Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.
(Mel Brooks, The 2000 Year Old Man 1961)
Comedy is tragedy plus time.
(Carol Burnett, as quoted in Starting from Scratch 1989 by Rita Mae Brow)
When I was a child, I would often look at a copy of the Divine Comedy illustrated by Gustavo Dorè, and wondered where in Dante’s work was the comedy; those violent images (I actually never went past Hell, where they became rather boring) seemed to me to have little funny about them. Many years later I discovered the works of Nan Goldin, Andres Serrano and Yasumasa Morimura, and felt I became a child once more, in a new Dantesque Circle of the nineties.
More than twenty years have passed since these extraordinary artists have created the images you can see on exhibit, that in the meantime are in collections in the most important museums and have become part of our daily language: sex, death, illness, if viewed through the lens of time all become moments of the Human Comedy. We can also recognize ourselves in the surreal disguises by Morimura; how often have we ourselves actually tried to present ourselves as what we not even remotely are? These artists have returned from Hell and have come interrogating our quotidian existence, and became an inspiration to generations of photographers and artists, having stared at horror in the face and extracted beauty. Today, we are proposing them to you once more, certain that you will look at them with a different, complicit and tender gaze, as you would a photo of yourself from years past, and realize that maybe that hairstyle looked just fine after all.
Nan Goldin, (Washington DC, U.S., 1953) is an American photographer noted for visual narratives detailing her own world of addictive and sexual activities. After leaving home at age 13, Goldin lived in foster homes and attended an alternative school in Lincoln, Massachusetts, where she soon became part of a group of alienated young men and women involved with drugs, sex, and violence.
She was introduced to photography at the age of fifteen by a teacher of the progressive Satya Community School in Boston, who passed out Polaroid cameras to students. Also inspired by the work of American photographer Larry Clark, she began taking black-and-white photographs of her friends in the transvestite community of Boston in the early 1970s and had her first solo show at Project, Inc., in Boston in 1973.
In 1974 she attended art courses at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. After moving to New York, the setting for many of her most renowned photographs, she quickly became involved in the downtown New Wave scene, presenting slide shows of her images accompanied by music at punk rock venues such as the Mudd Club and later at art spaces. Thanks to these happenings, he embarked on an enormous portrait of her life, making hundreds of color transparencies of herself and her friends lying or sitting in bed, engaged in sexual play, recovering from physical violence against them, or injecting themselves with drugs. Many of the subjects of the series had died by the early 1990s, and in 1988 Goldin herself entered a rehabilitation clinic.
She continued to candidly document her life, however, incorporating her hospital experiences into her work. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries she was the subject of retrospective exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City (1996–97) and at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (2001). Goldin has been the recipient of numerous awards including the 2007 Hasselblad Award.
Yasumasa Morimura (Osaka, Japan, 1951) is an appropriation artist. He obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1978 from the Kyoto City University of Arts. He was born and grew up in a post-war Japan invaded from the western culture, and like the artists of his own generation he operates through a synthesis of the meeting between two civilizations (the western one and the eastern one). In particular, Morimura’s work is fostered by a strong interest in the social, cultural and political transformations that developed in the second half of twentieth century, as well as the changes due to the penetration of capitalism and of the myths of the western world in Japan. The artist seizes universal icons from the history of art, mass media and popular culture and props them again by interpreting them firsthand. Starting from influential paintings by historical artists such as Edouard Manet, Diego Velasquez, Rembrandt, Frida Khalo and Cindy Sherman, he inserts their own face and body into them. In other cases, he transforms himself into familiar subjects with the use of costumes, props, digital manipulation and make-up. The result is a specifically effective and powerful art in its capacity to both mock and provide homage to his reference materials and subjects.
In 1996, Morimura was nominated for the Hugo Boss Prize, while in 1988 his selection as an artist of the Open Venice Biennale launched his career and brought prominence to his name on an international scale. His numerous exhibitions have been exhibited in a number of museums across several countries, such as France, Chicago, Japan, California, and Australia. Among them there are the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in California, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
Andres Serrano (New York, N.Y., 1950) expresses a personal iconography in his artworks that has been built up over the course of a lifetime, and which today constitutes the most original aspect of his artistic production. Serrano is currently considered a historically important figure in the international art scene and, despite the fact that he is a deeply religious individual, his artworks have often been considered scandalous precisely because they deal with subjects connected with the Catholic tradition.
Serrano expresses his art through photographs in an entirely autonomous manner thanks in part to the use of posters that inundate the streets of cities where his exhibitions are held, making it possible for his artworks to reach thousands and thousands of people. This is the reason why his art has made waves far outside the art world: for example many people are familiar with his 1987 artwork “Piss Christ”, a plastic crucifix immersed in a glass full of urine that put Serrano on the map in the contemporary art world and established the artist’s reputation once and for all. Some of Andres Serrano’s more important exhibitions include: “Andres Serrano”, Saatchi Museum, London, U.K., 1991; “Andres Serrano: Works 1983-93”, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 1995; “The Morgue”, Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal, Canada, 1995; “Andres Serrano: A History of Sex”, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 1997; “A History of Andres Serrano: A History of Sex”, Groninger Museum, Groningen, Netherlands, 1997; “Andres Serrano: Fluids”, Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris, 1998; ”Holy Works”, Galleria PACK, Milan, 2011-12, followed by the publication of the catalogue “Holy Works” curated by Germano Celant and James Frey; “Torture”, Alfonso Artiaco Gallery, Naples, Italy, 2017.