Matteo Rubbi’s second solo show at Studio Guenzani not only confirmed him as one of the most interesting Italian artists of recent years, it also reinforced my conviction that the last two generations of Italian artists have been influenced more by literature and cinema than by art history. In Rubbi’s work there is a certain kind of realism that refers back to writers like Dino Buzzati and filmmakers such as Marco Ferreri, whose practice during the 1950s and ’60s focused on the more prosaic aspects of the everyday while at the same time infusing them with suspense and surreal signs. The atmosphere Rubbi creates thus moves away from the more canonical Surrealism of Giorgio de Chirico and the Pittura Metafisica of the first two decades of the 20th century to adopt instead a placid irony and oblique melancholy.
Planetario (Planetary, 2010), the first work in the show, was the most successful. It was only visible to the most attentive and motivated viewer: beginning with a basketball to represent the sun – positioned on the postbox in the entrance hall of the palazzo where the gallery is located – the artist reproduced the entire solar system on an urban scale, respecting the proportions, distances and dimension of each planet. Mercury became a nail thrown into the courtyard of the palazzo, and Pluto a grain of sand 1,300 metres away from the starting point. If at first this work made one think of the famous Zodiaco (Zodiac, 1970) by Gino de Dominicis – in which the 12 signs of the zodiac were represented by the display of a live lion, a young virgin, a real set of twins, two dead fish on the floor, and so on – Rubbi headed more towards a sense of humble enchantment, in much the same vein as the cinema of Ferreri and the literature of Buzzati.
In the gallery was the environmental installation Gli Elementi (The Elements, 2010). Ninety-two everyday objects – from a computer to a thermometer to a pair of balloons – represented each of the chemical elements from Mendeleev’s Periodic Table, the essential elements of the universe, as if to gather the world – and even more – in a room. Rubbi’s installation created the same relationship between the micro and macro universe, between the abstractions of physics and the minutiae of everyday life, as writer Primo Levi’s Il Sistema Periodico (The Periodic Table, 1975), a collection of 21 autobiographical tales with titles determined by 21 of the elements in the system. The artist amplifies this work in his publication Novantadue (Ninety-two), a slim book to accompany the show that contains a brief history of each element in the table.
Translated by Anne Ruzzante