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- Until 10.12.22

“I see it as an invitation by the space to create new work; as if the architectural space generates the work as a principle.”

Axel Vervoordt Gallery is pleased to present Clair/Obscur, an exhibition of work by Renato Nicolodi (°Anderlecht, 1980). The exhibition features a new series of recent sculptures and paintings on canvas that exist as a response to the dialogue that space provides as a framework, in this case modern, minimalist white cube architecture.

The exhibition’s title, Clair/Obscur, is a direct reference to one of the canonical principles of Renaissance art, especially in painting, which in turn hints at Nicolodi's training as a painter but also in sculpture and architecture, where contrasting factors create a marble or granite play of light and dark: full and empty spaces; volumes in front of and behind each other.

In the mid-15th century, Leon Battista Alberti wrote one of the key works of the Renaissance as the first printed book on architecture: De re aedificatoria. In the book, Alberti was adamant that the entrance to a temple should be well-lit and the interior “not too gloomy”, but on the other hand, regarding the altar, “the awe that is naturally generated by darkness encourages a sense of variation in the mind.”

Next to geometry, material was one of the architect's highest assets, Alberti wrote. As ever, Nicolodi is faithful to the singularity of the material, creating between limits and possibilities. Nicolodi's signature use of concrete led to a white sculpture for this exhibition with a texture reminiscent of a granite surface. The discovery of the possibilities of acrylic resin marked a turning point in his work and thinking — the solidity of the material allows each sculpture to stand outdoors, sparking dialogue with nature and landscape after the context of white walls.

Just as Renaissance artists sought a symbiosis between the ideals of antiquity and those of nature, Nicolodi makes sculptures that transcend different time zones to a certain universality. It’s like the term chiaroscuro itself, which is used to describe the dramatic tenebroso tone of quattrocento paintings but could also form the analogy with modernist literature such as Samuel Beckett's descriptions of both posture and light. Nicolodi's archetypal architectural constructions lead to just as wide a range of references: from ancient Rome, Greece, or Mesopotamia to the scenography of Michelangelo Antonioni or even Joel Coen.

The same applies to Nicolodi’s use of titles — some seem to refer to the architectural constructions Alberti talks about, others to Aristotelian concepts. The title, Assenza Presente, sums that up: the present absence, or vice versa. Nicolodi's work lacks concrete suggestions for interpretation and a manual for interpretation of the concept. “Every painted image of something is also about the absence of the real thing. All painting is about the presence of absence,” art critic and poet John Berger said. The shift in Nicolodi's pursuits from painting to sculpture seemed to endorse this adage in a formalist way: an interest in the massive, monolithic nature of the Atlantic Wall led to concrete casts of bunker wall imprints, carrying an inherent historical layering.

Painting plays a prominent role in this exhibition, but unlike earlier works that were set up according to a pattern of dark to light and thus always added a layer to the foreground, these paintings — for the first time on canvas — are established light to dark.

Back to Italy, many centuries after Alberti. In the late 1950s, Piero Manzoni worked on his abstract two-dimensional kaolinite sculptures. As banishment of colour, they were White, which, like everything else in narrative, was rejected into what he called his achromes.

“We absolutely cannot consider the picture as a space on which to project our mental scenography,” Manzoni said. In Nicolodi's work, it is precisely the emptiness, the absence of narrative, that serves as a vehicle for projecting one's reflections and contemplations: the architectural constructions can only be walked on mentally. But, like Manzoni, Nicolodi does not provide a manual for interpretation: the universal sacredness he attempts to evoke in his work refers to different eras, and different forms of worldview, without limiting themselves to one.

The suggestion that it is the spectator who completes the work, is a credo that has been repeated with some regularity. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, for instance, said that the white, marble sculpture of the Laocoön Group, one of the main sources of inspiration for Renaissance artists, was best viewed when the spectator would contemplate it by torchlight at night, reconstructing the fragments of the contrasting play of light and shadow into a tableau vivant in his mind. About the peristyles of the Greek temple at Paestum, he said something similar: “only when one moves around them, through them, does one really communicate life to them.”

With Clair/Obscur, Nicolodi invites us to a new dialogue, a new communication, in a scenography of stairs, corridors, overlaps, volumes, and repetitions. Perhaps, they could function as a resting point for a society in flux, where any certainty is increasingly questioned by ever-repeating challenges. Again, it is somewhere between limits and possibilities that the dialogue takes place: the limits of entry are demarcated by mental boundaries, but the possibility of reflection goes as far as the wanderer would like.

About the artist

Renato Nicolodi (°Brussels, 1980) seeks to evoke a universal sacrality in his work. His sculptures and paintings imagine spaces with corridors and stairs leading to closed- off passage-ways. Light and shade draw the gaze of the spectator to the inside of the construction, which remains invisible. The core of the work seems to conserve some sort of emptiness. The artist refers to archetypical buildings from past times and cultures, stripping them from their original function, ornament and dogma.

He creates monuments, relics, shrines that conserve both the memory and the thought of the maker as well as those of the spectator. Nicolodi’s sculptures and paintings form mental beacons for people who live in an age where society has gone in overdrive; in a time where everything is questioned: science, technology, nature, culture and the position of man within all of this. The works are visual anchors that invite the spectator to meditate and reflect. They form the physical and mental access points through which the spectator can meander through his or her own mental space.

“From the moment a dimension is defined as a

meas¬ure, it functions as a foundation and it defines the

fur¬ther development of the presupposed concept.”

Renato Nicolodi was born in 1980 in Anderlecht, a municipality of the Brussels-Capital Region. He obtained his Masters degree in Audiovisual and Fine Arts, at Sint-Lukas, also in Brussels. He completed the penultimate year of his studies in Rome, where he had the opportunity to study for a year at the Accademia di belli Arti di Roma. In 2007, Nicolodi was a laureate at the High Institute of Fine Arts (HISK) in Ghent. In 2012, Nicolodi enjoyed a working grant at FLACC, a workshop for the visual arts in Genk, the city where he realised a permanent sculpture four years earlier. In 2014, he received an honourable mention at the Grote Prijs Ernest Albert 2014, Prize for Sculpture of the City of Mechelen.

Today Nicolodi lives and works in Borchtlombeek, not far from Brussels.

In 2015, the book Ni Co Lo Di was published, which offers an overview of his ten years of art practice. The book, designed by Onno Hesselink, contains contributions by the Dutch architect Wim van den Bergh, philosopher Ben Overlaet, psychologist Joannes Késenne and art historian Marie-Pascale Gildemyn.

In addition to his sculptures and paintings, Nicolodi provided the scenography for the exhibition Madame Grès - Sculptural Fashion at the Antwerp Fashion Museum in 2012-2013. More recently he took care of the scenography of the opera To Be Sung in Flagey/La Monnaie in Brussels (2016, Pascal Dusapin) and of the theatre play World Without Us, performed by Ontroerend Goed on different locations between 2016 and 2018.

© Axel Vervoordt Gallery Antwerp
Stokerijstraat 19
2110 Wijnegem — Belgium



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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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