Horizontal Victory

Massimo Bartolini

06.12.2022 | 21.12.2022
Pièce Unique

E dove c’è un piano
intorno c’è sempre gente che fa baccano

- Paolo Conte, Aguaplano, 1987

Si le bruit est toujours violence, la musique est toujours prophétie.
En l’écoutant, on peut anticiper le devenir des sociétés

- Jacques Attali, Bruits. Essai sur l’économie politique de la musique, 1977

A bulky rectangular case travels on trains, ships, airplanes, jeeps and even parachutes. A giant package addressed to the US military fighting on the front lines. We are in 1941 in Germany, in the midst of the Second World War but, later, also in Korea, at least until 1953 when the armistice is signed. However, that crate from the United States and shipped to the other end of the world is not yet another supply of weapons or subsistence goods but a piano, or rather a modified field piano.

It is made following some precautions compared to a classical or civil piano: a limited use of metals, to the point that there is no copper which generally wraps the low strings; a weight set at a maximum of 206 kilos; the addition of handles so that four soldiers can easily load and carry it, as well as other small devices related to the climatic and environmental conditions of the military operations area. Finally, inside the specially designed case (transport also requires special precautions), there are sheet music and a set of tools for tuning and repairing the instrument.


Tall approximately 1,20 meters to fit even in submarines and painted in olive green, gray or blue, they are called Victory Vertical or G.I. which stands for "galvanized iron", referring to the equipment of soldiers. 2436 of these pianos are produced by the New York factory Steinway & Sons which, during the war, supplied the US Army with wooden parts of the Waco CG-4 glider fighters and rifle stocks (not unlike the Baldwin Piano Company which produces wings wooden aircraft).

Thanks to its diffusion in American society in the forties, the piano is considered a condenser of sociability, just as music is considered a collective diversion, a survival strategy capable of alleviating and raising the morale of the troops. For this reason, the opportunities to produce music on the front line are multiplied, if we think of the recreational activities of the United Service Organizations (founded in 1941), a network of non-profit organizations that build centers wherever the US army is stationed, organizing concerts, dances, prayers, improvisations and shows, as well as concerts by professional musicians.


Victory Vertical is not the equivalent of the out of tune pianos now placed on display in the corners of train stations, useful when you are too early or when the trains are too late. In all respects, it is an instrument of war, although aimed not at mortally wounding enemies but at keeping the army cohesive and in good psycho-physical health. Jazz, boogie-woogie, blues, swing, cowboy song, square dance, classical music: these are the rhythms that, in an era before the rock and roll revolution, distract the soldiers' ears and spirits from repetitive - deaf noises or tonitruanti – of weapons of war. Melodies designed to lift the spirits of men who risk their lives in the name of the nation they belong to.

It is on this little-known episode, in which military history, musical history and the history of daily life meet, that Massimo Bartolini comes back, creating a piano without keys in MDF wood and painted with acrylic enamels. A musical instrument that does not play or whose sound is produced mentally in each visitor, becomes the base for two reclining sculptures (displayed alternately) that portray the artist. Two decapitated heads or rather, as Bartolini calls them, "listening objects without bodies".

Massimo Bartolini

Massimo Bartolini, nato a Cecina nel 1962, città dove attualmente risiede e lavora, ha una formazione poliedrica. Ha studiato come geometra a Livorno (1976-1981) e si è diplomato all'Accademia di Firenze (1989). È docente di arti visive presso l'UNIBZ di Bolzano, la NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti di Milano) e l'Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna.

La sua pratica abbraccia una vasta gamma di linguaggi e materiali, che comprende opere performative che coinvolgono attori, il pubblico o lo spazio architettonico, complesse sculture sonore, fotografie, video e installazioni pubbliche di grandi dimensioni.

Ha partecipato alla Biennale di Venezia (1999, 2009, 2013), a Documenta 13 (Kassel, 2012) e a Manifesta 4 (Francoforte, 2002). Le opere di Bartolini sono presenti nelle collezioni permanenti della National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; MAXXI Arte Collections, Roma; Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Torino; Fundaciò La Caixa, Barcellona; Museum Voorinden, Wassenaar; Olnick Spanu e Magazzino Italian Art Collection, New York.

Massimo Bartolini sarà l'artista che rappresenterà l’Italia alla 60a Biennale di Venezia nel 2024.