BerlinFrancesco Clemente: Watchtowers, Gates and The Sea of Stories
Blain|Southern Berlin presents Watchtowers, Gates and The Sea of Stories, a solo exhibition of recent works by Francesco Clemente (b. 1952, Naples) and the first presentation of the artist’s sculptures in Europe. The exhibition comprises The Sea of Stories, a monumental mural spanning the length of the gallery created on site, and two bodies of sculpture created in collaboration with local artisans in Rajasthan.
Often described as a ‘nomadic artist’, Clemente first travelled to India in the early 1970s and continues to live and work between the subcontinent, Europe and the US. Influenced by India’s traditions, symbolism and the artistic approaches of its artisans, Clemente has created a deeply personal visual vocabulary inspired his experiences. Whilst celebrated as a painter, his lesser-known sculptural practice relates to the pictorial language of his paintings and works on paper. Every work is a confluence of different elements and motifs such as ladders, labyrinths, gates and keys which allude to transition, boundaries and spaces ‘in between’: earth and sky, the internal and external, and states of consciousness.
Watchtowers (2014-2019), is a series of sculptures cast in aluminium from everyday objects sourced in Rajasthan, which can be described as ladders which lead to platforms or altars. On these, objects resembling offerings or gifts have been placed on a higher level, ‘in order to avoid the flood to come’ (Francesco Clemente). Evoking the seemingly precarious scaffolding seen all over India, each of the sculptures is characterised by an inherent balancing act: Equanimity (2017) resembles a scale which holds several sculptures of Krishna in varying sizes which unexpectedly counterbalance the two sides of the scales. In Self-Portrait Watchtower (2016), chains attach the eyes, ears, nose and mouth of the artist’s head to concrete-cast bundles of rope anchored to the ground, creating a labyrinth on the ground.
Wall of Gates (2019) is a group of eight freestanding metal frames, each with 97 vintage iron keys suspended within a network of votive string which is traditionally given to worshippers at holy sites. The title, Wall of Gates, alludes to the paradox of a passage being blocked by a web of keys.
The Sea of Stories (2019) is a site-specific mural in which Clemente reinterprets the twelves signs of the zodiac, with each sign representing a gateway. Drawn directly onto the gallery wall by the artist, it is embellished in oxblood paint by muralists from Oaxaca, Mexico; a continuation of Clemente’s long history of collaboration with other artists and artisans.
The exhibition tours to Blain|Southern Berlin from Dallas Contemporary, where it debuted in spring 2019.
Francesco Clemente‘s work is has been the focus of many international exhibitions including at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, UK (1983); the Nationalgalerie, Berlin, DE (1984); the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, US (1985); the Art Institute of Chicago, US (1987) and Dia Center for the Arts, New York, US (1988). Through the 1990s, surveys of his work were exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, US (1990); the Royal Academy of the Arts, London, UK (1990); Centre Pompidou, Paris, FR (1994) and the Sezon Museum, Tokyo, JP (1994). In 1999/2000, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Guggenheim Bilbao organised major retrospectives of Clemente’s work.
Recent solo exhibitions include: Dallas Art Museum, TX (2019); The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, US (2018); Springs Art Center, Beijing, CN (2016); Mass MoCA, Massachusetts, US (2015); The Rubin Museum of Art, New York, US (2014-2015); Palazzo Sant’Elia, Palermo, IT (2013); Uffizi Gallery, Florence, IT (2011); Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, DE (2011); Museo MADRE, Naples, IT (2009); Museo Maxxi, Rome, IT (2006); The Rose Art Museum, Massachusetts, US (2004); the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, IE (2004).
The Albertina Museum in Vienna and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art will host solo exhibitions of Francesco Clemente’s work in 2020.
Clemente is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.Francesco Clemente, The Sea of Stories (detail), 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Dallas Contemporary. Photo: Kevin Todora