“Long Light. Sean Scully at Villa Panza & the Panza Collection” at Villa Panza, Varese
“Harmony is coming out of what you know. It’s affirming what you already know. […] So disharmony is much more interesting and life affirming than harmony, because disharmony eventually, through history, we change into harmony.”
–Sean Scully (1996)
FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano (the National Trust for Italy) presents Long Light. Sean Scully at Villa Panza & the Panza Collection, an exhibition of works by the Irish-born American artist, who is a master of light and colour. Curated by Anna Bernardini, Director of Villa Panza & the Panza Collection, from 18 April 2019 to 6 January 2020, the spaces of the villa in Varese will play host to a substantial group of works that confirm Scully’s status as one of the leading figures on the contemporary painting scene. The artist is returning to Italy eleven years on from the personal show he staged at Macro in Rome. In the meantime he has been the focus of a series of exhibitions at the world’s leading contemporary art museums and foundations. His work is currently being showcased through Sea Star: Sean Scully at The National Gallery, being staged in London until 11 August, 2019, and Sean Scully: Human, the site-specific project for the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, which will be inaugurated in May at the 58th Venice Art Biennale.
The exhibition at Villa Panza brings together 80 works produced by Scully between 1970 and 2019 – paintings, works on paper, photographs, sculptures, installations and videos – arranged along a chronological and thematic route that casts the spotlight on certain crucial moments in the development of his output. His poetics, at once expressive and minimalist, and his research into colour, gesture, equilibrium, geometry and light blend in perfectly with the ethical and aesthetic sensibility of Giuseppe Panza, creating an elective affinity that is reflected in the staging of the exhibition, whereby Scully’s works enter into a dialogue with the permanent collection, confirming once again FAI’s desire to offer exhibitions that are intrinsically bound up with the venue and that engage with the architecture of the museum, its interiors and its grounds. The visitor route comes to an end in the parkland surrounding the villa, and specifically in the conservatory, with a new, site-specific work called Looking Outward, which will then become a part of the permanent collection: playing with exceptionally precious glass landlines, designed for the occasion, Scully transforms the winter garden into a refined, reflective space of light and colour.
The exhibition route starts on the first floor with a group of works dating from the early 1970s: the renowned “supergrids”, including Backcloth, in which intricate weaves of richly coloured light give rise to Scully’s labyrinthine visions, generating dynamic, profound, illusory spaces. In these works, painted on canvas using acrylics, the traces of the design come across clearly and are reinforced by a particular chromatic vibrancy. Continuing the route on the first floor, on the southern side we come to a series of oil paintings made between 1981 and 2005, the year in which Scully completed his prolonged input into Any Questions (1984-2005): these are potent works that combine physicality and spirituality and that encapsulate a new stage in his research. Then came the intimate, valuable expressions of the Passenger series, created between 1999 and 2004 – works in which the artist opens up the pictorial space to encompass a number of “inserts”, defined as “paintings within the painting, and landscapes like windows opening onto the external world”. Shifting our gaze from the paintings to the photographs, we discover complex works that remain on the margins of Scully’s pictorial research but which nevertheless render his paintings all the more evocative. The prints, dating from the period 1994 – 2005, document a number of the trips taken by the artist. Here, naturalistic landscapes alternate with cityscapes in which the purity of form, and of emotion, comes to the fore.
Having passed through the Dan Flavin spaces in the outhouses, we reach the ground floor where, in the first room of the coach house, on display is the series of oil paintings on linen canvas or aluminium entitled Wall of Light, whereas the second room plays host to the Madonna series, started by Scully in 2018 as a contemporary reinterpretation of the eternal relationship between mother and child. Another imposing series of Landlines, on show in the Large Stable Block (Grande Scuderia) and in the Imperial Hall (Salone Impero), unveils expressive, daring divisions of colour in horizontal bands, where the edges of the landscapes stretch out or fade away to reveal the emotional, physical and personal dimension of experiences, traumas and memory.
The circular path of the exhibition comes to an end in the conservatory – which extends out into the villa’s 18th-century gardens – with the site-specific installation entitled Looking Outward: a landline, situated at a height of three metres and composed of twenty-seven glass windows, running horizontally for the entire length of the southern wall of the conservatory and producing a refined kaleidoscope of light and colour, unified by the interweaving of warm and cold colours juxtaposed like the notes of a score. Here, too, Scully makes use of the shades that belong to his artistic vocabulary, ranging right across the palette, from blue, through reds to yellow and orange, all the way to ochre, white and black, even taking in greens, pink, azures and brown, which through the filter of glass and natural or artificial light impact in different ways on perception and reflection within the internal and external space of the conservatory. Scully’s artistic output can certainly not be summed up in a single image or description – rather, it attains a sense of completeness through the relationship between its contrasts and through the dynamism of its parts, vacillating constantly between abstraction and representation in a thrilling equilibrium of disharmonies that leads the viewer on a profound intellectual and emotional journey. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Magonza Editore.
at Villa Panza, Varese
until 6 January 2020