Piero Gilardi, foams for future times

There you have it, an exhibition that really sucks! And not only because, precisely, there are peaches, more real than life, fallen in a polyurethane foam undergrowth not far from a lying tree trunk (a thunderstorm will have passed by there). In the world of the Italian Piero Gilardi, born in 1942, inventor in 1965 of “natural rugs” (nature rugs), small shards of hyperrealistic landscapes composed of totally chemical matter, there are apples nestled in shining snow, grapes seeming to flow with dew, bare trees in winter whose branches soar like deer antlers, that is to say a squared nature with sparkling colors, aligned in plexiglass windows, cheerful because on the edge of kitsch but totally celebrated. If it inspires enthusiasm despite the artifice, it is because this nature already refers to an archetype, summoning, more than a lived experience, illustrations of children’s stories or animated films, a dreamed and encapsulated nature. , rich and generous, in short, a nature from before the fall. If we disappeared completely – or rather, the day we disappear completely – this is what will remain in memento of our abused ecosystem.


The title of a monographic exhibition held in 2017 at the Maxxi in Rome, “Piero Gilardi: Nature Forever”, thus also reflected the artist’s continued commitment to social and political ecology. to dangle the possibility of an eternal nature, immortalized by this material derived from petroleum. “Art must be part of life, but life being alienated, we must dedicate ourselves to freeing it and de-alienating it”, estimates the Turinese. In the first room of the Michel Rein gallery, in Paris (IIIe), five small circular works produced by the artist during the confinement surround a Igloo well-known from 1964, also in polyurethane foam, with all blistered joints. Everything that we have missed during these few months is gathered here: a shelter, a Toucan seized in full flight (struck by lightning?), a fluorescent pink seashell at the bottom of the ocean, ears of corn and vines. Everything we have been cut off from, therefore, the crisis being both a cause and an effect of our radical separation from the natural world.

Piero Gilardi, who was associated from its earliest days with the arte povera movement, whose name he quickly rejected, loathing the labels he considered calibrated for the market, interrupted his artistic production in the 1970s to concentrate on collective militant and artistic actions, before returning to “nature rugs” in the 1980s and creating, in 2008, an experimental living art park in Turin, in the middle of an industrial wasteland.


There are in the gallery very present echoes of his activism, huge ears of corn-costumes having been used in anti-GMO demonstrations that we could easily see ourselves put on, right there, or gigantic masks used to caricature well-known politicians. at demonstrations, but on reflection every blade of fake weed spells out its bias clearly. Just sit (yeah, yeah, go!) On that big rubbery tree trunk with grooves and knots carbon copies of real ones, Aigues Tortes (2007): immediately, a bird will start to sing. Are we not all part of the same chain of reciprocal reactions, he calls out to us, all inhabitants of the world in the same way?

Elisabeth Franck-Dumas

Piero Gilardi From Nature to Art Galerie Michel Rein, 75003. Until October 24.


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