Whatever great artist or thinker we choose to look at, they’ve all used whatever weapon they might have to attract interest to their thoughts. I don’t see anything wrong with using celebrities to make clearer, more understandable statements or, in my case, simply to reflect a reality that has a huge power over our lives. I insist that the taboo surrounding my work comes from the fact that people get stuck on the presence of Gore Vidal or Cate Blanchett. I’m kind of stuck...too.
Gagosian Gallery is pleased to present “Sacrilegio,” Francesco Vezzoli’s first solo exhibition in New York.
Over the last decade, in a series of titillating works that have explored the undisputed power of contemporary media culture, Vezzoli has staged his ongoing preoccupations with the fundamental ambiguity of truth, the seductive power of language, and the instability of the human persona. These include a trailer for a remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula (2005), starring Vidal himself, Helen Mirren, and Courtney Love; an advertising campaign directed by Roman Polanski for Greed, a fictitious perfume; and elaborate, site-specific performances inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luigi Pirandello, and Salvador Dalí that have featured superstars like Catherine Deneuve, Cate Blanchett, and Lady Gaga.
As the title of the exhibition suggests, Vezzoli has pushed his ideas regarding the sanctification of secular and materialistic obsessions to their ultimate hyperbole. Transforming Gagosian’s vast gallery into a Renaissance chapel, he has installed enlarged reinterpretations of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Madonna-and-Child paintings by Giovanni Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli and others. But instead of the beatific Madonnas that grace each of the historical precedents, Vezzoli’s women are contemporary supermodels—Claudia Schiffer, Tatjana Patitz, Linda Evangelista, Stephanie Seymour, and Kim Alexis, among others. In conflating supermodels with historical religious icons, Vezzoli points to the societal worship of figures from the fashion and celebrity industries.
In each work, the supermodel and child are adorned with makeup, tattoos and large oblong tears, rendered in needlepoint (Vezzoli also actually signs some of the works with a prominent FV, a needle and thread forming part of the initials). Vezzoli has embraced needlepoint as a signature technique from the outset of his career. Initially emulating famous actors who practiced needlepoint on and off-screen—from Vicente Minelli to Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, and Greta Garbo — as time went on, it became a more profound and contemplative activity which he referred to as a world of feelings, crises, obsessions and depressions historically unified with the craft. This is the first exhibition that gives his needlepoint works center stage.
A separate architectural space, referred to as “the crypt of memory,” presents a new video installation in which Vezzoli recasts Pinturicchio’s famous painting Madonna with Writing Child (1490–95) in autobiographical terms. Featuring Vezzoli’s own mother and an industrious little boy as an obvious reference to Vezzoli himself, Madonna with Embroidering Child is a disarming meditation on the mother, the artist, and the narrative of artistic creativity.
Francesco Vezzoli was born in 1971, in Brescia, Italy. He studied at the Central St. Martin's School of Art in London from 1992 to 1995. His work has been exhibited at many institutions including: “The Films of Francesco Vezzoli,” The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (2002); Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Turin (2002); Fondazione Prada, Milan (2004 and 2005); Museu Serralves, Porto (2005); Le Consortium, Dijon (2006); “Marlene Redux: A True Hollywood Story (Part One),” Tate Modern, London (2006); “Dali Dali Featuring Francesco Vezzoli,” Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2009–10); “Marlene Redux: A True Hollywood Story!” Kunsthalle Wien (2009); and the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow (2010). Past performances include “Right You Are (If You Think You Are),” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2007) and “Ballets Russes Italian Style (The Shortest Musical You Will Never See Again),” Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2009).
Vezzoli currently lives and works in Milan.
GREED, A New Fragrance by Francesco Vezzoli
February 6–March 21, 2009
The Gore Vidal Trilogy
April 15–May 20, 2006
October 19–28, 2007
Barvikha Luxury Village, Moscow
September 17, 2019–February 1, 2020
West 21st Street, New York