Simon Starling ‘A-A’, B-B’’
For his sixth solo exhibition at The Modern Institute, Simon Starling will present A-A’, B-B’. An expansive new body of work, it is composed of an intricate network of objects and images held together by physical transformations and juxtapositions, historical facts and speculation, and the artist’s own brand of logic. The project’s second part will be exhibited at Galleria Franco Noero, Turin this October.
The exhibition’s title refers to two cuts, made approximately two hundred years apart, through two very different objects – Giambattista Tiepolo’s The Finding of Moses and a blue Fiat 125 Special, which was a favourite car of Giovanni Agnelli, the former head of the Turin-based manufacturer and an influential Italian industrialist. Starling’s ability to identify connections in seemingly disparate narratives ties the story of the cutting of The Finding of Moses to the Fiat supremo.
The Finding of Moses (executed circa 1736–38) takes a humble biblical story and glamorously restages it in the context of, what appears to be, 17th-century courtly splendour with all the accompanying trappings; ladies-in-waiting, halberdiers, dwarfs and sylphlike greyhounds. Even the lowly halberdiers are dressed in noble finery. These aristocratic thoroughbreds inhabit a painting of typically eloquent artificiality and contrivance, a masquerade of sorts. In the early 19th century, Tiepolo’s dramatic painting was cut into two unequal parts, splitting the originally panoramic painting into a more conventionally centred scene, The Finding of Moses, and the somewhat unconventionally proportioned A Halberdier in a Landscape. The Finding of Moses was placed with the National Galleries of Scotland, whilst the smaller half, A Halberdier in a Landscape, found itself in a private collection, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin. Expanding on this unique division of Tiepolo’s painting, Starling introduces Giovanni Agnelli himself into his ‘masquerade’. Giovanni Agnelli lived a rarefied and glamorous life. Despite his obvious wealth, he sought to maintain a connection with the ordinary people of Turin including his own factory workers. This was manifested not only in his family’s ties to Juventus Football Club but also in his choice of cars. As well as owning a wide range of exclusive, custom-built models, Agnelli was well known for his collection of standard production vehicles. He was often seen driving a blue Fiat 125 Special, a modest standard issue family saloon. The car’s unique number plate, A00000 TO, referring to his nickname L’Avvocato, signalling to the people of the city that he was in town.
For the two-part project, two masquerades will be conflated in a process of both geographical and material transposition and transmutation. The Scottish portion of the painting, The Finding of Moses, will be reproduced photographically at 1:1 scale at Galleria Franco Noero in Turin – the geographical home of its truncated left side. In turn a photographic reproduction of A Halberdier in a Landscape will be shown at The Modern Institute. Further to this geographic transposition, the somewhat brutal logic of the truncated paintings’ two unequal parts will be applied physically to Agnelli’s favoured vehicle, which will be meticulously cut, in proportion to the division of Tiepolo’s painting. The larger front section of the car will be exhibited in Glasgow, alongside the reproduction of A Halberdier in a Landscape, while the smaller back section of the car will accompany the larger section of the painting in the Turin exhibition.
To compound ideas around masquerades, the exhibition will present two self-portraits of the artist, simple steel armatures wearing masks made in collaboration with master Noh maskmaker Yasuo Miichi. One mask depicts Gianni Agnelli and the other Tiepolo’s Halberdier. Leather-clad casts of the artist’s right hand further define these figures – the work incorporating the mask of Agnelli sees the artist holding the black comedy Trumpets and Raspberries (1974) by Dario Fo, about an exchange of identities between Agnelli and a Fiat factory worker¹. As Tiepolo’s truncated Halberdier, the artist clutches a halberd and gazes eastwards, emulating the pose from the original painting.
Hands will appear again in a series of three daguerreotypes entitled Hand of the Artist’s Father, Hand of the Artist, Hand of the Artist’s Son. These ghostly images, made on mirror-like sheets of silverplated copper, seem to morph one into the other as time marks and transforms what appears to be the same hand.
Furthermore, Starling links the regal 17th-century setting of Tiepolo’s painting to the production of the late-1960s Fiat through a series of photographs of thoroughbred greyhounds which he made at photo studios housed at the Mirafiori car plant in Turin. These large-scale studios, with their seamless white spaces designed for photographing vehicles, become an oddly fitting setting for these predominantly white, pedigree dogs, the product of centuries of selective breeding and aesthetic refinement.
A-A’, B-B’, which includes a collaboration with Zurich-based graphic designers Norm, continues Starling’s interest in the form of the masquerade previously developed in works such as Project for a Masquerade [Hiroshima] (2010–11) and At Twilight (2016), as well as an ongoing interest in the design and manufacturing history of Turin. It also follows threads developed in La Decollazione [The Decollation] (2018), which was realised for Manifesta 12 in Palermo and explored the material characteristic of Caravaggio’s Maltese masterpiece The Beheading of St John the Baptist. Both works conflate journeys in both time and space and began life with the discovery of a painting.
Simon Starling (B. 1967, Epsom; lives and works in Copenhagen). Starling won the Turner Prize in 2005 and was shortlisted for the 2004 Hugo Boss Prize. He represented Scotland at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 and was included in the central exhibition Fare Mondi/ Making Worlds in the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009.
Recent solo exhibitions include: ‘Catherine, Masahiko, Rex et les autres’ at Le Plateau, Paris (2019); ‘A l’ombre du pin tordu’, Musée régional d’art contemporain Occitanie / Pyrénées-Méditerranée, Sérignan (2017); ‘Simon Starling’ at Nottingham Contemporary (2016); ‘Zum Brunnen’ at Kunstmuseum St.Gallen (2015), ‘Nine Feet Later’ at The Modern Institute, Aird’s Lane, Glasgow; ‘El Eco’ at Museo Experimental El Eco, San Rafael; ‘Bowls, Plates’ at Casa Estudio Luis Barragán in Mexico City (all 2015); ‘Metamorphology’ at Musee d’art contemporain, Montreal (2015) (touring from Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago); ‘The Expedition’ at Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen (2014); ‘Pictures for an Exhibition’ at The Arts Club of Chicago (2014); ‘Loft Lift (Stacked)’ at Public Art Agency Sweden, Stockholm (2013); ‘In Speculum’ at Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2013); ‘Black Drop’ at Modern Art Oxford (2013); and ‘Phantom Ride’ at Duveen Galleries, Tate Britain, London (2013). In 2016 he presented a major new project ‘At Twilight’ developed in collaboration with theatre director Graham Eatough and commissioned by The Common Guild in collaboration with the Japan Society, New York.
Starling participated in Manifesta 12 and the 12th Shanghai Biennale in 2018. He is included in, ‘Masks. A New Perspective on an Old Subject’, opening at Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, Switzerland this August.
¹In addition to these theatrical masked figures, two actors, Jimmy Chisholm and Kath Howden, will perform a crucial aside from Dario Fo’s play Trumpets and Raspberries as an interruption to the exhibition opening. Chisholm and Howden played Antonio and Lucia in a production of the play at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh in 2008.