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© Image courtesy of Axel Vervoordt Gallery

Axel Vervoordt Gallery is pleased to announce a new exhibition by Italian artist Marco Tirelli (°Rome, 1956). The exhibition features fourteen large-scale works created with different techniques: airbrush, stencils, ink and charcoal on canvas, lithography, and photography. It is the artist’s second exhibition at Kanaal and the gallery’s fourth exhibition overall.

Tirelli grew up at the Swiss Institute in Rome — one of the Italian capital’s national institutes for art and science — where his father was the secretary of the institute. When he was young, he got lost in the vast, magnificent library and within a garden in which natural cycles succeeded each other. Outside, the years of La Dolce Vita and unrestrained creativity were happening, as Federico Fellini captured in several films in the 1960s. Within the institute’s walls, Tirelli found peace and tranquillity. He had his first studio there at the age of fifteen and began developing his initial artistic exercises.

Today, Tirelli lives outside Rome, on Umbria’s country fields. The region, characterised by its gently rolling hills and ephemeral cloud formations, is also known as Umbria Mystica. It has always attracted many artists, including Sol LeWitt and Alighiero Boetti, with whom Tirelli built a friendly appreciation, as well as Piero Dorazio or Cy Twombly, among others. In the neighbourhood where Tirelli lives, electric street lighting is not possible; when there is no moon, only darkness remains. “When I open the window, I see a painting by Malevich. I know the world is there, but all I have in front of me is a black square.” Through associations, knowledge, and experiences, he manages to reconstruct the mountains and streets from memory.

Tirelli's work contains nothing of the claim to totality or finality that was characteristic of suprematism. Michelangelo's theory, which outlined that a block of marble holds every possible sculpture, every possible idea, is more apt in this regard. For Tirelli, he says, the Black Square is a place for mirroring the soul, with endless possibilities. Giorgio de Chirico's vanishing perspectives, the metaphysical cities where shadows refer to what is happening outside the canvas, show similar possibilities.

Yet, it is the Renaissance primarily that is more often a source of Tirelli’s contemplation. The exhibitions and showcases that Tirelli builds often take on the encyclopaedic character of a studiolo, a private room in a palace, a microcosm within the world, in which the owner could devote himself to cultural interests. The studiolo of Duke Federico da Montefeltro, another prominent figure of the Cinquecento, counts as Tirelli's example: he considers it a transparent self-portrait, in which all the elements of his mind, soul, and memory, were depicted on the walls. Various artifacts and elements thereby referred to Classical Greece, the time when a trained memory was vital — as during the rest of history before the development of the print.

Memory and its possibilities are central motifs in Tirelli's oeuvre. In this regard, the viewer is free to lay claim to their memory, hence the untitled works and exhibitions. Exceptionally, an exhibition title shows the point of view, such as “Immaginario” at the Roman Palazzo Poli, or “Memories”: the result of the collaboration with Patti Smith at the Auditorium Parco della Musica di Roma. Tirelli referred to his installation at the 2013 Venice Biennale as “Theatre of Memory,” referring to the Renaissance tradition of mnemonic devices.

It also refers to the Platonic idea of theatre. We find ourselves, Tirelli says, on a stage upon which nothing is right or wrong, nothing real or imaginary. Light provides representation and eliminates the darkness or the condition of non-perception. The forms to which the world shows itself are constantly changing. Just as light is in molecular motion, the representation of Tirelli's subjects is also in constant change. The perception of the world is like a mirror, prompted by its stimuli.

Tirelli is aware of his role as an artist and the responsibility to interpret that he places on the viewer. The works he creates start from his memory, from found images from books, postcards, or geographical maps, but also from earlier work or photographs he takes. With airbrushes, rulers, and stencils he recreates a state between reality and falsity; a certain grain on the works imitates photography or the influence of light. The subjects are not objects but representations.

The result has been called encyclopaedic, holistic, eclectic, or anthropological. The reconstructions from the artist's brain refer for the spectator to other, potential, conceivable formations, cultural or natural history conventions. They are in the context of an enigmatic aura, or interjected narratives, as the artist calls it. He also speaks of osmosis, a filtering movement that takes place at the edge — the intrusion of representations of reality into the human brain. Within sociology, there is the concept of social osmosis: the indirect infusion of cultural knowledge. Umberto Eco (2012) wrote that there are more books than hours to read them and that it is perfectly possible to learn about their contents through the narratives of others. Again: external stimuli.

In 1962, Eco wrote in The Open Work that the multiplicity of meanings defines the contingency of a work of art. Interpretation is encompassing, meanings follow different perspectives. The “reception” of an artwork depends on the uniqueness of the viewer. According to Eco, it’s a dynamic process, a game of stimulus and response, without any fixed conclusion or final meaning. In 1990 in The Limits of Interpretation, Eco wrote that the freedom of the spectator has gone too far and that a work should be seen as a coherent whole, as a yardstick for interpretation. But in Tirelli’s case, it’s precisely that ever-changing, personal interpretation that provides coherence and completes the work. As the American art critic Barbara Rose commented about Tirelli's work: “This is the world of the loss of memory Tirelli fights against in his homage to the power of the imagination to remember what it has created.”1


Tirelli earned a degree in Fine Arts at Rome’s Accademia di Belle Arti and graduated in set design under the renowned geometric Toti Scialoja. Tirelli is usually counted among the New Roman School or the Scuala di San Lorenzo, a group of artists who worked in and around the former Cerere pasta factory in San Lorenzo. In 1982, he participated in the Venice Biennale for the first time, in the Aperto ‘82 section (invited by Scialoja). In 1990, a duo exhibition with Sol LeWitt was held at the American Academy in Rome, followed by the participation in the XLIV Biennale di Venezia with a personal room: a crucial development in Tirelli’s career. Other biennials he participated in in the early 1990s were those of Sydney, Sao Paolo, and Frankfurt. While maintaining a base at the Pastificio Cerere factory, Tirelli began to spend most of the time in a secluded house and studio in the mountains of Umbria in the region of Spoleto, far removed from the noise and chaos of city life in Rome. The last ten years, again seen several important solo exhibitions have been organised, including at MACRO, Rome (2012); Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2013); Palazzo Poli - Instituto Nazionale per la Grafica in Rome (2013); Musée d'art moderne et contemporain, Saint-Etienne Métropole (2016); and Palazzo Comunale di Todi (2017). In 2019, he realized the work Proteo commissioned by the MAXXI Museum in Rome. Other collections where his work is part of include La Galleria Nazionale, Rome; MACRO Rome, Farnesina Art Collection, Rome; MART, Rovertero; Palazzo Fortuny, Venice; Art Collection of the European Parliament, Brussels; Albertina Museum, Vienna; Mumok, Vienna and Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan.

1 Barbara Rose, Marco Tirelli, publ. on the occasion of the 55th ed. of Esposizione internazionale d’arte La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, June 1-Nov. 24, 2013 (Pistoia: Ori, 2013). In 2018, Barbara Rose also invited Tirelli to the exhibition La Pittura dopo il Postmodernismo – Painting after Postmodernism, Reggia di Caserta, Italy.



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Contemporary Art Belgium is a platform dedicated to provide a selection of current contemporary art exhibitions in Belgium. It was created to turn a spotlight on the large and very dynamic Belgian contemporary art scene as well as to connect people and start dialogues.

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