October 25, 2007

Forgotten Sculptors: 3. Modigliani’s Heads


Try to imagine the rediscovery of several previously unknown pieces by Modigliani during an exhibition of his works, along with the din of attributions, statements, expert opinions, proclamations and critical hairsplitting that cannot help but follow in its wake. Now try to imagine four high-school students in a garden, armed with hammer and chisel, working on a stone and savoring, in advance, the surprised expression of those who will find it. At least for a few minutes, because the experts will undoubtedly realize soon enough that the statue is a fake. Now try to imagine the faces of the students when they find out that the statue has fooled everybody. At this point, it is up to them to admit to their practical joke.
Twenty-three years have passed since the perpetration of one of the greatest hoaxes in the history of Italian art. Four kids from Leghorn did their part, as citizens, to make a contribution to the loopy adventure of the salvaging of the lost sculptures of Modigliani. Rumor had it that the artist, in a moment of discouraged despondency, convinced that his sculptures would never be as good as his paintings, had tossed them into the Fosso Mediceo (a canal). After having dredged up all kinds of stuff, but no sculptures, people began to make jokes about the entire operation: «Look, they just found Modigliani’s bicycle!», «There is one of Amedeo’s shoes!»…

One night Pietro Luridiana, Pierfrancesco Ferrucci, Michele Ghelarducci and Michele Genovesi, after having sculpted a stone with a Black&Decker drill, stealthily threw it into the canal. The next day, as the dredging continued, the workers did indeed find a sculpted head in the style of Modigliani. But when they saw it the boys were amazed… it wasn’t the head they had made!
Its real author was Angelo Froglia, a dockworker and artist, who later declared that his action could be seen as a work of conceptual art, unmasking the faulty mechanisms of the art world. But the joke got the better of the concept, and as the entire tale emerged the media turned all their spotlights onto the four boys.
The head made by the students was the second to be discovered. Immediately afterwards, the leading experts expressed pompous opinions regarding the artworks and the episode, confirming the authenticity of the sculptures (though we should recall that unlike all his colleagues, Federico Zeri said the sculptures were so "immature" that even if they were authentic, Modigliani had been right about throwing them away).

The four friends, heirs to Buffalmacco and Calandrino, must have had a good laugh, though at a certain point the event took on such importance that it would be hard to resolve matters just by saying: «Hey, it was just a joke». But fortune smiles on the daring, and our practical jokers – who, after all, had committed no crime – demonstrated the truth with photos taken at pertinent moments. In the end, at prime time, they made a replica of the work (with the usual tools) for the television cameras: a perfect Modigliani, in just 45 minutes.
Michele told me he started to make sculptures again, a few years ago, and I immediately understood that the spirit of Modì, together with that of Angelo Froglia, who passed away a few years ago, were still in town, spreading the virus of sculpture.

(Translated by Steve Piccolo)

Forgotten Sculptors is an art project by Emilio Fantin, Luigi Negro, Giancarlo Norese and Cesare Pietroiusti, produced by Sculpture Center (New York) in the context of PERFORMA07, the second biennial of new visual art performance.

Part of the project consisted in a series of short email stories. A performance by the four artists with the participation of Joan Jonas and Steve Piccolo was held at Sculpture Center on November 3rd, 2007. As a final step to the project, the artists invited everyone to join them in a collective performance on Sunday, November 18th.