Luca Beatrice

Luca Beatrice

2017

A journey between the organic and the universe

Who is Meggiato? An artist, but also a philosopher, scholar, alchemist, artisan and scientist, capable of bringing into sculpture a formal repertoire of symbolic cataloguing and abstract representation of the universe. To plunge into the mystical dimension of Venice, through bronze castings, inlays, works in marble and stone, means getting lost in the cellular choreography of luminous evanescence organized in stately abstract poses, sometimes enveloping, sometimes elusive. Fossils of a distant past granted new life through magic. A time and a life with which we can easily identify, because they both rely on the matter of which we are made and the idea towards which we strive, with spheres like nuclei, labyrinths like membranes, visceral protrusions and indentations. Meggiato’s matter is organic, and manages to become noble; an extremely familiar yet exquisitely arcane entity, a being that thrives on the dualism of man, the same one of which the universe is made and towards which, by destiny, we are inexorably drawn.

“A celebration of life and the grand history of the cosmos.” This is how the American director Terrence Malick announced the release of his latest film at the last Venice Film Festival, the result of over four decades of research packed into cinematic form in just an hour and a half, corresponding to an emotional journey in pursuit of the origins of the universe. The ambitious film is Voyage of Time (2016), a colossal documentary halfway between the epic and the scientific treatise, enriched by aesthetic and philosophical detours, references to the history of art and humankind, ready to delve into microscopic and cosmic matter, placing them in a close symbolic and iconic relationship. The viewer’s sense of vertigo when faced by the extraordinary images projected on the big screen sums up the ancestral desire to reconsolidate a connection with a temporal and spatial elsewhere that goes beyond the everyday dimension and seeks deeper and loftier reasons in the genesis of the world.

The detailed plot focuses on the theme of life and the principle of birth, be it a pure definition of phenomena of a physical character inside the geological, natural and environmental episodes that make up the history of the universe, or the more specifically metaphysical outlook that speaks of an original design in terms of a religious creed. That of the Holy Scriptures, for example, taking the form of a book of great poetic impact regarding not so much (or not only) the birth of the Earth, but above all its mechanism of creation and its laws, at the center of which man is the protagonist, with his principle of dualism. The unity of opposites – light and shadow, life and death, heaven and earth, man and woman – takes place through the elementary action of separation: in the Book of Genesis human awareness is capable of discerning beauty (goodness) and automatically generating the category of ugliness (evil), validating a universal law applicable to any matter or concept, which urges the harmony of opposites as a practice to attribute substance to the things of the world.

All of Gianfranco Meggiato’s sculpture is an ode to life, to that idea of a primordial nucleus that lies behind mathematical-physical theories and provides indications on the origin of the universe, both for mystics and for atheists. Emptiness shapes fullness through the alternation of abstractions and geometric figures, spheres and grids, in a continuous dialogue between self and cosmos.

His models generate themselves within each other, pointing to the need to develop a precise iconographic value in the plastic action, structured through the scientific utopia that looks at the cosmos and relates it to the human soul and its most instinctive impulses. They are torsions, tensions, materic thrusts, condensed solids that convey a liquid sensation; they range from cosmic ideologies to biological systems, making reference to magnetic fields and orbital designs starting from organic, terrestrial or cellular membranes, rechanneled – through the choice of materials – into symbolic and finite forms. They are metaphors of man, who as Meggiato has written “is a spiritual being temporarily closed in a physical body.”

Thus his sculptures narrate the great story of the cosmos by investigating the macroscopic and microscopic space of the universe, its features and forms, calling into play the know-how of technique at the service of the idea. Each sculpture is made in keeping with the 16th-century model of the foundry workshop, passing through actions of shaping coordinated by the Master, the only one capable of channeling the ancestral aura of his models with the precious quality of metal, of burnished or painted (in white or black) bronze mail, and of the glowing spheres thus incorporated (of gold and silver). In Meggiato’s complex production we can see his ability to adapt the standard in daring aesthetic feats. Passing from the casting to the model, through the technique of lost-wax casting and after various steps of firing of the original, the molten metal takes on the form imagined by the artist, which is then finished with processes of welding and chiseling, as in the tradition of goldsmithery, taken here to the large scale of sculpture.

“Genesis” is the latest result of research that has continued incessantly since the 1990s, when Gianfranco Meggiato began to explore the nature of organic nuclei, the earth and human beings, unbreakable chains of DNA, ganglia, alveoli and biological nerve endings. The exhibition – though it would be better defined as a more complex intellectual project – thus takes on the configuration of a celebration of the history of the universe and of all living matter, of millions, billions of cells that form structures and organs of the existing whole, of plants, animals and our own bodies. The cell, that miracle of complexity that represents the quintessence of the human being, is the sophisticated work of architecture represented by Gianfranco Meggiato, investigated in its possible iconographic variants and in all its symbolic overtones, all the way to its constituent part, the nucleus, and its protective membrane where the sequence of data that define the characteristics of every organism is placed. In the cellular arrangements enlarged in fascinating abstract patterns the Venetian artist finds the ideal subject for his sculptures: there is the whole behavioral dynamic of the material in the liquid state, that of the incandescent and concentric layers of the earthly sphere in the precise instant in which it gives rise to evocative sculptural labyrinths similar to organic tangles, of the brain’s gray matter, or of molecules. These microscopic visions of nature, balanced between plastic form and architecture, are enriched by a visionary thrust that in the titles expands into an otherworldly realm of transcendental research, which turns the eyes to the heavens to seek an answer to the mystery of creation for which every work is the secret repository. So it is no coincidence that Meggiato names his spheres and alveoli by thinking about the constellations and astronomy, with references that range from Jewish Kabbalah to Christian doctrine: Aldebaran, one of the brightest stars and part of one of the oldest constellations; Orion, the most luminous constellation; Antares, the red supergiant; along with more mystical titles like Ascesi dell’anima (Ascesis of the Soul), Il soffio della vita (The Breath of Life), Genesi bianca (White Genesis), Verso la libertà (Towards Freedom), Archetipo (Archetype).

For this new exhibition adventure – with over 50 works of medium and large size – Gianfranco Meggiato returns home, to Venice, the city of his birth and background, where before his 18th birthday he had already made his first work, that panel of stone carved with bold fractals in which even today we can see the stylistic signature of much of his career. His project is hosted by the Scuola Nuova della Misericordia, one of the six “grandi scuole” of the Serenissima, a building designed by Sansovino to bring together various types of craftsmen in its elegant hall on the ground level. Here, amidst the coupled stone columns and the frescoes of the workshop of Veronese, he presents an intense overview of his recent output, coming to terms with the monumental scale of the 16th-century architecture, both inside and outside. And we know how difficult it can be to manage an encounter between the contemporary and historical memory.

Who is Meggiato? An artist, but also a philosopher, scholar, alchemist, artisan and scientist, capable of bringing into sculpture a formal repertoire of symbolic cataloguing and abstract representation of the universe. To plunge into the mystical dimension of Venice, through bronze castings, inlays, works in marble and stone, means getting lost in the cellular choreography of luminous evanescence organized in stately abstract poses, sometimes enveloping, sometimes elusive. Fossils of a distant past granted new life through magic. A time and a life with which we can easily identify, because they both rely on the matter of which we are made and the idea towards which we strive, with spheres like nuclei, labyrinths like membranes, visceral protrusions and indentations. Meggiato’s matter is organic, and manages to become noble; an extremely familiar yet exquisitely arcane entity, a being that thrives on the dualism of man, the same one of which the universe is made and towards which, by destiny, we are inexorably drawn.

Luca Beatrice

2011

Liquid sculpture

[…] Sculptural elements that should constitute a formal synthesis of the actions of man, in contact with the cogwheels of our society, where what is needed is willpower, strength, optimism, simplicity, and clarity.
Pietro Consagra
I have a renewed passion for Natural History museums, which defy time with their collections of ancient, enormous or microscopic animal and plant species, cutting across the scientific fields of zoology, botany, mineralogy, geology, and palaeontology. In the museum in Turin, as well as biological and abiological forms, there are some incredible entomology and ornithology sections stacked high with invisible cities of insects and secret collections of nests that would bring any expert in housing units and social architecture to his or her knees.
Looking at Gianfranco Meggiato’s twisting warrens and nuclei of material energy, I find the same systematic composure and the same entropic power working to contain natural chaos within forms that are themselves generated by chaos. The fragmentation of cellular unity in Meggiato’s sculptures is protected by a material tension of forms that may at first sight appear familiar. This may be because they take quite naturally from a primeval biological architecture, from cells and nuclei of implosions and explosions, chains of DNA and disorderly, corporal viscera.
I admire the dexterity of those creative “hands” of insects and birds, which are capable of devising solutions available to humans, just as I admire the ability of an artist to enter so deeply into his material as to immortalise its fluidity, even in the fixity of bronze.

[…] Sculptural elements that should constitute a formal synthesis of the actions of man, in contact with the cogwheels of our society, where what is needed is willpower, strength, optimism, simplicity, and clarity.
Pietro Consagra
I have a renewed passion for Natural History museums, which defy time with their collections of ancient, enormous or microscopic animal and plant species, cutting across the scientific fields of zoology, botany, mineralogy, geology, and palaeontology. In the museum in Turin, as well as biological and abiological forms, there are some incredible entomology and ornithology sections stacked high with invisible cities of insects and secret collections of nests that would bring any expert in housing units and social architecture to his or her knees.
Looking at Gianfranco Meggiato’s twisting warrens and nuclei of material energy, I find the same systematic composure and the same entropic power working to contain natural chaos within forms that are themselves generated by chaos. The fragmentation of cellular unity in Meggiato’s sculptures is protected by a material tension of forms that may at first sight appear familiar. This may be because they take quite naturally from a primeval biological architecture, from cells and nuclei of implosions and explosions, chains of DNA and disorderly, corporal viscera.
I admire the dexterity of those creative “hands” of insects and birds, which are capable of devising solutions available to humans, just as I admire the ability of an artist to enter so deeply into his material as to immortalise its fluidity, even in the fixity of bronze.
It is no coincidence that Meggiato uses the lost-wax casting technique, for he models his “nests” and then lets them solidify into a metallic cast that takes the place of the first mould, which simply liquefies.
The nervous terminations of content are trapped in their container, and vice versa, in an equilibrium of solids and voids, balancing the torsion of lines and the solidity of volumes. Alveoli contain spheres and squares that disperse their edges in threads of genetic code.
They come apart without ever breaking, they pull and push, inviting us to look inside and to plunge in a hand to hold the nucleus for an instant. Shown but not revealed. The simplicity of the interior is the existential component that creates the complexity of the exterior.
Gianfranco Meggiato is a classic sculptor, well versed in technique, and yet his fluid forms, which have their place among geometrical solids – the pyramid, sphere, cylinder and cube – overcome the antithesis of abstraction and representation in a lexicon that is made universal by its cosmic order. Classicism thus acquires science-fiction overtones and is coupled with an aesthetic synthesis that transcends physics and culminates in philosophy.
In the first chapter of the modern sci-fi saga initiated by Roland Emmerich’s Stargate (1994), Ra’s spaceship is shaped like a pyramid that, by traversing the cosmos and landing on the planet of Abydos, was to reopen the “gateway to the stars”. Slightly science-fictional and equally classic, Meggiato’s forms seek to reunite the earliest theories of cosmic order with the poetic complexity of the human spirit.
There are symbols of life and fertility, the egg, and tantric emblems of a rejoining of physical and mental balances: the nirvana of Buddhist philosophy. The quest for perfection, in a metaphysical sense, appears in the totems intended as ascesis and material elevation. This is no more than a summation of creative desire, and a predisposition for overcoming the laws of gravity in order to rise up to a dimension that is more mental than physical.
Meggiato achieves a balance of external geometries that relate to the internal mechanisms of his volumes, thus restoring to sculpture its capacity for giving form to an idea and to a barely sketched-out poetic vision.
Vortex, energy, ascesis and tension are the keywords in his artistic lexicon, appearing in the titles or as imaginary subtitles that give us an insight into his aesthetic research. Columns and spheres, cones and totem poles are rent apart and cut into the sleek, reflecting perfection of bronze. If shrunk down to the size of micro-sculptures, they would appear as gems from a fine tradition of jewellery craftsmanship. But Meggiato prefers the uniqueness of sculpture and refuses the concept of the multiple.
His masters are Leoncillo, who handled ceramic as though it were incandescent lava frozen into the forms of trees and bodies traversed by clean cuts, and he takes from the flowing forms of Pietro Consagra’s two-dimensional modular architectures of overlapping sheets, and Sangregorio’s relativistic primitivism.
But with equal flair Meggiato takes up the bronze tradition of the Pomodoro brothers, Giò and Arnaldo, so geometrical and angular, though prefering the void to the solid and carrying out the reverse operation of the Milanese sculptors: giving form to the container, making it implode or explode in a way that is indeed restrained, yet more emotional. There is no formal calculation in Meggiato’s aesthetics, and his line is sinuous and more visceral.
It may well be due to the Venetian tradition he comes from – that of master craftsmen, first of blown glass and then of ceramics. Meggiato treats his forms as though they truly were an incandescent lava of crystallised silicon.
Sculptures that attempt to break out of the mould while remaining ensnared in dense, jumbled tangles.