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Laura Cherubini

Flash Art  260 May - June 08





Dying is no more than not being seen.

Fernando Pessoa


GINO DE DOMINICIS WAS an extraordinary artist in terms of the sublime level of his

works, but also in terms of his conscious ‘eccentricity’ with regard to the art world.

Whatever the cost, he always thought, demonstrated and put into practice the highest

conception of the artist’s role. He had total faith in painting and believed he had found

a language that was the highest expression of a medium that was fundamentally unified.

We know how De Dominicis controlled every aspect and every characteristic of his work.

We know what extreme attention he paid to even the slightest detail. Now we face the

problem of reconciling two pressing needs: respect for his thoughts and desires, and the

wish to preserve his extraordinary works. Although we are surrounded by an excess of

images, the superb works of Gino De Dominicis must be tracked down to be seen.

It is always worthwhile, for they never fail to live up to expectations. I have never witnessed a challenge to the present-day art system as radical as his, but it is one without provocation, without ideology — one that comes from the heart of the works. Nor have I ever met anyone who had such total, absolute and unfailing faith in the centrality of

the work of art. 


Untitled, 1985. Mixed media, 120 x 80 cm.



“Drawing, painting and sculpture are not traditional but original forms of expression, and

thus also belong to the future.” These were the words of Gino De Dominicis. In Sumerian culture, the hero Gilgamesh was king, painter, sculptor and architect. So he was not the warrior king of later generations: among the Sumerians, the king was the artist. Right from

the start, Gino De Dominicis drew, painted and made three-dimensional works. In the year of 1964 he had already shown about a hundred paintings and drawings. Then, when galleries started to reject painting, he gradually managed to reintroduce both drawing and painting into the discourse. Beyond the recurrent problem of painting, the real adventure began with a surprisingly lucid and self-assured exhibition in 1969, at Fabio Sargentini’s L’Attico. In this show, a poised golden rod, entitled Equilibrium, was suspended in space: it appeared as a sort generative line for the entire work. Next to it were the Cubo Invisibile

(Invisible Cube) and the Cilindro Invisibile (Invisible Cylinder): traced out on the ground, their bases formed a circle and a square, and possibly these two solids were chosen precisely for their different bases and for the dialectic between circle and square

that was to return in Tentativo di far formare dei quadrati invece che dei cerchi attorno a

un sasso che cade nell’acqua (Attempt to form squares instead of circles around a stone

falling into water). A hook appeared to hold a pail filled with water suspended in the air,

as though water were solid and could be pulled up. Also a nail — a minimal analogy

of the rod — was suspended from a wall. And then the stone — Aspettativa di un casuale

movimento molecolare generale in una sola direzione tale da generare un movimento

spontaneo del materiale (Waiting for a general random molecular movement in a single

direction to generate spontaneous movement of the material) — and the ball — Palla di

gomma (caduta da 2 metri) nell’attimo immediatamente precedente il rimbalzo (Rubber ball [fallen from a height of two meters] at the instant immediately prior to its rebound).

Even though they consisted of just two simple elements, the complexity of these works is to be found in their double — and, in a certain sense, contradictory — status: on one hand in the way the invisible movement — which is virtual in the case of the ball and

hoped-for in the case of the stone — is made transparent, and on the other, the power of the language of art to capture the moment of immobility.

All is sealed by a funerary poster announcing his own death. The date, November 1969, is that of the exhibition. His work was erroneously considered by some to be ‘conceptual.’

But Mozzarella in Carrozza (1970) formalized the conflict: here words took material,

visual form. It was also a demonstration of the fact that mozzarella remains what it is even when it resides in a luxury coach, mocking Marcel Duchamp’s imitators, who still believe

that the gallery or the museum has the power to transform any object displayed there

into a work of art. Duchamp’s analysis has been transformed into superstition, according

to which the place acts as a sort of magic wand. A degree of artistry that, it is claimed,

passes metonymically from the container to the content. De Dominicis exposed this mechanism by demonstrating its ineffectiveness: in an exhibition at Gian Enzo Sperone’s gallery in Rome in 1982, the toilet remained what it was, by no means miraculously transformed by being close to a painting.

These are ‘homeopathic’ operations that criticize fashionable practices by duplicating

them. “In my art, I have made drawings, paintings, ‘sculptures’ (three-dimensional

works), invisible works, ubiquitous works, architecture and, on some occasions,

‘physical oxymorons’ and ‘homoeopathic’ works.” Noi siamo le puntine (We are the

drawing pins) (1975) was another homoeopathic-type operation: writing this sentence

on the ground with the drawing pins themselves, this time the artist ironically duplicated

the minimalist tautology, also reproducing the ground-level spatial arrangement of some works of Minimalism. On December 12, 1970, critic Maurizio Calvesi curated the “Fine dell’Alchimia” exhibition at L’Attico: Jannis Kounellis presented a blindfolded woman with flies that landed on her belly; Vettor Pisani displayed a slowly moving tortoise with a golden weight on its back in the midst of tortoise shells; Gino De Dominicis came with his

skeleton on roller skates, a pole balanced on a finger and a dog on a lead: Il tempo, lo

sbaglio, lo spazio (Time, Mistake, Space). In De Dominicis’s view, the space of art is that

of verticality, and the error is that of attempting to move horizontally and, to an even greater degree, the desire to apply acceleration by using roller skates. D’IO is a play on words — ‘God’ (‘Dio’) and ‘Of myself ’ (‘d’io’) — that forms the title of an intangible exhibition from April 24, 1971. Consisting of sound alone, it appears to have anticipated many recent trends. It is a long, powerful and prolonged laugh that echoes through the empty gallery: this too is an invisible work.


Untitled. Mixed media, 56 x 56 cm. Courtesy Gropello Collection, Rome.

Untitled, 1988-90. Graphite and tempera on panel, 60 x 29,6 cm. Courtesy Giovanni Michelagnoli Collection, Venice.



In 1972 came the room that caused such a scandal at the Venice Biennale with the work

entitled Seconda soluzione d’immortalità (L’Universo è immobile) (Second Resolution

of Immortality [The Universe is Still]). At opposite ends of the room, on two small chairs suspended high on the walls, were the figures of Il Giovane (The Young Man) — performed by Simone Carella, De Dominicis’s assistant — and Il Vecchio (The Old Man). According to Carella, the Palla di gomma (caduta da due metri) nell’attimo  immediatamente precedente il rimbalzo (Rubber ball [fallen from a height of two meters]

at the instant immediately prior to its rebound), is an artificial element, full of air, and

it alludes to an attempt to fly, while the stone, Aspettativa di un casuale movimento molecolare generale in una sola direzione tale da generare un movimento spontaneo del materiale (Waiting for a general random molecular movement in a single direction to generate spontaneous movement of the material) is a natural element linked to the earth, waiting for a movement adherent to it. In addition to these objects, there was also the Cubo invisibile (Invisible Cube) in front of Paolo Rosa. It is clear that the room is a magical territory dominated by a circular form of vision, and indeed in the foto ricordo (snapshot) we see a spectator putting on a pair of glasses. The artist himself spoke about the “viewpoint within the work.” The room itself is built as an interior — as a non-communicable situation. A theater of the mind, placed paradoxically on the stage not by the normal means of the theater — movement, words, texts — but by those of the visual arts.




Gino De Dominicis returned to the subject of immortality and to the overcoming of entropy

on December 18, 1972, at the Incontri Internazionali d’Arte at Rome’s Palazzo Taverna: on the occasion of the evening, an invitation card to a cocktail party to celebrate the overcoming of the second law of thermodynamics was sent. Refreshments were offered

in crystal glasses and on porcelain plates. The table was adorned with silver candlesticks, and crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Newspapers with sensational titles were posted on the walls, announcing: “Man has achieved the immortality of the body.” In one of the versions of his Lettera sull’Immortalità (Letter on Immortality), he

wrote: “Since man cannot intervene directly on himself to stop the inexorable advance of his own ‘internal time’ and prolong his own life span, he has invented the means to make it that much faster: by intervening in space, he has indirectly managed to influence time. This operation might be justified only if space were finite and our imagination limited. Unfortunately, however, it is simply a palliative and a terrible mistake.” These words not only provide the best explanation for Il tempo, lo sbaglio, lo spazio (Time, Mistake, Space), but also provide a good introduction to another work he made for L’Attico: his Poltrona per un viaggio nello spazio (Armchair for Space Travel). The artist modified an armchair like the ones used by barbers, adding a sort of ski-boot attachment to its

feet and putting a sign on it with words that referred to the dual movement — rotation and

revolution — of the Earth. In 1975 the public were forbidden to enter the Lucrezia De

Domizio gallery in Pescara. This was the “Exhibition for Animals Only.” Spectators

peeped in from the entrance and, on the threshold, an ox looked out, as did a donkey, a goose, a hen… Animals had been selected by the artist as beings that have no consciousness of death. It is clear that, in animals, just as in the young Paolo Rosa some time previously, De Dominicis was looking for alternatives to the destiny of mortals, and to the paradigms of the immortality of the body. Almost as though wishing to arrest time, De Dominicis performed a disappearance and reappearance at the Pio Monti gallery in Rome: “I remember two exhibitions,” said the gallerist later in an interview, “both exactly the same, repeated in my gallery exactly one year apart — on 14 January, 1977, and 14 January, 1978, with a huge stone, a balancing rod, two pots that represented ubiquity, and an invisible pyramid. Those who had been to the first exhibition in the same place found the same objects in the same positions: they were bewildered, as though time had indeed been brought to a standstill!” 


View at the Venice Biennale 1990.



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