The Italian artist’s solo show at Blain|Southern demonstrates why, for William Kherbek, Zorio is the cream of the Arte Povera crop
Arte Povera has a lot to answer for. Though it has given the art world giants like Jannis Kounellis, Mario and Marisa Merz, and Luciano Fabro, every time I see somebody making replica of the Kardashian mansion out of toilet roll tubes or sweeping some broken glass into a “pyramid” I can’t help thinking of Robert Burns’ jaundiced-eyed reflection of the best laid plans of mice and men. So it was a surprise to be as blown away as I was by the Gilberto Zorio solo show at Blain|Southern. Zorio has, for me, always been something of an antidote to the dangerously intense limpidity the movement can sometimes embody, Pistoletto is probably the most serious manifestation of this tendency in the first wave for me, but just being a little more willing to work your materials to their limit isn’t enough; what the Blain|Southern show demonstrates is Zorio’s almost old-masterly ability to make his materials both completely the subject of his works and to render their histories completely invisible by the power his narrative imagination creates. ‘Per purificare le parole’ (To Purify the Words), a work from 1980 is composed of javelins and a precarious pyrex ampoule filled with some dangerous-looking clear liquid. If you want to see absurdity and limpidity here, it’s there to be seen, but the dialogue between the solidity of the javelins and the fragility of the pyrex almost seem to interpenetrate. Looked at one way the javelins could melt and crash, looked at another way, the pyrex seems like the last substance on earth, surviving dinosaurs and Fukushima sky-shine just as stoically. Zorio’s works also have interactive dimensions. Every fifteen minutes the gallery goes dark and the works hiss and hum to life. When ‘Canoa Siviera’ (Canoe Ladle) – just like it says on the tin – starts spinning gallery going begins to feel like extreme sport and you can almost hear the ghost of Bas Jan Ader calling in the whoosh it creates. Being a survey show spread over two rooms, you might worry it could be a bit uneven, but there’s no sense of apprenticeship in even the pieces from as far back as 1968. Zorio is that rarest of quantities, a shape-shifter who emerged fully formed.
Gilberto Zorio runs until until 28 September at Blain|Southern, 4 Hanover Square, London W1S 1BP