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Gianni Berengo Gardin. The Eye as Vocation

19 May - 15 September 2024
Castle: Salone del Parlamento (Hall of the Parliament of Friuli) and Gallery of Ancient Art (rooms 11-13)
Exhibition promoted by the City of Udine, realised by MAXXI - National Museum of XXI Century Arts in collaboration with Contrasto and the Civic Museums of Udine
curated by Margherita Guccione and Alessandra Mauro
A master of black and white, Gianni Berengo Gardin (Santa Margherita Ligure 1930-) has always been an advocate and defender of an authentic photographic print, of an image that captures and freezes everyday life, moments, emotions that anticipate gestures, but also and above all the author of reportage photography and social investigation. In a career spanning almost seventy years, he has recounted Italy from the post-war period to the present day with his shots. That recounted by Gardin is an Italy experiencing a sudden change, the actress of a profound economic, cultural and social development that has shaped the cities of Italy and the Italians.
The exhibition arrives in Udine, as the only stop in Northern Italy after the first leg at the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo (MAXXI) in Rome in May 2022 and the one at Villa Pignatelli in Naples last year.
In the magnificent setting of the Hall of the Parliament of Friuli and rooms 11-13 of the Gallery of Ancient Art of the Castle of Udine, 192 shots by Berengo Gardin are on display. They constitute a complete collection of original vintage prints from the photographer's private archive and the MAXXI's collection. An artisanal photography, which adds great prestige from a material point of view to its intellectual and visual value.
Berengo Gardin's Documentary Photography
Berengo Gardin's photography is ‘real’ photography, a practice that wants to move away from analogue or digital manipulation, and play the part of the historical document, a participant and never neutral of reality that evolves, thanks to natural compositions, with man always at the centre of a lived social space.
With his photographs, Berengo Gardin has built up a unique visual heritage in the history of Italian and international photography, always with an approach that he himself has always liked to describe as ‘artisanal’. Over the decades, this approach has become an exclusive trademark of the photographer, who has always liked to define himself as ‘a photographer-photographer’, and therefore a craftsman of art photography rather than a photographer-artist.
A journey through time through Italy
The exhibition is imagined as a kind of journey, a chronological, topological and thematic path through Berengo Gardin's way of seeing and photographing Italy.
The starting point of this visual tour is Venice, the city where Berengo Gardin first approached photography. Although he was not born there, he feels Venetian and has said in the past: ‘My grandparents were Venetian, my great-grandparents Venetian, my father Venetian’. Venice is where he trained as a photographer, thanks to encounters with photographic circles such as La Gondola, and it is the place of a continuous return, from his first images from the 1950s showing an intimate and placid city to his most recent project, from 2013, dedicated to the Great Ships. From the Venetian lagoon we move on to the Milan of industry, of workers' struggles, of intellectuals (portraits of Ettore Sotsass, Gio Ponti, Ugo Mulas and Dario Fo, among others, are on display), and we pass through almost all Italian regions and cities, from Sicily to the Piedmontese rice fields, observed in their social, cultural and landscape transformations from the post-World War II period to the present day. And Friuli Venezia Giulia also plays its part in this scenario.
They include workplaces shot for Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Pirelli and, above all, Olivetti (with which he worked for 15 years), which led Berengo Gardin, throughout his professional life, to experience the evolution of the working world and its needs. The shots also include the Monfalcone shipyards. And finally, the prints tell the story of psychiatric hospitals, photographed and published in 1968 in the volume Dying of Class, produced together with Carla Cerati. These are images of denunciation and respect, extraordinary and terrible, in the background of which we can also see the Psychiatric Hospital in Gorizia, documenting for the first time the conditions inside various institutions throughout Italy, 10 years before the Basaglia law that closed them down.