press release

The work of Claudio Abate (Rome 1943), the great Italian photographer who has since the 1960s documented and recorded the most significant international artistic experiences, is presented for the first time in a major retrospective. Curated by Achille Bonito Oliva, the exhibition at Mart pays homage to the great artist-photographer who, with his special eye and personal technique, has been the “eye-witness” of the ferments that have characterised the history of art in the past 50 years.

Claudio Abate began his professional career in 1961, when he worked for Life Magazine as assistant to Eric Lessing, one of the founders of the Magnum agency. However, by 1959 already, with his portrait of his friend, the artist Mario Schifano, Abate had already revealed the early elements of his particular interest. From that moment, Abate began frequenting the locations and protagonists of the international artistic scene, documenting the principal characters through a dense, busy dialogue with the artists and their works.

The exhibition presents a selection of 120 photographs chosen from the large archive of works dedicated to portraits and “photography of art”. These are images constructed with a skilful director’s eye, in which the aim is to “appropriate” the complexity of the expressive and communicative processes of the artists. Claudio Abate’s photographs record unrepeatable events and complex performances in a dimension that seems to be the only one for observing the work overall. He succeeds in capturing special moments that without his images could not be documented and would be lost without leaving trace. Here we find works that have written the history of Italian photography, such as that dedicated to Kounellis’ Cavalli at the Attico in 1969, or to Lo Zodiaco by Gino de Dominicis, in 1970: images that put in relation to each other the spectator, the work and its setting.

These points of view of the artist’s work, as Abate himself declared, are able to “summarise the entire work within themselves, because almost always only a single image of the work remains and this must necessarily be the definitive photograph of the work, the one the artist recognises and accepts as though it were his own”.

With this critical perspective, Achille Bonito Oliva has sought to offer a significant survey of the work of the artist-photographer: from the early experiments in touch with artists like Mario Merz, Christo, Eliseo Mattiacci and Vito Acconci, to the colour shots dedicated to Joseph Beuys and the “Obscura” project, in which Abate developed a new form of dialogue with the artists within the “dark room”. The Mart exhibition offers the public a unique opportunity to discern the secret to Claudio Abate’s work who, as the curator stresses, “is not just a special correspondent for the language of art, but also someone who has made his own personal contribution to art, becoming ‘minister for looking’”.

The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue edited by Achille Bonito Oliva and published by Photology, Milan. It contains not just a critical essay by Bonito Oliva but also other writings and memoirs by Jean-Luc Monterosso, Giuseppe Capitano, Giulio Paolini, Jannis Kounellis, Piero Pizzi Cannella e un’intervista di Mario Codognato.

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Claudio Abate
Kurator: Achille Bonito Oliva