Human simulacra

18 - 25 March 2020


Cardi Gallery, Milan – London is happy to present an online only exhibition bringing together works produced between 1965 and 2012 by Vincenzo Agnetti, Ashley Bickerton, Giulio Paolini, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Mimmo Rotella. Human simulacra presents a small selection of mixed media pieces where the human figure takes centre stage.


Vincenzo AgnettiRitratto di amante (Portrait of Lover), 1971Signed and dated ‘Agnetti ‘71’ (on the reverse)Paint on felt80 x 120 cm31 1/2 x 47 1/4 in



‘My works act as a signal for propagating what I have accumulated, by which I mean my theoretical and critical research. I write about things from which I call forth my paintings, which, in their turn, provide me with ideas for further research and writing.’  (Vincenzo Agnetti)

Created in 1971, Ritratto di Amante is an exquisite example of the lyrical linguistic style at the heart of Vincenzo Agnetti’s (1926 – 1981, Milan) series of Feltri (Felts). The geometric panels present a series of succinct, but deeply poetic, statements penned by the artist, their carefully constructed patterns echoing the structure of a poem as they traverse the picture plane. As words appear in a standardized, almost stencil-like typeface printed or engraved onto pieces of monochrome machine-produced felt, the regularity of the signs seem to stand in opposition to the highly expressive nature of the words themselves.

In Ritratto di Amante (Portrait of a lover) the statement reads ‘Closed/ In himself/ In the body/ Of another.’ Romantic and profound, it appears to suggest alienation and the impossibility to fully open up to another between even the most intimate exchange; love. For Agnetti, the success of an artwork lies in the long-lasting impression it leaves on the viewer, which is why he intended the lyrical ambiguity of the words to have an emotional impact, to be processed subjectively and with personal interpretations. Describing this phenomenon, Agnetti explained: ‘An event of value does not limit itself to what it displays but to what it leaves behind’ (V. Agnetti, quoted in B. Corà, ‘Agnetti: A New Visual Language, An Unmeasurable Temporality,’ in Vincenzo Agnetti: Territories, ed. B. Yasar, A. Kachel & C. Fiske, exh. cat. London & New York, 2017, p. 113).

The text referring to the confluence of two bodies, is also open to interpretation as the connection can be both physical and mental, playing on the nuancing of language and creating an intended ambiguity. Although recognisably figurative, and comprehensible to those who speak Italian, the brevity of the statement and its looping, self-reflexive nature complicates our understanding of its meaning. Agnetti hoped that in disrupting the regularity of linguistic systems in this way, he could demonstrate the inherent mutability and subjectivity of words, therefore encouraging his viewers to recalibrate their approach to language and art in the process.

Having explored a variety of media throughout his career, Agnetti did not shy away from the artworks’ physical element – the “body” and the “soul” of the work – which effectively remained the necessary and almost unavoidable support for the enunciation of a conceptual nature.

While for instance the Feltri series develops out of highly tactile support, the Assiomi (Axioms) series are glossy. Feltri encompasses a number of works subdivided into two subcategories; portrait (ritratto) and landscape (paesaggio), at once questioning the legacy of Western art historical tradition and challenging our understanding of artwork categories. Agnetti teases the viewer’s expectations and replaces pictorial representation with his enigmatic, text-based aesthetic, further enhanced by his choice of everyday material, which echoes the experimental art of the Arte Povera movement.

Ashley BickertonSilver Head I, 2012Oil acrylic coral and found objects on digital print on plywood228.6 x 190 x 17.8 cm90 x 74 3/4 x 7 1/8 in



American artist Ashley Bickerton established himself in the 1980s as a pioneer of the “Neo-Geometric Conceptualism” art movement, an amorphous collective identity formed in protest against the commercialisation and mechanisation of art. The artist’s practice during this time was typically defined by assemblages made of industrial materials. At the beginning of the 1990s, Bickerton relocated to Bali, where the development of his artistic practice sharply contrasted his earlier work characterised as abstract geometric work.

Born in 1959 in Barbados, Bickerton’s family moved around the world due to his father’s occupation as a researcher. This highly influenced the artist’s mindset and artistic practice, leading him to continuously explore cultural artefacts while working with various types of mediums. Bickerton’s practice eventually focused on hyper-realistic figurativism that parodied the Western fantasy of tropical island life.

The present work “Silver Head 1” (2012) is a mixed media installation made of found objects, acrylic and oil paint on plywood. His process starts with photographing a model staged in the appropriate setting. Utilising these photographs he reconstructs the imagery with paint and found objects on the plywood as canvas, often also painting on the model directly before taking the photograph.

Giulio PaoliniCasa di Lucrezio, 1981-1984Plaster works, fabrics and basesVariable dimensions



Casa di Lucrezio is the last of a series of works produced by Gulio Paolini between 1981 – 1984 in nine variations – this being the largest – which focus on themes fundamental to the artist’s practice: the poetics of space, the enigmatic portrait, the use of the ‘double’ and the unlocking of the metaphysical quality of subjects from classical antiquity.

The common thread between the various versions in the series of the Casa di Lucrezio is the progressive fragmentation of a plaster-cast of an ancient drawing of a labyrinth  found on a pillar in the house the powerful Roman politician Marco Lucrezio Frontone built in Pompeii in the  2nd century B.C. (1). The fragments of the cast tablet are variously placed on plinths alongside the representation of the enigmatic poet, evoked by eleven plaster casts of a Classical head of Apollo (2). Swaths of draped fabrics, that vary within the color range of light from dawn to sunset, flow like brush strokes from the neo-classical white plinths.

The cast of the ancient carving of the labyrinth – a symbol of the interminable – is broken into an ever-increasing number of fragments with each successive version of the series – starting from the two broken parts in the first work (see attached) to the more numerous fragments in the ninth. This gradual subdivision of the cast of the labyrinth echoed by the multiplication of the poet’s heads – starting from two in the initial version to 11 in the ninth –  suggest an infinite subdivision, the theme of the illusive, ungraspable motifs often seen in the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio di Chirico, whom Paolini shares a profound affinity.

The Cardi Gallery’s ninth and last version of Casa di Lucrezio, was created by Paolini for his seminal solo show in Spoleto in 1984. The eleven ‘scenarios’ occurring on each plinth correspond to the same number of the windows in room at the Palazzo Rosari Spada where the work was first exhibited.

The elements of each of the eleven ‘scenarios’ in the work are placed in various contexts and positions: the casts and fragments of the tablet are laid down, propped up on the plinth or else placed on the floor. The colored fabrics are arranged on the plinths in a variety of positions; draped down along the sides, wrapped around a plaster element, crumpled up into a ball, or folded on top of the eleven plinths.

This said, Paolini’s installation instructions of Casa di Lucrezio are malleable. The eleven plinths can be lined up in a single row, up close to the wall or in several parallel rows in alternating order, variously grouped together.

The intentionality of this work lies in evoking – and not representing – the idea of the poetics of space. The title leads to a place other than where the physical piece is installed; the casts point to their place of origin in poetry. The drawing of the labyrinth not only evokes the House of Lucretius – but also the deeply symbolic figure of the labyrinth. These are all various elements which are meant to take us away from normal ‘ vision’  to instead suggest a purely mental evocation, the space of the imagination and chance that each one of us harbors inside”. (Giulio Paolini)

The labyrinth motif accentuates the main theme implicit in Casa di Lucrezio: the idea of form as an interminable exploration that is constantly being undermined, renewed and is potentially infinite.

Once one realizes there is no way out of the labyrinth, one is free to imagine countless other labyrinths that all lead back to the point of departure”. Paolini later augmented this statement  “….it is an allusion to the artist’s trajectory, to the itinerary of the history of art. The labyrinth is a metaphor, the image of always wanting to go back to the start of the search for an outcome, such as in the work of the artist which consists of linking together, as if in a chain, one work after another, in the proposing of variants that are a duplication – and at the same time- a return to the origin. […]. This declaration is a sort of ciphered confession of the dominant theme in my activity.” (Giulio Paolini)

Michelangelo PistolettoPartitura in nero - E, 2010-2012Silkscreen on polished stainless steel244 x 122 cm96 1/8 x 48 1/8 in



“Artists in the 20th century gained the maximum of autonomy and subjectivity in their expression. I came to the mirror to try to transmit the idea that each viewer can have the same autonomous responsibility as the artist. People should, individually, be more similar to artists, and take a little bit more responsibility for their own freedom.” (Michelangelo Pistoletto)

Frustrated with the pursuit of mimesis in traditional painting, the Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto (b.1933) found a solution in the unbounded and infinite nature of the mirror. While the mirror is instrumental to Pistoletto’s pursuit of imaginative, boundary breaking means of diversifying the nature and function of art within our social fabric, the human figure also acts as a motif for research into the objective identity of existence in everyday life.

Partitura in nero – E” (2010-2012)  is part of the eponymous series of mirror paintings that depict a young oriental lady in different poses and attitudes. Here, the woman turns away from us with a pensive demeanour and withdrawn body language. Toying with roles of perspective and identification, Pistoletto welcomes the viewer to evaluate their own personal identity, actively charging the act of self-reflection.

Isolated in their reflective panel, Pistoletto’s subjects (usually friends, colleagues and other people he knew) assert and question the difference between the world of representation and the reflective ‘reality’ of the mirror. Gazing at these works, the viewer immediately enters into a paradoxical and problematic world, seemingly both participating within the intimate private space of the subject and yet also remaining remote and separated, in an alternate space and time that simultaneously exists within the same picture.

Pistoletto’s figures always inhabit an entirely different world – frozen and often alone – in a time that is clearly past due to the hand-crafted, nostalgic quality of the black and white silkscreen technique by which they are rendered. And yet at the same time – and seemingly within the same frame or dimension of the picture – the viewer is also able to stand within the work, participating and observing the real space and time of the environment – one that within the confines of the picture plane, is an ever-changing present. The viewer, interacts with both these different space-times and consequently acts as a bridge between two separate worlds. The mirror is not only a device for reflection, but also a call to arms for the viewer to accept the responsibility of his or her position.

Mimmo RotellaUntitled, 1966Signed on the upper right on recto: "Rotella/66"Artypo on canvas115.5 x 155.5 cm45 1/2 x 61 1/4 in



During the post-war reconstruction in Italy, the economy experienced growth through the establishment of international trade. The development of new industries, characterised by mass production, led to an increase of market generated consumerism. Influenced by the new advertising apparatus communicating to the public through posters and radio, the European middle class was urged to spend money under the promises of a better life and revitalisation of the economy.

Advertisement imagery played a key role in Mimmo Rotella’s practice. As source imagery for Rotella’s “Décollages”, he utilised advertisement posters promoting films as well as products or services. He created the first series of work utilising advertisement posters off the street between 1953 and 1954. The influence of graphic design in Italian advertisement was strong and the visual narrative became more straightforward, focussing increasingly on the aesthetic of the product shot or a visual concept for promotion. Rotella’s appropriation of such posters “recorded the advent of a visual ‘product’ that defined change in age individual and social panorama, attempting to forge link between stdio and city, between artist and collective context”.

With the later development of the Artypo technique in 1966, motivated by the artist’s growing interest in typography (the term combines “art” and “typography”), the advertisement imagery stood increasingly more in focus. The works are made by isolating fragments of “sfogliacci”, the printing proofs used for colour proofs, the compositions of coloured layers became endless. The Artypo demonstrates the artist’s own creative use of typographical processes: selecting posters amongst those printing proofs typographers would normally discard, he either mounted them on canvas or laminated them. Proofs – whose function was merely that of warming up printing presses, controlling registers and quality of both colours and images – presented a collection of randomly placed images with areas of overprinting, a superimposition entirely dictated by the element of chance.

The Artypo “Untitled” (1966) is a composition of at least three french advertisements. Based in Paris in 1966, Rotella utilised french printing proofs for this artwork. Most visible in the centre is a frame of a printing proof depicting a french model advertising for the lingerie brand “Rosy”, published in 1966. Other advertisement sheets are visible in vertical juxtapositions, such as an advert for alcohol, accompanied with the slogan “plus concentré, plus econom” (more concentrated, more economical).  There is another trace of the origin of the advertisement posters vertically visible on the right side of the artwork. “A.G.P.P Paris, AFFICHES GAILLARD PARIS” is the name of a Parisian production company of advertisement posters. The background of the Artypo is composed of a refrigerator advertisement of the model “G2” by the brand “Arthur Martin”. It is visible with the campaign slogan mirrored on the bottom centre of the artwork and the logo of the product model layered behind the brassiere of the lingerie model.

Mimmo RotellaArabesque, 1965Photo emulsion on canvas51.3 x 44 cm20 1/4 x 17 3/8 in



Mimmo Rotella’s interest in in the movie industry as subject originated from his discovery of the “décollages” in 1953, when the artist sourced film and advertisement posters from the streets of Rome. The vibrant compositions featured revealing fragments, glimpses of torn and layered pieces of posters, hinting at the films presently advertised. The fascination for cinema grew in 1961, when Rotella created a series including “La Dolce Vita” (1962) and “The hot Marilyn” (1962), exclusively dedicated to the medium of the film poster. Germano Celant describes Rotella’s décollages from this period as a significant approach to cinema. He underlines the artist’s ability to let the sourced imagery guide the gestural creativity of the artist, who replaces the pictorial representation with the set of values and commercialisation of the film poster utilised. According to Celant, the work therefore neutralises artistic heroism and introduces the world of cinema and fame through the uninterrupted and virtually inexpressive flow in composition of a stream of images.

Experimenting with ways to transition from the décollages, Rotella discovered a technique which later has been defined as significant to the emergence of the “Mec-Art” movement. The creation of the photo emulsion technique was a result of Rotella’s interest in photography and the rediscovery of the photojournalism of the 1920s and 1930s by both Andy Warhol and himself. The photomechanical technique is described by Celant as: “An almost mechanical process, which integrated the experiences of life without being concerned whether the outcome was art or non-art, with the aim of overturning the ‘sacred’ and ‘ritual’ condition of cultural art.” Allowing Rotella to convey current affairs in greater clarity, the technique of the photo emulsion is often characterised as one that manifests a moment in time, conveying important chronological events in society.

The photo emulsion “Arabesque” (1965) combines both Rotella’s interest in cinema and iconography. As image source, the artist photographed and reproduced a part of the french film poster showing the actors and icons of the time, Sophia Loren and Gregory Peck. The poster advertised the American comedy thriller “Arabesque“, screened in 1966, directed by Stanley Donen. Whereas with the décollages, Rotella focussed on appropriating Italian cinema advertising, the medium photo emulsion, a documentation of the Zeitgeist, allowed him to expand his subjects to American iconography and cinema.

Mimmo RotellaL'amplesso, 1975Signed on the lower right on recto: "Rotella"Photo emulsion on canvas92.2 x 65.2 cm36 1/4 x 25 5/8 in



Eroticism is extremely important in a painter’s life, as an experience, as one may say a progressive fact; it is the nourishment one needs to continually create erotic artworks, or non-erotic ones” (Mimmo Rotella)

Experimenting with ways to transition from the décollages, Mimmo Rotella discovered a technique which later has been defined as significant to the emergence of the Mec-Art movement. The creation of the photo emulsion technique was a result of Rotella’s interest in photography and the rediscovery of the photojournalism of the 1920s and 1930s by both Andy Warhol and himself. The photomechanical technique is described by Celant as: “An almost mechanical process, which integrated the experiences of life without being concerned whether the outcome was art or non-art, with the aim of overturning the ‘sacred’ and ‘ritual’ condition of cultural art.” Allowing Rotella to convey current affairs in greater clarity, the technique of the photo emulsion is often characterised as one that manifests a moment in time, conveying important chronological events in society.

During the same time in which Mimmo Rotella created the photo emulsion series documenting the domestic terrorism of the 1970s in Italy, he also created a series of erotic works, presenting the duality between life and death in the artist’s oeuvre. Many of these erotic photo emulsions were inspired by Rotella’s life experiences and influences. Throughout his career, but especially during the 70s, Rotella travelled around the globe, living a flamboyant life, on the constant quest to escape the mundane. Furthermore this series of erotic subjects is a representation of the late 1960s sexual liberation, a revolutionary wave that highly influenced the academic and cultural landscape of Italy.

The present photo emulsion “L’amplesso” (1975), is an important example of this series of  erotic subjects. Rotella would often create photo emulsions by photographing his own works such as décollages. While the original image source of the subject that was photographed is not recognisable, it can be presumed that “L’amplesso” (1975) references an image taken of an earlier frottage or effaçage work by the artist. Based on the bleached marks that appear on the surface, it can be related to both these techniques. The photograph depicts a naked couple kissing each other, situated on a base such as that for a sculpture, it resembles an artwork. The presentation of their muscles, the twisting of their bodies  and the male’s hand on the woman’s hip remind the viewer of a modern reiteration of “The Kiss” (1901-1904) by Auguste Rodin.