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Paul Branca

Totes

21.02.2016 - 31.03.2016

Opening: Saturday 20 February at 7pm

Reviewed by: Aujourd'huiA raw tip / Artribune / ArtspaceArtsyATP diaryCura / ExibartWidewalls

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Untitled (Eataly), 2016, oil on stretched canvas totebag

Untitled (Whitney), 2016, oil on stretched canvas totebag

Giorgio Galotti gallery is pleased to announce Paul Branca’s first solo exhibition in Italy and the gallery’s first show devoted to one artist. New York-based artist Paul Branca presents a selection of paintings made on readymade canvas tote bags that have been stretched on wooden stretchers and prepared as traditional supports. Branca, known for his research on the social connectivity of food culture, paintings of meticulously rendered sausage links as well as slices of cold cuts and vegetables, and projects that often question painting’s ability to mirror distribution strategies within historical languages of painting. The art world, like those of the fashion and ‘foodie’ worlds, is inundated with tote bags resulting in a certain fetishistic desire to obtain them. From museums and galleries to boutique espresso bars, magazines and supermarkets, tote bags play a role that is functional, aesthetic and promotional. An inherent property of the tote bag is its ability to be reused and Branca, by acknowledging the bag’s material as canvas – sometimes muslin or jute - treats it as a support for painting. He inserts wooden stretchers into the bag and applies traditional grounds of gesso, rendering the once loose and baggy into something taut and articulated. The slogan of ‘reuse’ is taken literally and seriously allowing a second life to be granted to the bag as the act of painting can commence. The artist maintains the integrity of the bag, allowing the handles or straps to dangle down, at times obfuscating the painting itself, articulating the idea of artwork’s portability. The current exhibition is a compendium of recent artworks that demonstrate his interest in various painting strategies: ranging from more abstract works such as the pressed palette paintings (a technique known as decalcomania), to rendered images such as Nose, where he takes deadpan one step further by clearly spelling out the word in stenciled letters. Branca went through his personal inventory of canvas tote bags from various art institutions such as the Kunsthalle Berne, MACBA Barcelona, The Whitney Museum of American Art, to magazines such as The New Yorker, and on to boutique coffee shops such as New York’s Everyman's Espresso and Bologna’s historic bakery Atti.

Here following a short essay by Jesi Khadivi.

The term tote or tate, meaning "to carry," can be traced back to the 17th century but was not used to describe bags until 1900. However, the tote bag craze in the United States has its origins in the introduction of the LL Bean “boat and tote” in the 1940s. This simple, durable design quickly became a staple of casual weekend luggage. The bag’s crisp cotton-canvas material and bold navy offset-striping conveyed an aesthetics of ease, simplicity, and sportiveness that defined a burgeoning middle class in the post-war years. The tote bag fell out of fashion during the 80s and 90s until it boomed again in the 2000s. Since then, the tote has morphed into a sort of canvas node between (at times) conflicting notions of sustainability, hyper-mobility, brand building, marketing, and middle-brow pretension. Like a mood on Facebook or a filter on Instagram, one’s choice of tote bag becomes one of identity’s onion skins: the recycler, the public radio listener, the middle-aged museum member, the gourmand, the globetrotting biennial goer, or the art fair glitterati.

As I write this, a tote bag hangs above my head, its flaccid innards stretched taut across wooden supports to provide a surface for painting. Wide emphatic brush strokes and strategically applied impasto begin to give form to an abstract face. Two semi-crossed pink eyes stare down at me on my couch. Below a pair of violently flared red nostrils, I see the word “Glasgow” bending around the bottom stretcher bar. I don’t recognize the logo, but if font can be trusted as any indicator, the bag is likely from one of the city’s contemporary art institutions. The functional integrity of the bag is partially retained. If I really wanted to, I could use the straps that dangle from the top and bottom of the canvas to sling the work over my shoulder and physically carry it away. Entitled Totes (2015), this is a recent work in a series of oil paintings on recycled tote bag canvas that Paul Branca has been developing over the course of several years.

There are clear historical precedents for the use of materials like found canvas and jute in painting. One need only take a cursory glance at the history of Arte Povera to find traces of these references, in particular the work of Alberto Burri. A painter renowned for “painting without paint,” Burri’s Sacchi combine patched remnants of burlap sacks with other materials, a technique he developed while a prisoner of war in Texas. But while formal and material comparisons can be drawn to Burri’s paintings from the 50s and 60s, Branca’s attraction to the tote bag reveals a broader interest in both the social connectivity of food and the social function of vernacular, everyday objects in a neo-liberal economy. An avid researcher of food and the cultures that surround it, Branca’s works have made references to sausage production, food packaging, and open-air produce stands. The tote bag is no stranger to these contexts. In recent years, shops like Eataly, WholeFoods, BioCompany, and a raft of other specialty, boutique, or organic food purveyors have adopted the tote bag as an integral element of their branding and marketing identity. The convergence of contemporary art and food culture’s mutual love affair with the humble tote bag is perhaps best epitomized in Eataly’s collaboration with the Guggenheim on the occasion of the museum’s Burri retrospective: a gift box containing a Burri tote bag, Eataly products, and a spiral coffee mug echoing the sweeping curvature of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building. Branca’s totes cannot be understood outside of this context. Although certainly not functional surfaces for advertising like their utilitarian cousins, when considered within an art context, these paintings utilize one of the very materials that propels contemporary art’s experience economy. Filthy Sacks? Painting!

 

IT

La galleria Giorgio Galotti è lieta di presentare Paul Branca: Totes, la prima italiana dell'artista newyorkese, che avvia il programma di mostre personali della galleria. Per l'occasione l'artista presenta una selezione di opere su tele “readymade" ottenute da borse - tote bags - montate su telai di legno. Paul Branca, conosciuto per le sue ricerche sulla connettività sociale della cultura gastronomica, ha meticolosamente ritratto salsicce, affettati misti e verdure portando avanti progetti che spesso svelano la capacità della pittura di riflettere all’interno del suo linguaggio le stesse strategie che animano la distribuzione. Il mondo dell’arte, così come il mondo della moda e del cibo, ai quali l'artista strizza ironicamente l'occhio, è sommerso dalle tote bags: gadget utilizzati in tutte le forme, che assurgono ormai al ruolo di feticcio. Per istituzioni, musei, gallerie, bar, riviste e persino supermercati, le tote bags giocano un ruolo che è funzionale, estetico e pubblicitario al tempo stesso. Il riuso è una proprietà intrinseca di questi accessori e Paul Branca, utilizzando il materiale di cui sono fatte - tela o juta - le tramuta in un supporto pittorico classico, intelandole e applicandovi il gesso, esattamente come avviene per la preparazione di una tela industriale o artigianale. Lo slogan del “riuso” è qui preso alla lettera, permettendo così una seconda vita all'oggetto in sé, attraverso l’atto pittorico. L’intenzione è quella di mantiene l’integrità della borsa, permettendo ai manici di penzolare liberi o nascondendone il lavoro pittorico, per suggestionare lo spettatore all’idea della trasportabilità dell'opera d'arte. Il progetto qui proposto è una raccolta di lavori recenti che mostrano il suo interesse per diverse tecniche pittoriche, oscillando tra l'astrattismo e immagini tradotte in parole come nel caso di 'Nose', in cui l’artista va impassibilmente oltre scandendo il soggetto ritratto con lettere stampate. Per la composizione della mostra, Paul Branca ha utilizzato la sua collezione personale di tote bags provenienti sia da istituzioni come la Kunshalle di Berna, il MACBA di Barcellona, The New Yorker, il Whitney Museum of American Art, sia da bar e ristoranti come il New York’s Everymans Espresso e la storica panetteria bolognese Atti.

La mostra sarà accompagnata da un breve testo di Jesi Khadivi disponibile in inglese.

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photo credits Cristina Gavello