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"Gran Torino" Brings Italian Skulls and Jugs to Frost Art Museum

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Don't confuse "Gran Torino," the new exhibit opening at the Frost Art Museum tonight, as a knock on the high price of gas or an ironic ode to car culture. The exhibit has nothing to do with America's love affair with the muscle car. Nor is it a nod to the Clint Eastwood flick by the same name. Instead it offers a revved up look at the work of artists hailing from Turin, Italy -- that nation's version of Detroit -- where automakers Lancia, Ferrari, Fiat and Alfa Romeo are based.

"Most people know us best as the home of the Shroud of Turin," says Paolo Facelli, who along with Francesco Poli, co-curated the sprawling group show. "But we are an international center of the contemporary arts and one of the birthplaces of arte povera," he says.

Arte povera (poor art) was a term first used by the Italian art critic and curator, Germano Celant in 1967 to characterize the use of unconventional materials in the creative process. The movement's heyday lasted until 1972 but its influence endures today and echoes across the show's newer works.

"Gran Torino" boasts 30 works by 30 artists created in a broad arsenal of materials and styles. It features artists that emerged during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s along with a newer generation that has surfaced the past 15 years.

The show's nuts and bolts span everything from paintings, to sculpture, photography, video, and mixed media installations. Looks for names ranging from Michelangelo Pistoletto, to Mario Merz, Nicola Bolla, Luigi Mainolfi, Filippo di Sambuy, Botto and Bruno and Fabio Viale. These artists have been influential in developing the arte povera style and contributed the evolution of the Italian avant-garde the past four decades.

"Turin is a critical center of the arte povera movement and also one of Italy's most important industrial hubs," the curator says.  "Figures such as Pistoletto, Merz, Alighiero Boetti, and Giuseppe Penone, for example, all used industrial or unusual materials during the late 1960s and the 1970s, rejecting traditional modes of expression such as oils on canvas or carved marble in their works. It was a way of exploring new and experimental approaches to creating work using unexpected materials during a challenging and radical time."

"Turin is a lab city," explains Facelli. "Italy's first highway was built there. Our first radio transmission was sent from there and our first flight took off from there. It was an environment ripe for artistic experimentation at the time." Perhaps the most intriguing measure of the exhibit is how lastingly arte povera has influenced a younger generation of artists from Turin. Several of them have raced past the old guard, up-shifting the gears when it comes to the media they deploy while at other times making sharp hairpin turns with their work.

Among these is Fabio Viale's Souvenir Giaconda sculpted in 2008. His hand-carved statue of the Mona Lisa (above) appears crafted from Styrofoam at a quick glance. But on closer inspection, once the eyes roam over what looks like the round dimples and dents of the familiar packing material you realize he chiseled his slick opus out of white Carrera marble instead.

"Grand Torino's" show stealer, however, might well be Enrico Iuliano's 2005 eye-popping installation, Composition for glass objects on Vespa. In it, the artist has used a nifty Italian scooter saddled with copious glass jugs, which appear to be full of a hearty Barollo wine. His motorbike straddles a rectangular fountain full of the blood red fluid trickling into the limpid tub then back into the jugs.

Enrico Iuliano
Composition for glass objects on Vespa

"Gran Torino" opens at the Frost Art Museum (10975 SW 17th St., Miami) tomorrow at 6 p.m. The exhibit is up until April 17. Admission is free. Call 305-348-2890 or visit thefrost.fiu.edu

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