully, wearing gloves. My aim was also to make those objects alive. As soon as I moved the bottles, I realised Morandi’s way of thinking. This is when I understood his real sense of painting. He did not just paint bottles, he painted something deeper: he painted the infinite. All his paintings have a different future and every painting is an intersection of vertical and horizontal lines.
And in these pictures you make the horizon a metaphor rather than just a matter of optics and geography?
I try to make the horizon the absolute symbol of spirituality and energy, the relationship between visible and invisible. In the end, my pictures which are dedicated to Morandi are research into the intimate and secret horizon hidden in everyone’s existence.