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Crowned Idols

March 30, 2022
Premio Vittorini
April 7, 2022
Ph. Maria Pia Ballarino

Joana Vasconcelos Crowns the Cycladic Idol

At the Museo Paolo Orsi

Crowned Idols – Idoli Incoronati is the incredibly striking installment by the Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, one of the best-known in the world who has been called to design tens of museum exhibitions each year - and who is particularly appreciated for her large installations, made with the most diverse materials.
Curated artistically by Demetrio Paparoni and archeologically by Anita Crispino, this exhibition will run until the 26th of July 2022 in the exhibition area at the Museo Archeologico Paolo Orsi di Siracusa, organised by the Parco archeologico e paesaggistico di Siracusa, Eloro, Villa del Tellaro e Akrai. And if it is true - as Demetrio Paparoni writes - that “Joana Vasconcelos’ installations are brought to life by taking into account the history of the place which hosts them and the capacity of the space to amplify their incarnate meaning”, such peculiarities remain even in those cases where the piece isn’t site-specific, but is an adaptation of a previous installation, namely Crown, that same “crown” made for the exhibition in London in 012, for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Queen Elisabeth II’s coronation.
Ph. Maria Pia Ballarino
This time, the coronation is of a sculpture nearly 5000 years old, an Idol which comes from the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, whose temporary display in our Museum is thanks to an exchange agreement whereby the Regione Siciliana sent the Torso of Lentini and the Biscari Head to Athens, finally reunited in the original Kouros form nearly 2500 years after their genesis.
I believe the most important information and contribution that I can give regarding this installation is that of my reaction on seeing it, which was of enchantment and complete longing, expressed in true emotion when speaking to the artist about the work, who also demonstrated a profound empathy to my sentiment. My personal experience of the work started from the top, from the large colored structure, made of various textiles and precious embroidery, which fills the space of the entire room and spreads from the top towards the bottom and from the centre to the outside, starting from a nucleus made of drapes and golden lace, as if it were the floating trunk of a tree and its roots. Right below the trunk, a display case contains the Cycladic Idol, a female sculpture in white marble of about 60cm, of essential, nearly geometric forms, its surface smooth, the symmetry perfect, with a composure which is almost frozen, a synthesis of compactness which is cryptic and impenetrable, which makes the viewers uneasy, nearly piercing them in their deepest soul.
Ph.Germana Gallitto
Ph.Maria Pia Ballarino
The softness of those immense shapes with the vivid colours of the crown and the sharp hardness of the small idol create a contrast of materials and hues which does not disturb in any way, rather it pushes the viewer to look for a connection between the two presences, both strongly laden with energy and spiritual strength. The elements of Vasconcelos’ piece which spread out from the center, reach into the glass cases which are set around the perimeter of the exhibition area and which contain other archeological artefacts of the Museum, sculptures and paintings from the III century B.C. to the XIII C.E. , most of them with figures or divinities celebrating the feminine and “placed here to underline their symbolic value and to contain their energy” says Anita Crispino, archeologist of the Museum. All this is combined with the emotional sounds of Jane Winther’s Mantra which accompanies the exhibition, adding further spiritual value to each element and leading the visitor along a magical path within Creation, in which the Ancient is renewed and dialogues with the Contemporary, while the latter loses the ephemerality of the present, and everyone who finds themselves in that enchanted place seems to delight in a place without time.
As such, the installation constitutes a place of connection between the immobile and silent symbols of everything regarding female nature in history of civilisation: it is at one and the same time all the roles, the styles, the models, the choices, the dresses that women have had to adopt in history because of necessity or social expectations; generate, feed, take care of, guide, marry, obey, decide, sustain, produce; all of this done by using the multitude of innate or leant peculiarities, but necessary to find the stimulus to do the actions of every day and to succeed in regenerating oneself, to pick oneself up, reinvent oneself; stimuli such as faith, energy, adaptability, discipline, desire, imagination and always - most of all - love.
Ph. Maria Pia Ballarino

During the presentation held on the opening day which I attended, each one of the speakers - artist Joana Vasconcelos, curators Demetrio Paparoni and Anita Crispino, the Director of the Archeological Park of Siracusa Carlo Staffile, the Assessore Regionale dei Beni Culturali Alberto Samonà- all recognised not only the powerful spiritual strength of the exhibition, but also agreed that they had the feeling - by embracing this project - of having answered a “call”, a small miracle which happened in only two months thanks to the coming together of various people who contributed to the creation of such a concentration of elements, which celebrate the feminine in a place so close to the Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime, another temple built in honour of an ‘idol’ which is also an archetype and messenger of hope and love. Vasconcelos herself expressly invited those present to picture this proximity between the exhibition and the Sanctuary as a “collective flow of love, light and peace”; she then added that, upon learning that the Cycladic idol was about 5000 years old, she asked herself if her work could ever last so long and pictured this exhibition as the much-desired occasion for eternity which we all - whether artists or not - strive for.
Personally speaking, however, the most striking impression of this installation that was made on me come from speaking to Professor Giuseppe Voza, Soprintendente dei Beni Culturali in Siracusa up to 2004, now, Soprintendente emerito and honorary Director of the Museo Paolo Orsi. Famous archeologist, an enlightened and brave lover of culture, already in the 1980s he spearheaded an avantgarde project by Demetrio Paparoni: in it ancient and contemporary art were actors of equal importance, and an incredible exhibition was born, in which works by the young Omar Galliani conversed with the Landolina Venus. To my question regarding the thoughts and emotions he experienced when seeing Vasconcelos’ piece, this was his answer: “I have the impression, as I look at this austere Cycladic sculpture, with its folded arms, closed in on itself as if it had been ready to implode for millenia, that Joana Vasconcelos’ work has finally freed the figure, untying the knots of her arms and opening her up to the Universe, so that the implosion has become an explosion of energy.”.
March 2022
Solitario, 2018, installazione Porto, Portogallo Ph. © Luis Vasconcelos, Atelier Joana Vasconcelos

She loves conceptual art, linguistics, philosophy and everything that makes one think about knowledge. She has collaborated with galleries of Contemporary Art and Photographic Art in Milan, written for magazines in this sector, curated events and exhibitions in Sicily and teaches History of Art.