Stefano Arienti’s latest show consists of two works, both comprising polystyrene panels on which the artist has reproduced photographs of travel images. The exhibition’s title piece, Postcards, 1990–91, features eleven panels with images of tourist sites taken from postcards. Untitled, 1992, is composed of seventeen panels with images of photographs Arienti took during his travels. In both cases, the viewer encounters banal, typically touristic images that evoke both personal and collective histories and speak to the way private experiences can become the stock imagery of the public sphere—and vice versa.
View of “Postcards,” 2011.
Arienti emphasizes these dynamics through his use of space. The tall panels are propped against the walls, creating a pathway through the gallery. Neon tubes behind each allow light to pass through the perforated polystyrene, emphasizing the work’s expressive potential as well as its fragility. Walking through the exhibition, one has the sense of traversing both public and private domains; and, as light radiates out of the panels, pooling in the middle of the space, Arienti emphasizes of how deeply photography has entangled these two spheres.
Postcards was originally part of an installation exhibited at the 1990 Venice Biennale; looking at the work today, there is no mistake that it was a portent. Both pieces allude to the formal and conceptual lightness that would reach their peak the ’90s (as seen in the work of Maurizio Cattelan, Paola Pivi, and Vanessa Beecroft), and they anticipate the recent interest in cultural memory and the archive as an artistic paradigm. In an age when photography is more ubiquitous than ever, the prescience of Arienti’s two works continues to prevail.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.