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The latest in the Hirshhorn’s series of “Directions” exhibitions features an explosive room-scaled video projection by Antonio Rovaldi (Italian, b. Parma, 1975; lives and works in Milan). “The Opening Day” (2009) goes on view on the museum’s lower level July 6.
The artist’s body of work, which includes performance, drawing, sculpture and video installation, often explores how distance is represented in art through means both imaginary and actual. According to Associate Curator Kelly Gordon, “The relationship between time and distance is among Rovaldi’s preoccupations during the long bicycle rides and walking treks he uses as extensions of his studio and as opportunities to contemplate art and nature.”
In “The Opening Day,” viewers enter the gallery near a larger-than-life-sized projection of Italian-league baseball pitcher Fabio Betto, dressed in the pinstripes of his team, UGF Fortitudo Bologna. On the opposite wall, various arrangements of inexpensive, mass-produced glossy ceramic knickknacks sit poised like still lifes against a background of velvety darkness. Betto winds up and delivers a pitch. Sometimes the targets remain unmoved as a ball thuds harmlessly behind them. At other times, the tchotchkes topple over or shatter loudly upon impact, shards tinkling as they fall and skitter away. Viewers are challenged to keep their eyes on the ball, their attention drawn on the one hand to the professional sportsman as he labors to hit his mark and on the other to the plight of the imperiled gimcracks that sooner or later wind up in pieces. Rovaldi uses sound effects to underscore how the intangible arc of the fastball seems to physically connect the facing screens, spanning the gap between them.
This scenario is engaging, amusing, a bit threatening and suggestive on many levels. The intersection between mass culture, in this work connoted by the baseball player, and pretensions to fine art, represented by the choice and placement of the fragile collectibles, presents a new twist on an age-old aesthetic debate about the relevance of so-called low culture to high. Despite the absurdity of the situation, the pitcher’s expressions are serious and analytical, not those of a gleeful vandal. Rovaldi’s work hints at several analogies. Artists, like athletes or indeed anyone, face pressures and frustrations while struggling to perform consistently and continually “up their game.” “The Opening Day” also brings to mind the fact that the boundaries that once relegated moving-image artwork to marginal status have been smashed.
In recent years, moving-image art has become a central part of the Hirshhorn’s long-running “Directions” series, which has presented the work of such artists as Pipilotti Rist and Grazia Toderi, among others. In addition, the Hirshhorn’s Black Box space remains dedicated exclusively to moving-image work by an international array of emerging and established artists. “Directions: Antonio Rovaldi” is organized by Gordon.
The Hirshhorn offers a range of interactive educational experiences designed to engage people of all interest levels in contemporary art. This fall, Rovaldi will deliver a gallery talk about his work (date to be announced); consult hirshhorn.si.edu for the latest information. The museum’s library of podcasts makes gallery walk-throughs and interviews with artists accessible internationally.
About the Hirshhorn
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian Institution’s museum of international modern and contemporary art, has nearly 12,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs,
mixed-media installations, works on paper and new media works in its collection. The Hirshhorn presents varied exhibitions and offers an array of public programs that explore modern and contemporary art. Located at Independence Avenue and Seventh Street S.W., the museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (except Dec. 25). Admission to the galleries and special programs is free. For more information about exhibitions and events, please visit hirshhorn.si.edu. Follow the Hirshhorn on Facebook at facebook.com/hirshhorn and on Twitter at twitter.com/hirshhorn. To request accessibility services, please contact Kristy Maruca at email@example.com or (202) 633-2796, preferably two weeks in advance.
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