State of the Art: Gianfranco Meggiato

Anna Walker 22 November 2021

The Italian sculptor and creator of the “Introsculpture”, Gianfranco Meggiato, on his practice, influences, and dramatic new show

Reader's Digest: How would you describe your art?

Gianfranco Meggiato: My work explores the labyrinth, the tortuous and tormented path, that Man travels in his search to find himself and his precious inner sphere. This led me to coin the concept of "Introsculpture".

I want to bring viewers into my sculptures and their obscured depths, instead of just being preoccupied with its external surface. To do this, I create space within my sculptures which almost makes them seem to breathe—in this way, the void becomes as important as the solid form itself.

In my work, I like to try to focus on that which is essentially invisible to the eyes. One cannot touch ideals, feelings, or dreams—one can only live them.

Lo Specchio Dell' Assoluto (2020-21) by Gianfranco Meggiato, Quantum Man: There is No Future Without Memory, Valley dei Templi Agrigento, Sicily, until 4 January 2022

RD: Who are your main influences?

GM: The classical sculptors of antiquity have played an important role in my artistic training. Works like Donatello’s dynamic cherubs, Michelangelo’s last Pietà Rondanini, where the by-then elderly Michelangelo captured the moment of transition between life and death.

I also am inspired by great modern masters of sculpture, like Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi for his research into the essential, British artist Henry Moore for his fascination with motherhood, and Alexander Calder for the way his works unfurl into space.

RD: Unlike many other sculptors, you do not use drawings as a starting point. Why?

GM: It's true! I never start from a drawing or a project, but work on instinct, on the spot, heating and modelling the wax directly. This is a very long and complex task and is resumed over and over again, giving tangible form to the image as it appears in my mind.

Explaining what inspires my work is not easy—my sculptures come into being to some extent by themselves: the idea is born, takes shape, and develops simultaneously.

"I never start from a drawing or a project, but work on instinct, on the spot, heating and modelling the wax directly"

As Joan Mirò said: “Images take shape while I work. In other words, instead of deciding to paint something, I set to work and while I paint the image imposes itself or offers itself to my brush".

I find a great deal of myself here, in Mirò's definition of making art. This is why I prefer to work directly with the material by modelling with hot wax. Developing an initial drawing would be conditioning, and take away the spontaneity, or immediacy from the creation, obliging me to reproduce an idea that may have already become outdated in the meantime.

Sfera Acquarius (2019-20) by Gianfranco Meggiato, Quantum Man: There is No Future Without Memory, Valley dei Templi Agrigento, Sicily, until 4 January 2022

RD: What can you tell us about your new project with UNESCO?

GM: It is always a great challenge to take up the challenge of UNESCO sites of great historical-artistic-cultural importance such as the Valley of Temples in Agrigento. The secret, in my opinion, is to approach these places with due respect, seeking to contextualize as much as possible the inclusion of one's own works with a view to demonstrating that symbiosis between contemporary sculpture and archaeological and monumental sites.

Each of the 13 sculptures set up in the Valley of Temples is closely related to the temple near where it is installed and carefully selected to initiate a dialogue with the rich cultural and mythological contexts of each temple, their gods, and their legends. For example, two of the sculptures situated outside the Temple dedicated to the Dioscuri seek precisely to represent the mortal and immortal twin sons of Zeus. It is not a juxtaposition of formal similarities but symbolic links.

The idea is to unite ancient and contemporary Man in the same tormented research unresolved for centuries, the "Know Thyself" that modern quantum physics experiments continue to put forward.

RD: How should visitors interpret the title "Quantum Man: There Is No Future Without Memory"?

GM: My exhibition at the Valley of Temples was inspired by one of the best-known experiments in quantum physics: the double-slit (a variant of the experiment by British scientist Thomas Young), where subatomic particles are fired through two slits, changing them from beam to wave depending on whether or not an observer is watching the experiment.

I then set this experiment in relation to the famous phrase engraved on the pediment of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi (IV century BCE): “Γνῶθι σεαυτόν - Know Thyself”. I see a direct relationship between this motto on the Greek Temple and modern experiments in quantum physics: who is, or rather, what truly is Man if he is able to modify, by observation alone, the behaviour and status of subatomic particles?

"Who is, or rather, what truly is Man if he is able to modify, by observation alone, the behaviour and status of subatomic particles?"

This question is succinctly posed by the sculpture “Quantum Man”, giving the exhibition its title by nodding to the theories of quantum physics.

The individual works in the installation were developed instinctively, one by one, without an overall vision, much less a preparatory drawing or a sketch. Only after completing work on each piece and bringing them together were they simultaneously assembled to become unified regather in the same space and the same time!

Quantum theory suggests that space and time do not actually exist but, rather, everything happens in the same space at the same time. A new Man can be reborn from the ruins of an ancient beauty, a Quantum Man… a Man whose roots are in Greek culture but who also looks to the future, with better awareness of his innermost nature. Yet there is no future without memory. This is something I believe in very deeply. After all, it is through understanding our past, our history, and our origins, that we can create futures worth living.

Uomo Quantico, Gianfranco Meggiato, Quantum Man: There is No Future Without Memory, Valley dei Templi Agrigento, Sicily, until 4 January 2022

RD: What do you hope visitors will glean from the exhibition?

GM: At a first glance, combining classical Greek architecture and contemporary sculpture may seem a little strange but it is precisely this perceived discrepancy that best induces closer thought. In my opinion, contemporary art must always play an active role and be a tool stimulating the growth of awareness as regards the great scientific, cultural, and social changes taking place.

This exhibition merges contemporary sculpture with ancient architecture through forms that seem to defy gravity, creating a dialogue that goes beyond space and time, generating new connections between mythology, art, and science.

Gianfranco Meggiato’s “Quantum Man: There is No Future Without Memory” is at the Valley dei Templi Agrigento, Sicily, until 4 January 2022

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