The museum of modern art in Bologna (MAMbo) has all the things you would expect to find in a contemporary art space; large sculptures of an almost industrial nature, paintings in monotone blocks and thought-provoking ceramics. I make no pretence to understand it; when the Turner Prize took up residence at Gateshead’s Baltic a few years back I would have ranked the four finalists in almost the complete reverse of the eventual result. I do appreciate it however, for it can make me think about composition, texture, colour and light in ways that could influence the way I approach photography.
This being Italy, and more particularly Bologna, there is also a political element in several exhibits, and in the large ground floor space I found a special exhibition dedicated to a single artist who combined all of these and more, Pier Paulo Pasolini.
Italy in the 20th Century was a fertile breeding ground for film directors. If you’ve seen the film Nine (stellar cast, mediocre film) you’ll see a stereotype of the model portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis; stylishly dressed entirely in black & white (to match his output), riven by personal anxiety and highly promiscuous. It’s a musical version of Fellini’s masterpiece 8½, but you could apply the archetype to Roberto Rossellini (infamous for his affair with Ingrid Bergman), or Michelangelo Antonioni (whose Blow Up featured David Hemmings doing his best David Bailey impression). Bertolucci shocked the world with Last Tango in Paris, Visconti gave us Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice and Zeffirelli the definitive Romeo & Juliet with Burton & Taylor. There there are the genre directors:, Dario Argento for horror, and far more significantly Sergio Leone for his westerns (and of course Once upon a Time in America).
But back to Pasolini. Creating a static exhibit on the director of the moving image isn’t easy, nor is trying to convert that through photography! The museum did so with mannequins wearing costumes from his films and then creating zones around the gallery for each film, with clips shown above stills, letters, scripts and other material relating to each one. Personally I never feel that a costume conveys much without the performer inside it, but I found the remaining material fascinating.
Pasolini’s life (and death) were eventful; son of an army officer and gambler who seems to have been aligned to the fascist right, Pasolini was taken to the country by his mother, the more significant influence in his life. He became a writer and poet, a political activist of the far left, and of course a film director whose works are renowned for their sex, nudity and farce. (Little wonder that he inspired a Monty Python sketch) He was murdered at the age of 53 in what appeared to be a mafia-style revenge killing, though the man convicted claimed it was because the Pasolini had tried to sodomise him. (He was openly gay and his relationship with a young boy would be illegal under UK law). Decades later the “murderer” retracted his confession, claiming that he had been under duress because of threats to his family, and that those responsible referred to Pasolini as a dirty communist. Another possibility is that it was an extortion claim gone wrong; rolls of film from his last movie having been stolen. That film was Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.
The man was certainly an intellectual, but based solely on some brief and unsubtitled clips of his films I can’t comment on his value as an artist. The names of those who claim to be influenced by him seen around his portrait at the end of the exhibition suggest there are plenty who would. Meanwhile my emotional sensitivity remained un-disappointed.