Massimo Vitali: Between Normalities @Bonni Benrubi

JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 large scale photographic works, generally framed in white and unmatted (with a few framed in bright colors), and hung against white walls in the two room gallery space. All of the works are chromogenic prints on Diasec mounts, made in 2012 or 2013. Three of the works are single images, while two pair a large single image with a much smaller image hung to the side; there are also two diptychs on display. The large panels range in size from 73×92 to 74×96 and all of the works are available in editions of 6. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: I’m beginning to think that part of the reason Massimo Vitali’s new show looks a lot like every other show of work we have ever seen from him is that the edited sample of his newest images always seems to feature his beachfront waterscapes, even though he certainly points his camera at other subjects. This bunch finds him in different locales (Brazil, Sardinia, Lampedusa, and Greece), but his formula is largely unchanged – large scale color images of miniscule beachgoers clambering over increasingly rocky shorelines and in wide expanses of pastel shallow water, seen in a blazing, sunny whiteness that is often blinding in its power to wash out the landscape.

What’s different here is that there has been a subtle shift of underlying mood. In the past, Vitali’s images of hordes of tourists despoiling beautiful scenery had a sense of quiet mockery, of the destructive ridiculousness of our human behavior and of our overall insignificance in the face of the scale of the land. In two of Vitali’s new pieces, he has added a smaller side image, a cropped news photograph with overlaid text describing scenes of tragedy and violence (a shipwreck where migrant survivors clung to a fishing net and Greek riot police amid flames). What we get is a kind of dual vision (thus the apt title of the show Between Normalities), of beauty and horror in the same location. The gently lapping waves and swimsuited crowds suddenly look obliviously precarious, the land taking on a waiting for something to happen undercurrent of menace.

Shoehorned into a side room (in a space much too small for the work displayed), Vitali’s analog/digital diptych of a São Paulo fruit market is also a nuanced departure from the artist’s norms (this same work was discussed in our Paris Photo highlights here). Using a squared up vantage point reminiscent of Andreas Gursky’s 99 Cent, the work is both a meditation on changing technology (with the two frames shot seconds apart but subtly different in color tonality and feel) and a Where’s Waldo game of tiny blue vendors moved from one place to another in the fraction of a second between shutter clicks.

So while many of these pictures look altogether familiar, the ideas behind them seem to be evolving. Vitali has made his embrace of “a fiddling while Rome burns” darkness more explicit, asking us to see the immersive, complacent fantasy of his beaches with yet another layer of complexity.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The single images and works with a second smaller image hung to the side are priced at either €35000 or €40000; the 2 diptychs are priced at €55000 each. Vitali’s work has become more and more ubiquitous in the secondary markets in recent years; recent prices have ranged between roughly $5000 and $80000.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2020 by Milda Books (here). Silk-screen printed clothbound softcover with end-flaps and open spine Swiss binding, 170 x 240 mm, 304 pages, with 244 ... Read on.

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