Antonietta Raphaël Mafai
Casa Masaccio | Center for Contemporary Art is delighted to present Orizzonti, an exhibition curated by Daniele Fenaroli (Director, Giuseppe Iannaccone Collection), with the support of Cloé Perrone. This exhibition features an exceptional selection of six paintings by Antonietta Raphaël in dialogue with new works created for the occasion by Dominique Fung and Lenz Geerk.
Simultaneously with the exhibition at the Museo delle Terre Nuove and the Museum of the Basilica of S. Maria delle Grazie, dedicated to Giovanni Mannozzi and his art, showcasing expressive freedom that challenges traditional conventions, Casa Masaccio | Center for Contemporary Art has invited two highly acclaimed young international painters. These artists will actively participate in and contribute to the artistic innovations pioneered by Antonietta Raphaël during the era of Italian painting between the two World Wars. The "Roman school," which undoubtedly represents one of the zeniths of 20th-century art in Rome, existed for a brief period from 1927 to 1933. This era's intensity was fuelled by the awareness of its leading figures, Mario Mafai and Gino Bonichi, better known as Scipione, about its inevitable brevity. Raphaël, from Lithuania, arrived in Rome in the spring of 1925 after a journey across Europe, first in London and then in Paris. Later, she lived in Tuscany, first in Montepulciano and then in Florence, where she stayed for nearly two years.
These historical foundations serve as the genesis of the Orizzonti exhibition project. It unfolds from a complex web of overlapping eras, artists, and authors. It commences with Raphaël, who, alongside her life companions, founded the Via Cavour School in Rome during the 1920s. "Although unconventional in its practice and devoid of manifestos and students," as curator Daniele Fenaroli notes, "this school and the tripartite relationship it embodied served as a wellspring of inspiration." Raphaël, characterised by a nomadic lifestyle, remains a "vital source from which to draw, a breath of radiance" for the two artists, according to Fenaroli. He underscores that the "artistic connection that blossomed among the trio was not exclusive or elitist; instead, it was a triangular relationship that captured the attention and transformed the upper floor of the Umbertine palace at Via Cavour 325 in Rome into a vibrant crucible of ideas."
One of the narrative threads within the exhibition project intertwines with the story of Jules et Jim, friends and lovers of the same woman, Catherine, as portrayed in François Truffaut's 1962 film, inspired by Henri-Pierre Roché's 1953 novel of the same name. Roché, an author and dandy who waited until his seventies to publish his debut novel—an intriguing and autobiographical tale—created one of the most iconic representations of a 20th-century ménage à trois. Curator Cloé Perrone observes that "both the film and the novel explore themes of friendship, love, and complex human relationships." She further highlights that "Roché and Truffaut, pioneers of their time, used the love triangle to challenge prevailing social norms, rejecting the bourgeois morality of their era."
Amidst the backdrop of intricate narratives and love triangles, Orizzonti unveils a trio, uniquely separated by time and geography but united in perfect harmony within the medieval rooms of Casa Masaccio. Raphaël, a bohemian soul nurtured by the arts, both painting and music, continues to serve as a guiding thread, leading the way for the unpublished works and the radiant brilliance of Canadian artist Dominique Fung, as well as the earthy, textured creations of German artist Lenz Geerk.
Fung's canvases, with dreamlike and ancestral amalgams, pay homage to Raphaël's sculptures, particularly the figures of the three women, which Fung places in the foreground devoid of voyeuristic intent. Her still lifes, composed of porcelain vases and flowers with golden hues, evoke elements of surrealism while playing in harmony with the flower and vase compositions of Geerk. The latter's muted and subtle palette invites introspection. As described by Perrone, the multifaceted works of the Canadian artist "express a profusion of feelings, identities, and individualities. Fung's work delves into the threshold where tradition, memory, and heritage intersect with our collective consciousness, weaving into the broader history of marginalized or underrepresented female artists."
"Dominique Fung and Lenz Geerk challenge the prevailing male narrative by portraying women in action, surrounded by their tools of trade, and rejecting stereotypes," Perrone emphasises. Geerk, in fact, titles all the works on display as "Helen." This choice not only references Roché's personal history, where his lover—Helen Grund, also the wife of his close friend Franz Hessel—is named Helen but also shifts the spotlight entirely onto the female figure. Proud, commanding, and liberated, Geerk's Helen attracts and demands attention. Similarly, in life and in art, Raphaël, "the mythic prophetess," as Libero de Libero referred to her in 1953, commanded attention, inspiring her two fellow School members during her time and, as evidenced by this exhibition, inspiring future generations.
The trio of Orizzonti unveils a new perspective where Raphaël moves beyond the Roman School, and the protagonists redefine the conventional ménage à trois that served as their inspiration. Orizzonti aspires to challenge, disrupt, and broaden perspectives, visions, and gazes. In a tapestry woven from "vivid emotion, dreamy chromaticism, and Eastern folklore" (Fenaroli), Orizzonti tells the story of a new trio — a trio of admiration, inspiration, and artistic support rather than love.
The Orizzonti exhibition marks Dominique Fung's debut in Europe. Fung's upcoming project is an exhibition in London with MASSIMODECARLO in November 2023.