Luigi Galligani : Humanizing Myths, Restoring Our Sense of Wonder

Working primarily in bronze and terra cotta, the Italian sculptor Luigi Galligani reinterprets ancient Mediterranean myths in striking contemporary terms, at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from December 12 through January 2, 2009. (Reception: Thursday, December 18, from 6 - 8pm.)

Galligani, who has an impressive exhibition history, has works in important private and public collections world wide. His pieces command attention as much for their inventive forms as for expressiveness and authenticity. Yet, like those of the American sculptor Tom Otterness, they are also possessed of a lively visual wit. Indeed, he is capable of creating figures that metamorphose in sometimes startling ways without ever verging on the grotesque.

An exemplary case in point is his bronze “Murena,” in which a female nude’s lower body culminates in a serpentine abstract shape that could suggest stylized waves. It takes a rare talent to make such anatomical anomalies work, but Galligani accomplishes this by virtue of his fluid sense of form. At the same time, he can also create sculptures such as the bronze “Dopo il Bagno,” in which the straightforward nude female figure is endowed with a long lost classical voluptuousness.

Equally influenced by the art of the Italian Renaissance and that of the archaic period in Greece and Italy, Galligani has developed a singular personal synthesis, at once respectful of tradition and animated by modern immediacy. In his bronze with patina “Sirena Sospettosa,” for example, a gracefully simplified mermaid supporting herself with her arms behind her stretches out like a Hollywood starlet sunbathing beside a swimming pool. Somehow, the sculptor manages to impart to this mythological being a casual deportment that endows her with girl-next-door charm.

Galligani’s “Medusa,” is also possessed of a contemporary charisma that makes the wreath of serpents writhing from her head seem no more prepossessing, much less threatening than the layered hair-do of a nubile teenager. Perhaps her pert features and modestly lowered eyes also complete the impression that this is a much more appealing Medusa than the screaming, bug-eyed, gape-mouthed monster one is used to. Galligani seems to have a Pygmalian-like gift for ”humanizing” such mythic figures by virtue of his own humanity and visual wit.

Paradoxically, this ability to approach mythological subjects with a sense of humor seems essential for any contemporary artist who wishes to be taken seriously. Yet if one is to deal with such subjects at all in this day and age, it is equally important to endow them with a certain formal credibility. And Galligani succeeds splendidly on both scores. He is especially adept at making such imaginary appendages as mermaid tails and angel wings blend seamlessly with the more expected attributes of ordinary human anatomy through his impressive formal fluidity.

Indeed, by virtue of his easy familiarity with such subject matter Luigi Galligani demonstrates that the suspension of belief that makes it possible to believe in the symbolic, if not the literal, truth of these ancient stories, can still be possible. And in doing so, he presents us with the great gift of a renewed sense of wonder. Thus it comes as no surprise that he has won the favor of so many prominent critics and collectors throughout his native Italy and the world.

¬¬Maurice Taplinger

Image Credits: Piccola Sirena Acciambellata, Terra Cotta, 19.5" x 14"

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