Italy's 10 Best Contemporary Artists and Where to Find Them

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

Dubbed ‘La Bella Italia’, Italy has an enviable art history, boasting great names that have influenced generations of artists since ancient times. Michelangelo, Tintoretto, Leonardo Da Vinci, Caravaggio and Modigliani are but a few of the numerous talents to have created masterpieces of global renown. Today, Italy’s contemporary artists retain this iconic skill and innate artistic passion. We discover more about ten of the best contemporary artists working in Italy today.

Arcangelo Sassolino, I.U.B.P., 2013, tire and ratchet tie 55 x 55 x 25 cm

1. Arcangelo Sassolino


Francesco Clemente, Sixteen Amulets for the Road (XII), India 2012-2013, watercolour on paper, 49.9 x 56.9 cm
Courtesy the artist and Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Arcangelo Sassolino focuses on industrial processes and materials, creating objects and installations that explore mechanical behaviours, materials and the physical properties of force. Sassolino designs and plans his works meticulously, which results in precise, sound-producing, kinetic constructions in both physical terms – material density and mechanical precision – and in terms of the force applied to them – gravity, pressure, friction. ‘Afasia 1’ (2008) a nitrogen-powered sculpture that shoots empty beer bottles against a wall at 600km/hr inside a zoo-like metal cage, part of a series of works centred around notions of aphasia and suspension of language. There is a dark tension and a constant feeling of anxiety and anticipation brought about by Sassolino’s works. Their relentless rhythm eventually culminates in collapse, destruction or damage of a body – or object. One of his most literal works is ‘Figurante’ (2010), where a mechanical jaw crushes a femur bone over the span of three hours. The work references the sterilised, silent war images broadcasted on TV: people suffering are never heard. Sassolino himself states: ‘creating, I ask myself: why not try and strain the materials to the limit of their resistance? Why not force to the limit the characteristics of the matter, causing the unexpected to emerge from it as form and as sound?’

Francesco Clemente

Francesco Clemente came of age during the era of Arte Povera and Conceptual Art. Later in his career, the human form – particularly women’s bodies – his own image, sexuality, myth and spirituality, non-Western symbols and dreamlike visions would become iconic themes. India also provided a lifelong inspiration for the artist, who created works influenced by his life in the Subcontinent since his first visit in the 1970s. An exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art, Francesco Clemente: Inspired by India (2014), illuminates the previously underexplored influence of Indian culture on the artist’s oeuvre. The show includes works that draw from various sources of Indian culture, such as ‘Four Corners’ (1985), a Pop-style painting evoking Tamil signboards or the Black Book (1989) series of watercolours that draw on the erotic iconography of temples in the eastern state of Orissa. In a recent show at Mary Boone Gallery, Clemente transforms Mughal-style tents into artworks: made in Jodhpur, India, the tents’ exteriors were embroidered by craftsmen, while their interiors are painted by Clemente. The tent is a symbol dear to the artist’s heart and particularly significant for his practice, as he states: ‘one of the adjectives for my work is nomadic, and the tent is the attribute for the nomadic person. I’ve given up belonging anywhere, so I belong to the tent. It’s safer to belong nowhere, more convenient’.
Clemente’s work can be seen at Blain Southern, London and Berlin, +44 20 7493 4492 (London) and +49 30 644931510 (Berlin);
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 423 3575; the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), 11 West 53 Street, New York, NY, USA , +1 212 708-9400;
Rubin Museum of Art, 150 W 17th St, New York, NY, USA , + 1 212 620 5000

2. Loris Cecchini

Loris Cecchini

Loris Cecchini works with a combination of photography, drawing, sculpture and installation to ‘form a unified poetics, the cardinal element of which is transfiguration’. The various elements in his work interrelate in a constant process of deconstruction and reconstruction and are situated at the intersection of the physical reality of the materials and a virtualised presence. His work, based on the notion of ‘model’, ranges from collages, architectural models and rubber objects to structurally distorted spaces and prismatic, transparent surfaces. Cecchini’s ‘models’ rework familiar forms and transform them into ‘altered visions’ that challenge our perception of reality. The virtualised situations he produces lie between the plausible and the paradoxical. In his series Wallwave Vibrations, Cecchini marks the walls with relief sculptural ‘tattoos’, which seem to pulsate and vibrate from behind the wall and in which ‘the visual pattern becomes an “echo” of a phenomenon like a succession of waves on a liquid surface’. ‘Cloudless’ (2006) is an investigation of the border between the natural and the artificial – a hanging, seemingly weightless body reminiscent of a cloud questions our perception of space and how it is defined.
Cecchini’s work can be seen at Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins, +39 0577 943134 (San Gimignano), +86 1059789505 (Beijing), +33 1 64203950 (Les Moulins)

Maurizio Cattelan, Him, 2012. Solomon R. Guggenheim New York | © Flicrk/Valeria RosalezMaurizio Cattelan, Him, 2012. Solomon R. Guggenheim New York | © Flicrk/Valeria Rosalez

Maurizio Cattelan

Maurizio Cattelan creates satirical sculptures and installations and has been hailed ‘simultaneously as a provocateur, prankster, and tragic poet of our times’. Cattelan is an anarchic figure, whose artworks have taken the shape of pranks, disruptive gestures and even theft and criminal acts. An example of this is Another Fucking Readymade (1996), in which he stole the entire show of another artist in order to pass it as his own in an exhibition at De Appel Arts Centre in Amsterdam. Much of Cattelan’s work is ironically humorous, but the core of his practice lies in a profound meditation on mortality. In 1995, he began making his series of taxidermy animals, which have so far included horses, donkeys, mice, dogs and squirrels. A pertinent example of this is ‘Bidibidobidiboo’ (1996), in which a despairing squirrel has committed suicide in his grimy kitchen. His iconic wax sculptures, begun in 1999, have portrayed historically influential and infamous people and poked fun at them and their ideologies. ‘La Nona Ora’ (The Ninth Hour) (1999) takes the form of an effigy of Pope John II in full ceremonial dress being struck by a meteorite, whilst ‘Him’ (2000) is a rendering of Adolf Hitler as a young boy, kneeling in a pose of supplication.
Cattelan’s work can be seen at Galerie Perrotin, New York, Paris and Hong Kong, +1 212 812 2902 (New York), +33 1 42 16 79 79 (Paris) and +852 3758 2180 (Hong Kong);
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, USA , +1 212 423 3575

Margherita Morgantin, Untitled, 2008, 4 c-prints cm 40 x 30,5 each

3. Margherita Morgantin

Margherita Morgantin

Margherita Morgantin graduated from the Department of Technical Physics at IUAV with a degree in architecture. Her background in the exploration of methods used for predicting natural light influenced the artist’s practice, blending personal perception with scientific research. Working with a range of media – including performance, video, drawing, photography and installation – her work features a constantly changing visual language. Her artistic style is dictated by an interest in language and its possible wanderings and relations, while philosophy and physics also play a huge part in her inspiration. Her solo exhibition 2 – 495701 (2013) is the result of an investigation into identity and self-representation expressed through mathematical models. With visualisations of the infinite series of prime numbers, Morgantin ‘traces the inaugural and ambivalent foundation of relations’. Her juxtaposition of the scientific and the personal can be seen in ‘Minor Error Was Found’ (2004) – a meteorological study of varying degrees of wind – where she allocates technical names with adjunct personal observations, such as ‘paper and dust fly (moderate wind)’ or ‘trees fly (storm)’. Her videos are composed of photographic shots that follow an emotive sequence, with superimposed drawings alluding to art history or personal narratives.
Morgantin’s work can be seen at Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins, +39 0577 943134 (San Gimignano), +86 1059789505 (Beijing), +33 1 64203950 (Les Moulins)

Michelangelo Pistoletto, view of the show Réflexions, Galleria Continua chez AVELINE Jean-Marie Rossi, , Aveline Gallery 2014, Paris. Photo: Lorenzo Fiaschi | Courtesy the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les MoulinsMichelangelo Pistoletto, view of the show Réflexions, Galleria Continua chez AVELINE Jean-Marie Rossi, , Aveline Gallery 2014, Paris. Photo: Lorenzo Fiaschi | Courtesy the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins

4. Michelangelo Pistoletto


Mimmo Paladino
© Wikimedia Commons/Critico Renzo
Michelangelo Pistoletto places spirituality, figuration, the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, social solidarity, and the merging of art and his environment at the basis of his practice. His work ranges from performance to sculptural installation and his iconic ‘Mirror Paintings’, photo-silkscreened images on steel bridging conceptualism and figuration that he started developing in 1962. Through its reflective property, the work becomes interactive and prompts question regarding the notions of self, representation and reality. Pistoletto has also developed performative works involving the destruction of a mirror as a way of pointing up the interconnectedness of the world. He told The Guardian: ‘[…] all mirrors are connected, smashed or intact, just as all humans share the same basic DNA. I see society as a kind of broken mirror.’ Pistoletto’s early sculptural works ‘Oggetti in meno’ (Minus Objects) are considered to be fundamental to the birth of Arte Povera, a movement devised by critic Germano Celant in 1967. As Pistoletto explains: ‘Povera does not mean without money in your pocket. It means the essential energy of art.’ In 2013, Pistoletto had an exhibition at the Louvre, ‘Year 1: Earthly Paradise’, which marked ‘the transition into the new era of human, social, and cultural metamorphosis’.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, USA

Mimmo Paladino

Mimmo Paladino is one of the leading figures of the Transavantgarde movement. Towards the end of the seventies, Paladino played a fundamental role in the international revival of painting and mostly created monochromatic compositions in blue, red and yellow incorporating found objects. Along with starting to work with sculpture in the early 1980s, he also transformed his painting practice into an allegorical and figurative one, reviving an interest in Expressionism. He often drew from themes of Christianity and mythology, with influences ranging from Egyptian to tribal and modern art. ‘Untitled’ (1985) is an example of his ancient art-inspired sculptures: the elongated figurine is reminiscent of Etruscan sculpture and the weathered, antiqued surface evokes an excavated artefact. In 2008, Paladino collaborated with musician Brian Eno on a work for the Ara Pacis in Rome. Bridging sculpture and sound, the collaboration was based on the concept of deconstructing their work and repeating the modules that typify their creativity.
Paladino’s work can be seen at the National Gallery of Australia, Parkes Pl, Canberra ACT, Australia, +61 2 6240 6411,
Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG, +44 20 7887 8888
Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY, USA , +1 212 5357710

Roberto Cuoghi, Untitled, 2014, at Le Consortium in Dijon, France. Photo: Alessandra Sofia

Roberto Cuoghi

Roberto Cuoghi works with videos, sculpture, installation, painting and drawing. His artwork takes a diversity of form and appearance, in a practice in constant mutation that engages with the concept of metamorphosis. Ideas of constant transformation and change, the hybridisation of identities and violence are recurrent themes in his work. In an early project, he subjected his own body to a metamorphic process that tested his physical capacities in an extreme way. Entitled ‘Il Coccodeista’ (1997), the work involved Cuoghi wearing goggles made out of a pair of Schmidt-Pechan prisms for five days, which meant living with a 180-degree-rotated, distorted vision and having to adjust his sense of sight and orientation. His most recent ‘Šuillakku – corral version’ (2014) reasserts Cuoghi’s ever-present hybridisation in his work. The large-scale, immersive sound installation creates a hybrid between the music of non-Western and Western cultures as an imagined ancient Assyrian empire lament from the 7th century BC. At Le Consortium, his ongoing show da ida e pingala a ida e ida o pingala e pingala (2014-2015), presents more of his work based on fiction and the creation of illusions, drawing from the idea that art is a territory for extreme simulation.
Cuoghi’s work can be seen at Lehmann Maupin, 540 W 26th St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 2552923
Le Consortium, 37 Longvic St, Dijon, France, +33 03 80 68 45 55

Sabrina Mezzaqui, Il Tao della Fisica, 2010-2011 504 folded sheets of printed paper, from ‘Il Tao della fisica’ by Fritjof Capra ed. Adelphi sheets: 7,5 x 7,5 cm each, 38 x 39 x 39 cm approx. Photo: Rino Canobbi

Sabrina Mezzaqui

Sabrina Mezzaqui creates multimedia works that address and try to embody the passage of time. Her work at times also involve the repetition of small manual gestures, like beading, cutting, folding and drawing small motives. Often, words and writing become an integral part of her practice, while her videos portray the relentless passage of time shown through the banality of the everyday, simple natural phenomena such as dust by a half-shut window, the stars reflected by the sun on the waves or the falling snow. In ‘Le Parole tra noi leggere’ (2007), Mezzaqui references Lalla Romano’s book by the same title. Hundreds of precisely folded origami – made with pages of Romano’s book – are placed on a glass surface, suspended from the ceiling. The words, embedded yet unreadable in the origami, reflect their shadow on the floor as echoes, referencing that invisible shadow that each word always carries along as an inevitable burden. Her video work ‘Linee’ (Lines) (2005), records the almost transparent fabric of a curtain stirred by the wind, which produces – together with the sun – a moving, sinuous line.
Mezzaqui’s work can be seen at Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins, +39 0577 943134 (San Gimignano), +86 1059789505 (Beijing), +33 1 64203950 (Les Moulins)

Willy Verginer, Adesso è più normale, adesso è meglio, adesso è giusto, 2013, different materials, 180 x 153 cm

Willy Verginer

Willy Verginer works with wood as his primary sculpting material. Carving away at solid pieces of linden wood from the northern region of Italy, he creates beautifully rendered, figurative sculptures. The life-sized works are then finished with acrylic paint and at times with the addition of other materials to create different textures. The sculptures all possess a sense of otherworldliness, yet they are all somehow realistic. The surreal, imaginary aspect that Verginer inserts in his works, lies in the strange gestures of his figures and the unexpected objects, animals and other elements that wouldn’t normally be present. ‘Adesso è più normale, adesso è meglio, adesso è giusto’ (2013), featured in his solo exhibition Human Nature (2014), represents a donkey with his golden feces on the ground and small child standing on its back. ‘Flowers with Colour’ takes the form of a statue of a girl whose fingertips give birth to flowers, whereas ‘La pel dl vënt’ is a 172-centimetre tall female nude, whose skin sporns black ivy leaves.
Verginer’s work can be seen at Galerie Majke Hüsstege‘s Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, +31 073 614 2863
Galerie LeRoyer, 60 St Paul St W, Montreal, QC, Canada, + 1 514 2871351

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