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Nick van Woert. Nature Calls

May 30 - September 7, 2014

curated by Gianfranco Maraniello

The exhibition forms part of a line of investigation the museum has been following since its opening, making known some of the exponents of the most advanced work being done in America today: GuytonWalker (2008), Trisha Donnelly (2009), Seth Price (2009), Matthew Day Jackson (2011). This reflection and recognition of the artistic practices and the function of the museum are not limited solely to the United States, but have seen the promotion of some revolutionary figures who are fundamental to any understanding of the art of the last few decades: in 2007, an exhibition of Christopher Williams was held in the spaces being closed in the former Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, and this was followed in 2012 by Marcel Broodthaers (MAMbo) and in 2013 by Bas Jan Ader (Villa delle Rose).

The exhibition, curated by Gianfranco Maraniello, presents 33 works that are representative of the recurrent themes in the artist’s work, on display in the Sala delle Ciminiere and adjacent exhibition rooms.

As one walks through the exhibition, an aspect that immediately becomes clear is Van Woert’s conviction, via his transverse research, that a semantics of materials exists and that every material generates intrinsic value. Leaving aside their functional aspects, the objects we come across in our daily lives are seen by the artist for what they are, for how they are made rather than for how they appear. His works of Plexiglas forming overlaid parallelepipeds are exemplary in this regard: Home & Garden (2011), So Fresh So Clean (2011), Erratic (2012), Course of Empire (2013). In reference to these, Van Woert defines himself a “landscape painter”. These serial display boxes contain tidy classifications of heterogeneous materials (powders, waste, detergents, industrial products, various articles) which although apparently innocuous when seen singly, can create disturbing or hazardous combinations when placed together. Two everyday products one finds in the home, hair gel and chlorine, can generate an incendiary substance if mixed, demolishing our tranquillising certainties. The artist dipped into a number of publications to inform himself of these possibilities, including EcoDefense: a Field Guide to Monkeywretching by Dave Foreman and Improvised Munitions Handbook, an army handbook that gives advice on how to make mayhem using everyday products.

Basing himself on these sources and on his interest in such figures as Ted Kaczynski (Unabomber) and extremist “return to nature” movements sharing a man vs. machine dynamic or attempt to change or “implode” our way of life, Nick van Woert creates complex installations, hybrid classifications of work tools or hunting weapons, archaeological objects seen through the lens of a transmission of knowledge and techniques for the potential sabotage of the world order: Improvised Munition (2012), History (2012), Garden of Forking Paths (2013).

The tidy cataloguing of these works and of the Plexiglas ones are countered by the magmatic, disorganised rock forms made of urethane and fibreglass, such as Untitled (Coal slag rocks) of 2014, while unusual gymnastic equipment, like Universal Gym (2013), alludes to a project for a metamorphosis of mankind similar to the modelling process of classical sculpture.

Another recurrent theme in Van Woert’s work is the dialectic between the manufactured setting of the pervasive human presence and nature governed by chance, which lies at the origin of the artist’s own origins: he was born and grew up in Reno (Nevada), a town whose extraordinary architecture of the casinos contracts with the rough reality of the surrounding desert. We can note these contrasts in numerous works by Van Woert, including the most recent ones, simulacra of the interaction between nature and mankind: Heinous Cling (2014), Now Or Never; Are We To Live or Perish Forever? (2014) and the totemic Andrew (2014), Maja (2014), Peter (2014) and Run for the Hills (2014).

From the need to know and verify what surrounds us, and a desire to highlight the manufacturing process and structure of things without dissimulating them, arises the artist’s use of reproductions of classical statues, in which Greco-Roman styles find new forms and meanings in the encounter/clash with industrial materials, organic waste, sand and metals. Through violent manipulations that are apparent in such works as Haruspex (2010), Nature Boy (2010), Lady Lady (2011), Return to Nature (2011), Nature Girl (2012), Untitled (yellow statue), 2014, and Untitled (black statue), 2014, Nick van Woert draws these condensed elements of fiction, empty symbols of decadence into the artistic field, literally filling them with meaning.