Last month, as supermodels and fashion designers elbowed their way through New York Fashion Week, with high glamour swamping the city and spotlights illuminating the beautiful and famous people, a small gallery in Chelsea opened a show by an exceptional Italian artist who depicts contemporary society, especially the fashion world, from the other side of the coin.
Skewed faces, distorted bodies, impossibly skinny women, and sad eyes; empty landscapes and references to ancient worlds. Daniele Davitti’s paintings and drawings at Tazza Gallery, in an exhibition curated by Veronica Santi, are mostly realized with watercolors and Japanese ink painting/calligraphy, but they filter today’s society through a number of different cultural influences. In his grotesque figures we can identify Renaissance paintings and frescos, Japanese prints and illustrations, and fashion design, as well as references to modern art in the vein of Goya and de Chirico, Gustav Klimt and the Expressionists. The tragedy and comedy of the first half of the 20th century play a substantial role, merged with his own experiences in Asian countries, where he spent time studying Japanese calligraphy, engraving, and textile design.
Davitti tells stories about the beauty of decay, the loss of identity, and the struggle for resurrection from a past that keeps holding its shadow over the present. His works are born from his deep reluctance about the synthetic and false beauties that our society classifies as ideal. He calls them “beautiful containers without content” while puckering his face. And the roots of his critique extend deeper than the shiny pictures of the haute couture world. As the youngest fashion-design professor in Italy (he teaches at the Polimoda and IULM), Davitti explains what he encounters in the future generation of creative fashion makers: “I must sadly admit that most of my students start school without having any dreams to pursue, without any critical thought and little passion,” he told Hyperallergic. “In a country where past and present riches are threatened by an economic crisis and neglected by a corrupt and too often ineffectual bureaucracy, people don’t believe in the future anymore and seem to live in an eternal apnea.” Enriched by sumptuous patterns, sophisticated symbols, and crumbling architecture, Davitti’s misshapen human figures are displayed on a dramatic stage.
“Caterina” (2013), a princess who wears a winged headdress decorated with death symbols, welcomes us at the entrance of the gallery, setting the tone for the entire exhibition. Her body is wrapped in swathes of precious fabric, in contrast to her sharp facial features and vacant stare. It seems as if she has emerged from former times to keep watch over the evolution of today’s beauties.
In “Cohabeo” (2013), two older women with Geisha-like hairstyles stand before the spectator, one in the process of disrobing. The headpieces include what look like miniature archeological relics, while the dresses combine clear references to Japanese culture, ancient Roman times, and contemporary stylists like Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and Balenciaga. The women seem to be trapped in themselves and the world they inhabit, and you can’t help but pity them; yet they represent such glamour, you also can’t look away.
“Infelici Stanze” (2013) features a group of vampiric women whose faces alternately beg for and demand affection and attention, their gestures and poses conveying a grotesque exaggeration of the fashion world. We can recognize famous models from the 1950s like Suzy Parker and Lisa Fonssagrives, as well as present-day celebrities like Belen Rodriguez, Kim Kardashian, and Snooki. With their captivating and aggressive glances, they bewitch the viewer while offering a touch of comedy.
Davitti’s art displays a complex sensitivity to the social and political in fashion. The beauty of his work is coupled with a deep skepticism towards the superficiality and unease with which our society hides behind the facade of glamour. Yet his figures are impeccable in their will to be imperfect — even his oldest woman and most wrinkled face, the most gnarled body and darkest expression, appear quite flawless. In the end, Davitti may achieve the opposite of what he intended: praise for the aesthetics of fashion disguised as a critique.
Daniele Davitti: Immaculate Decay continues at Tazza Gallery (547 West 27th Street, Chelsea Manhattan) through October 25.
L’articolo è stato pubblicato su Hyperallergic