Conceived by curator Francesco Bonami, ‘Melodrama: Act 1’, is a group exhibition in two parts spread across Luxembourg & Dayan’s London and New York galleries. The London exhibition features works from 1966–2007 by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Pino Pascali, Maurizio Cattelan and Franco Vimercati. One might say that these works, as the title suggests, operate as characters within the stage set space of the gallery. Indeed, the exhibition is prefaced by a quote from actor Stanley Tucci: “The constraints of melodrama can be a great blessing, because they demand that all the characters involved – as absurd and extreme as they may initially seem – must stay utterly rooted in their own reality, or the whole project collapses.”
On entering the first floor Savile Row gallery, the viewer is greeted by Pascali’s ‘Coda di Delfino’ (1966), a sculpture of a dolphin’s tail that protrudes out of a wall. Adding to the absurdity of this scene is Cattelan’s ‘Untitled’ (2007). At the opposite end of the gallery his taxidermied horse dangles out of a wall from the neck down, like a bad scene from an even worse nightmare.
Tucked in a smaller part of the gallery space are a series of six black and white photographs meticulously depicting a family soup dish over several years; ‘Ciclo Zuppiera’ (1983) by Vimercati. Adjacent to these is a plinth and a glass vitrine. Inside the vitrine is a black rubber heart by sculptural duo Fischli/Weiss, titled ‘Heart’ (1987). The photographs are a melancholic and private reflection on time and memory, while the black cast of the heart mocks these with a strange lack of empathy. Even the display feels as if it is intended to snub the delicate domesticity that Vimercati offers. But how do these works respond to the two larger, more captivating sculptures?
Cattelan is undoubtedly the star of the show. To stay rooted to one’s absurdity is exactly what has made his career so prolific. But in ‘Untitled’ (2007) there is a malleable socio-political reading and a clear violence to its unique aesthetic. This is counter balanced by Pascali’s dolphin, which has been significantly more successful in escaping from the gallery’s stage set. The event that has caused these two creatures to be caught in such precarious positions is grave, though of course, forever unknown. The political possibilities of these works, however, are heightened by the timing of the exhibition, opening on the eve of the UK’s EU referendum.
In the second act of the exhibition in New York the characters of the melodrama are doubled by the arrival of Vincenzo Gemito’s 19th century bronze bust placed in an unpredictable dialogue with a Jeff Koons cast bronze sculpture. At the same time, Urs Fischer faces a work by Richard Serra. These works experiment with weight and balance – a solid grounding in precarious uncertainty which will undoubtedly add new questions and tangents to the dialogue between these performative works.