With this blue sofa, the Italian artist specializing in close-up views offers a mellow vision of hyperrealism. Who will yield to the urge to lie down on it?
Domenico Gnoli (1933-1970), The Blue Sofa, 1964, acrylic and sand on canvas, 97 x 147 cm (38.1 x 57.8 in).
Estimate: €1/1,2 M
Though liberally represented on Artnet, the artist is rare in the French market, so the appearance of this Blue Sofa at Drouot in April is already an event in itself. In the family of post-war hyperrealists, Domenico Gnoli (1933-1970) experienced meteoric success, however, his career was brutally cut short on the eve of his 37th birthday—like that of Raphael and Van Gogh: too early to reveal his full potential; too early, as well, to convince the public of his time. His marginal work in the 1960s was not really viewed with a fresh eye until the 1980s.
But art was definitely his fairy godmother, as he enjoyed a cultivated childhood in Rome with a ceramist mother, Annie de Garrou, and an art historian father, Umberto Gnoli, who considered painting one of the only acceptable things in life. So Domenico's path clearly lay in this direction. He began exploring art at 17, and became a theater decorator three years later. Paris, Zurich and London were all set to receive him, but he felt that the profession involved too much talk, and teamwork was unsuited to him. He then turned to illustration working for the press with great success, aided by his good looks and unashamed dandyism. He lived in New York from 1955 to 1962, earning money as a painter, and was influenced the Pop art then dominating the art scene. The fact that he chose and meticulously reproduced common objects—focusing on the wardrobe, with jackets, ties, shoes, collars, necklaces, trousers, etc.—obviously linked him to the movement, but he treated them in detail, and extremely close-up.
His art should also be viewed from the perspective of hyperrealism—for example, a close-up view of a button on a vast canvas of several square meters, with no escape for the eye; a much-enlarged hairstyle, or everyday objects taken out of context. He painted trivial things (a bed, an armchair, a blanket and so on) as if painting a portrait. The sofa here falls into this category.
The Metaphysics of the Detail
His acrylic and sand canvases are imposing, accentuating the almost metaphysical aspect of his subjects. Giorgio de Chirico is not far away, but that's not the only thing. The objects are so detached from their context and function, isolated and represented for themselves, that they take on a mysterious value. Some critics have even seen them as poetic. Gnoli was part of the line of Italian artists of the first half of the 20th century, and absorbed certain lessons faithfully, mainly those of Giorgio Morandi, the master of simplicity. But by representing his objects without staging in a head-on, highly imposing way, he completely aligned himself with the second half of the century as a man who boldly and assertively did away with codes. Not only that, but he was interested in textures, like those of hair or fabrics. The medium he used, acrylic mixed with sand, contributed to this singular rendering and softness of tone, a far cry from the stridency of Pop art. The material, served by his refined draftsmanship, has a particular matt quality providing endless possibilities for bringing out fine streaks, floral embroidery, silk or the softness of a blanket—all in a deafening, disturbing silence. This is what intrigues and appeals. The result is that his paintings are now highly regarded in the international market and hang on the walls of the most demanding European museums in Berlin, Amsterdam, Madrid, Cologne, Vienna, Hamburg, Rome and Venice. Though not yet in Paris...
In May 2012, the New York gallery Luxembourg & Dayan devoted an exhibition to him called "Detail of a Detail". In the catalog, there was a posthumous interview with the artist by Maurizio Cattelan, who shaped his questions to fit the answers, adapting them to quotes by Gnoli. So we can reasonably give them credit. Here we read: "I am metaphysical in that I seek a non-speaking, still, atmospheric painting." To the question about pop art's fascination with common objects, the answer is: "I can only speak for myself, but imagination and invention cannot spawn anything more important, more beautiful and more terrifying than the common object, magnified by the attention we give it." What more could there be? The impact of this work in Paris. We'll find out on April 13.