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Andrea Salvatori, or when great skills meet irreverent irony

It seems very common for Italian grandmothers or old aunts to have a rather peculiar taste in porcelain. And it is not in china plates and cups that their twisted taste is all about. It specifically regards 'soprammobili', objects meant to embellish the shelves of dining and living rooms. They are porcelain figures mainly representing young dames and couples of lovers dressed in the 18th century style or excessively sweet little girls hugging pets or puppets. Italian old ladies increase their collection at any christening, first communion, confirmation and wedding as it is an Italian habit to give to all guests, on such occasions, a little present (most of the time, the incriminated pieces above mentioned) wrapped in veils, with several 'confetti' (a sort of very hard candy with a walnut inside) and a little card reminding when the ceremony took place. If such presents tend not to be ever seen again in the houses of the majority of the guests, Italian old ladies are instead so proud of them that they exhibit them on their shelves immediately after, preferably on a handmade 'centrino', a heavily starched crocheted mat of white cotton, which seems to be their very personal touch to the object.

Orso, bambina e oca (Bear, little girl and goose), Salvatori's piece presented by Galleria Estro at -scopeNewYork last March.
courtesy Galleria Estro

-scopeNewYork is an art fair that runs parallel to the Armory Show (this year they both took place in March, 12-15); still, in contrast with the very established Armory Show, it aims at giving a platform to galleries mainly dealing with less famous, more cutting-edge art. This year's motto - Culture on the verge - could not have made the fair's goals clearer. So, what were two china figures on a crocheted white mat doing in the midst of such an art-fair? The mystery is easily explainable. They had been taken to New York - and exhibited in full granny style on a piece of furniture of the latest design - by Elga Pellizzari, a gallerist from Padua (north-east of Italy) known by Italian insiders for her deep involvement with young and rather experimental artists and her consequent fight to bring forward this kind of art in a city that is definitely not a hot spot for the contemporary discourse. The piece is a sculpture by Andrea Salvatori, one of her young artists at his first exhibition abroad.
The twenty-eight year old Salvatori is a china master with a BA in sculpture at Bolonia's Academy of Fine Arts. He comes from Faenza, a small town near Bolonia known internationally for the outstanding quality of its ceramics. So, it is not really surprising that he started to work on china when still a teenager. What makes him different is his acute soft spot for 'ready made' and, in particular, his frantic collecting tacky china figures. He does not wait for weddings to receive them; he buys the pieces himself in second-hand markets, together with handmade crocheted mats.

Coppia con alce (Couple with elk), Andrea Salvatori
courtesy Galleria Estro

Artistically, his interest for ready made brought him on a very original path: he works on already existing china figures by modifying them or enriching them with additional pieces. If the tacky look of his sculptures is what definitely catches the eye of the visitors, his interventions - for quality and contents - are what keeps them admiring his pieces. The most exquisite craftsmanship can be found in the way Salvatori works because it is where his long experience with china become indispensable. As the artist's goal is respecting the nature of the object he works on or with, he forces himself to skilfully reproduce any detail of the original piece to such an extent that one is not able to tell the original from the intervention or - even better - one cannot say whether the whole of the sculpture is ready made assembled together or an art work entirely by the artist.

A detail of Mostro della laguna (Monster of the lagoon), Andrea Salvatori
courtesy Galleria Estro

As far as the contents are concerned, that is where the playful character of the artist fully expresses itself and develops more visibly. If Salvatori keeps on working with the aim of twisting the plain stories told by common china, the contents of his interventions have been advancing: the artist has recently faced many of the visual influences so common in his generation by personalising them for his work. In his previous works, he altered the stories using whatever came up in his mind by simply looking at the original china figures. For instance, he took a little statue representing a couple of lovers - the fiancÚ in the attitude of promising his eternal love to his beloved woman - and created an elk with huge horns that he positioned right behind her. The result was that, seen from the front, the elk could not immediately been seen; instead, its big horns seemed to be sprouting from the head of the poor woman. Lately, and as said before, Salvatori has started to work more with what might have influenced him in his childhood, which is to say cartoons. Apart from a small pink panther squeezed by an enormous pink ball and a couple of other works with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, the artist seems to have mainly found inspiration on the first generation of mangas - or manga-style cheap films - that made it to Europe by the end of the '70s. Who remembers all the string of colourful robots saving the world or the pretty unreal monsters menacing it? Adapted to the artist's taste, they can definitely be found in the last pieces of Salvatori, intermingling with apparently innocent little girls (who, most of the time, have the hobby of slaughtering monsters) or elegant young dames (who usually get shot by hyper-technological robots).
A lot of skill combined with great irony. Salvatori deserves a place in an art world that, at times, takes itself a bit too seriously.

Text: M. Cecchinato
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