The first Francesco Clemente career retrospective is a whirlwind ride into the prolific artist’s nearly three-decade career.
Italian-born Clemente, 47, is the youngest artist to ever receive a full museum show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The exhibit features 150 of his works in a variety of media, including everything from oils and frescos to sculpture and book illustrations. The show is organized thematically rather than chronologically. According to Clemente, to do otherwise would have been a disservice to the viewer because certain themes, such as the polymorphous nature of the body, reappear in different periods of his work.
The most engrossing and jarring piece in the exhibit is a painting of Clemente’s wife Alba. She wears a bright, sleeveless crimson dress while resting on her side. Her black hair is worn in a chignon. An intricate gold bracelet rests on her upper arm. Once your gaze locks with Alba’s overpowering, large black eyes, it is difficult to look away, and she seems to know something the viewer does not. In contrast, a Clemente self-portrait done in a basic color palette features eyes that are distorted. Is the artist tortured by something he cannot control?
In the "Indigo Room" an eerie peace envelops the viewer. Charcoal, indigo dye, and silver on 123 sheets of handmade pondicherry paper cover a dimly lit room’s walls, creating an otherworldly feel that has the power to transport you from the boundaries of the museum space. In this work and in most of his other pieces, Clemente tries to challenge accepted and comfortable notions of space, body and sexuality. Not only does he break down commonplace assumptions, but he also employs the use of varying cultural influences.
Clemente grew up in Naples, traveling extensively through Europe in his youth. His time in India greatly added to the diversity of his work. The artist currently lives in New York and New Mexico with his family.
– Sherry Akbar