“Rachel Whiteread – …And the Animals Were Sold” at GAMeC Bergamo
For the sixth consecutive year, GAMeC – Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo returns to occupy the prestigious Palazzo della Ragione venue, in the beating heart of the historic city center, with a new exhibition featuringthe internationally renowned British artist Rachel Whiteread, who in the year of Bergamo Brescia Italian Capital of Culture will present a brand new installation conceived in relation to the city of Bergamo and in conversation with the architecture and history of Palazzo della Ragione itself.
Ever fascinated by those spaces that form part of our daily lives yet which are so often overlooked, for the Sala delle Capriate Rachel Whiteread proposes an environmental installation made up of sixty chairs, constituting the materialization of the empty space lying between the legs of two different models of chairs.
The sculptures are produced using various types of stone found in the building materials of both Palazzo della Ragione and Piazza Vecchia, such as the Sarnico stone in the façade of the Palazzo della Ragione and the Zandobbio marble in the Contarini Fountain, which are still extracted from quarries near Bergamo. In this way, the artist aims to establish a close relationship with the territory and its history, as well as with the architecture of the venue hosting the exhibition itself.
The title of the installation is evocative both of the pandemic—the words “And the Animals Were Sold” bring to mind the image of Asian markets where animals of all sorts are traded and which many scholars claim to be at the origin of the coronavirus mutation—and of any passing conversation of which one might almost inadvertently catch a few words.
Indeed, the exhibition constitutes Whiteread’s first opportunity to express herself artistically about the dramatic and alienating experience of the pandemic. For the artist, Bergamo marks one of the first experiences of a return to pre-pandemic life, when travel was an absolutely normal condition. And the experience had by the artist on her first visit to the city struck her to the point that she began to think of her intervention as one related to the tragic events of the initially uncontrolled spread of the pandemic in the Bergamo area.
The sixty chairs that make up the installation thus evoke the presence and at the same time the absence of as many people. As in many of her works, in fact, the emptiness that is filled in these sculptures “is there in place of something else”: in this specific case, of a person or a multitude of people. The arrangement devised by the artist refers to the requirement of social distancing, where the chairs are placed in a grid two meters apart, emphasizing the silent dimension of the void: while accessible, it is still disorienting in its almost deafening presence. The layout, on the other hand, refers to people in conversation when the chairs are placed more freely, forming small groups, alluding to their newfound proximity.
Starting from these considerations, Rachel Whiteread came up with an installation also designed to shed light on the history of Palazzo della Ragione, which once constituted the place where representatives of the municipality would meet to discuss, debate, and legislate. But also on the present, given that the Sala delle Capriate overlooks the famous Piazza Vecchia, which, particularly in the summertime, becomes a gathering place and meeting point for both city residents and tourists alike.
The sixty chairs ultimately constitute an invitation to visitors to pause and bring to life the Sala, experiencing it as a place of exchange and relationship, of closeness and sharing.
A short film by director Joe Juanne Piras will document the creative process that led the artist to conceive the exhibition project for Palazzo della Ragione.
The film is produced as part of MADE IN, the creative residency program of MADE: a project promoted by the Bergamo Chamber of Commerce and produced by Lab 80 film in collaboration with GAMeC, Museo delle Storie di Bergamo and Fondazione Legler for the economic and social history of Bergamo.