“Dialogue” is the key word of the exhibition Prima materia. First of all, the constant dialogue, during the preparation of the show, between Michael Govan and Caroline Bourgeois, entrust- ed by François Pinault to conceive this exhibition starting from his collection. The project was thus built little by little through exchange, from the confrontation between complementary choices and points of view: on one side Europe, on the other California; on the one hand a long term involvement in the history of the Pinault Collection and, on the other hand, a fresh look at it. Dialogue was also established by the curators between artists from different geographic and cultural backgrounds by confronting, in a fascinating way, art Povera and the Mono-ha move- ment that emerged in Japan in the same period. This idea of dialogue, confrontation, dialecti- cal tension between emptiness and fullness, noise and silence, materiality and evanescence, implies and structures the whole path of the exhibition.
Finally, dialogue was established between the works and their environment and represents a particularly crucial issue for any contemporary art institution. Prima materia questions the very premises of Punta della dogana, perhaps even more so than the previous exhibitions presented since it reopened in 2009. it offers the occasion to rethink the spaces, to modify the perception of them. ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch transform the first great hall into an environment that mingles constructions, furniture, installation, and screening, proposing a unique and irreverent experience of this space, which had always been approached as a ma- jestic nave. in a reverse process, the exhibition allows to feel for the first time the monumen- tality of the second nave, which used to be separated into three distinct rooms but has now been reunited into one large space, from the Grand Canal to the Giudecca Canal.
Thanks to strong decisions such as the play of contrasts of rhythm or tone, the desire to dedi- cate to paintings the first floor, with its irregular surfaces of the brick walls, or the attention paid to works playing with light and sound, Prima materia vividly demonstrates the plasticity of Tadao ando’s architecture at Punta della dogana. Beyond its ability to adapt to different media or formats, it surprisingly offers an environment that renews and enriches the visitors’ perception of the works of art.
The quality of the relationship between art and architecture at Punta della dogana mostly relies on the artists’ strong presence during the process of conceiving and producing the ex- hibitions: they are invited to contribute to the choice of works, supervise or manage the in- stallation (which often leads them to entirely rethink the work for the location). They are also closely associated with the publishing and cultural programs of the institution. The decision to place the artist at the very heart of the artistic project culminates in the practice of com- missioning and producing new works of art. with works from Philippe Parreno, Zeng Fanzhi, Mark Grotjahn, Marlene dumas…, Prima materia reasserts the spirit that presides the project of Palazzo Grassi – Punta della dogana – Pinault Collection: a spirit of trust, commitment, and challenges. Martin Bethenod
Ubiquitous and graphic media images of war, protest, and social upheaval provided the back- drop for artistic breakthroughs of late 1960s, much of which was expressed in abstraction— sometimes emptiness. That era also opened new vistas on social equality and shared con- cerns, such as the condition and future of our environment. Today, science and technology offer social connectivity on a global scale, constantly available images of every kind, and the promise of technological solutions for longevity, and renewable energy. at the same time, we still live in an atmosphere of anxiety, often faced with invisible and abstract adversaries— among them, global warming and technological terrorism. we are immersed in a cacophony of media image and sound.
if the goal of most of nineteenth century art was truth through beauty and balance, the art of the late twentieth and our own century tends toward a coexistence of extremes—of abstrac- tion and surrealism, emptiness and chaos, negation and spectacle, high and low. artistically, we live in an age of global pluralism. Four basic elements of painting, sculpture, installation, and performance are all alchemized by the prima materia of media, not only the substance of film or video or the internet, but the means by which it is disseminated and discussed globally.
Medieval texts on alchemy suggest hundreds of diverse descriptions and definitions of the pri- ma materia, the prime matter—separate from, or encompassing, earth, air, fire, and water; or the formless base of all matter; containing the soul and the body, the sun and the moon; love and light, imagination and consciousness; or urine, blood, or dirt. it was searched for in the darkest soil of the forest, and inside the body. it is the primal chaos that exists before time and all possibilities of the future. western and Eastern, it is the Tao of Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching; or, in science, perhaps the dark matter that makes up most of our universe. The definitions of this medium that carries all of the elements are diverse by cultural perspective or personal identity. Sometimes circularly represented as a serpent eating its tail, the prima materia—es- sence, everything and nothing, everywhere and nowhere—takes many forms. Caroline Bourgeois and Michael Govan