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Issue 232

‘Mettere al mondo il mondo’ Transforms Trash into Treasure

At Thomas Dane, Naples, a group exhibition looks to the found object for inspiration

BY Allie Biswas in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 02 NOV 22

Between 1972 and 1973, Alighiero Boetti created a series of biro drawings in which the words ‘mettere al mondo il mondo’ are spelled out in coded form: white shapes resembling commas correspond with letters of the alphabet that line the top of the paper-covered canvas. Translatable as ‘giving birth to the world’ or, equally evocatively, ‘putting the world back into the world’, the phrase embodies the essence of the artist’s life-long project to draw upon existing phenomena – whether objects, art forms or words – to show life as we know it, without artifice. As he remarked in a 1972 interview with Mirella Bandini: ‘The greatest joy in the world consists in inventing the world the way it is without inventing anything in the process.’

‘Mettere al mondo il mondo’, exhibition view, Thomas Dane Gallery, Naples. Courtesy: the artists and Thomas Dane Gallery, Naples; photograph: Ben Westoby/Thomas Dane Gallery

Curator Mark Godfrey takes Boetti’s phrase as the starting point for this exhibition, which explores how artists navigate existing materials for the purposes of object-making. For the 12 artists in the show, approaches to found objects are far-reaching, with the range of source materials as broad as each artist’s imperative for selecting them. In the opening room, Boetti’s Cubi (Cubes, 1968) centres around two plexiglass containers: one packed rigid with pieces of wood and polystyrene; the other filled with powdery washing detergent. The pairing accentuates the methodical yet playful way Boetti handled his materials, an attitude that prevails in many of the works on display.

Sir Serpas, Jurisprudence for the Ones Taped Down, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Maxwell Graham/Essex Street, New York; photograph: Ben Westoby/Thomas Dane Gallery

Dominating the gallery’s central space are stark, silver-hued constructions by Ser Serpas, consisting of bed frames, chandeliers and exercise bikes salvaged from nearby rubbish dumps. Interested in inverting perceptions of value, the artist has a long-established process of searching for discarded materials within the vicinity of her exhibition venues, which she then uses to assemble a work on site, making context an intrinsic part of how each piece develops. Here, Serpas props her works against the classical columns of the room (jurisprudence for the ones taped down, 2022) and explores the sculptural properties of balance (forever falling over, 2022).

Abbas Akhavan, Fountain, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: the artist, Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver, and The Third Line, Dubai; photograph: Ben Westoby/Thomas Dane Gallery

Abraham Cruzvillegas also scours the streets for his materials. In Naples, he found a discarded CD player and an electronic piano, which he combined with heavy wooden doors in a floor-based arrangement (Autoritratto Pedonale con Sampietrino, Pedestrian Self-portrait with Sampietrino, 2022). With all objects positioned at right angles to each other, the symmetrical quality of the installation is mirrored by the brightly coloured glass panels that gleam within each door. Commissioned from a local craftsperson, the panels highlight the ways in which detritus can be transformed through collaboration.

Terry Adkins, Bona Fide, 2000, and Norfork, 2012, installation view. Courtesy: The Estate of Terry Adkins, Thomas Dane Gallery, Naples/London and Paula Cooper Gallery, NY; photograph: Ben Westoby/Thomas Dane Gallery

For Terry Adkins, the found object functioned in a commemorative capacity. Three of his majestic works are beautifully installed in unison. Bona Fide (2000), an imposing, wall-hung circular structure, resulted from a residency the artist carried out at a disused uniform factory in San Antonio. Constructed from trouser-leg stencils, fanned out in the order in which Adkins encountered them at the factory, the composition memorializes the labour of forgotten workers and defunct industries.

Michael E. Smith, on the other hand, explores processes that involve a considerable reworking of the object, reducing his raw materials while retaining a sense of familiarity. In one untitled work from 2019, a computer keyboard has been densely coated with oatmeal, then hung on the wall. Such transformations point to our consumption of commodities, as well as the interplay between manufactured and natural states.


Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2019, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Modern Art,

London; photograph: Ben Westoby/Thomas Dane Gallery, Naples/London

Tacita Dean’s Vesuvio: narrative of eruption (found) (2022), a collection of postcards depicting Mount Vesuvius, which she coincidentally had been collecting, is installed horizontally in a room of its own, one image next to the other on the wall. The opening pictures of the sequence depict a dormant volcano. By the end, folds of bright red lava are the focal point. With the real volcano situated just a few kilometres from the gallery, Dean’s gesture wholly fulfils Boetti’s desire to insert the world back into the world.

‘Mettere al Mondo il Mondo’ is on view at Thomas Dane, Naples, until 23 December.

Main image: Tacita Dean, Vesuvio: narrative of eruption (found), 2022, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London; photograph: Ben Westoby/Thomas Dane Gallery, Naples/London

Allie Biswas is a writer and editor. She co-edited The Soul of a Nation Reader: Writings by and about Black American Artists, 1960-1980 with Mark Godfrey, published in June 2021. She is based in London, UK.