P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center presents the first U.S. retrospective of the work of Italian artist Luigi Ontani (b. 1943, Vergato, Italy), which includes works produced between 1965 and 2001. Curated by P.S.1 Senior Curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, this exhibition showcases the career of an artist whose elaborate installations and tableaux vivants (living paintings) constitute a landmark in the history of performance art and photography. Ontani's use of his own body and persona, of costumes and masks, of references to folklore, art nouveau and exoticism, anticipates much current work that deals with shifting or fictional identities and neo-aestheticism.
Ontani has described his art as "the adventure I live as a person of art." Throughout his career, he has used diverse objects, hand-colored photographs, papier mâché, ceramic sculptures, slide projections and performances to explore fictional re-creation of identity and regression into childhood and memory. Using his own body as the medium for communication, Ontani appears reincarnated as his favorite heroes from mythology, fairytales, history, and art history. Assuming their identities by way of costumes and poses, he morphs into these beings through performances, photographs, film and video, and drawings. As the subject of his art, Ontani can live art, create art, and express his love for art.
Although little known to the larger American art public, Ontani has been an important figure in Italy since the 1970s. He explored directions not undertaken by the slightly older generation of artists practicing in Arte Povera. His work was included in the exhibition Transformer, Kunsthalle, Lucerne, 1974. In the 1970s he performed at The Kitchen and exhibited at Sonnabend Gallery in Paris and in New York. Ontani's most recent solo exhibition was held at the Roman Aquarium (December 2000), where he exhibited Ganeshamusa (2000), a life-size ceramic elephant, along with a selection of photographs from his series En route vers L'Inde (1976-2000). Echoes of Ontani's work can be found in the art of Francesco Clemente, and seems to have presaged the practice of such artists as Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons and Yasumasa Morimura.