The Bronzes of Riace are famous in Italy, more so in Calabria. The tourist board uses their images at every chance they get, and it’s understandable as the statues are truly magnificent. A number of artists have also been inspired by their splendor to create works of their own.
MODERN HOMAGE TO THE BRONZES OF RIACE
During the renovation of the Archeological Museum in Reggio Calabria, restorers took the opportunity to re-examine, study, repair and generally buff up the bronze statues. Not completely taken out of commission for the period, which extended to a very long four years, the sculptures were made available for public viewing, albeit lying on their backs behind a glass partition.
In celebration of their grand reentry to Reggio’s Museum, and perhaps also because there was plenty of empty space as the rest of the collection was still not on view, an exposition of paintings in homage to the statues was organized late last spring (2014). The works were created by artists, architects and designers from Italy and around the world: Bruno Barla, Andrea Branzi, Giuliana Cunéaz, Riccardo Dalisi, Marco Dezzi Bardeschi, Josè Ignacio González, Ugo La Pietra, Alessandro Mendini, Franco Purini, Denis Santachiara, Marcello Sèstito, Nik Spatari, Liu Tiefei and Wang Jianzhong. The idea was for the artists to honor the statues while contributing personal interpretations based on their own inspiration and cultural tendencies.
Interestingly, all sixteen canvases were to measure 1.2 x 1.9 meters, just shy of the height of the statues themselves, 2.05 and 1.98 meters, or 6.73 and 6.5 feet tall. They were initially exhibited in the middle of a large atrium, propped up in the central area as if standing around on a beach together. Not that I would have expected anything to have approached the masterworks themselves, but I was underwhelmed by a majority of the works.
THE BRONZES OF RIACE BY NIK SPATARI
The offering of local artist Nik Spatari stood out from the crowd. The Calabrian had clearly dedicated a considerable amount of time studying the statues over the 40 years since their discovery. In fact, there’s a comprehensive examination of the statues in his book L’Enigma delle Arti Asittite della Calabria ultramediterranea (2002). His work is entitled L’Eroe del Sagra (Valle del Torbido), or the Hero of the Sagra, a monumental battle fought between ancient Locri Epizephryii and Crotone in the 6th-century BC. It combines drawings and comparisons taken from his book together with pop art rubbing and nitrate paint on board.
Spatari chose the figure that had been sculpted first, in the middle of the 5th-century BC. He’s known as Statue A and represents a younger warrior, who the artist felt had a kinship to the Calabrian native spirit. Spatari also hypothesized that the statue could have been commissioned to commemorate the victory of the Sagra battle. In his comments on the exhibition, he noted that an archeological team from the University of Pisa had discovered a foundry in the nearby ancient city of Kaulon with artifacts and design casts that approximated the style of Statue A. Although this theory as to the statue’s provenance is not the most popular amongst archeologists, the artist clearly feels a personal relationship to a figure he sees as a fellow Calabrian, and his work reflects this affinity.
Spatari’s composition considers both the anthropological and the stylistic-geometric mass of the object. The result is both thought provoking and pleasing to the eye. More about the artist can be found on his website, MuSaBa or Museo Santa Barbara, a museum and laboratory of contemporary art that exhibits its collections in a restructured Byzantine monastic complex and an open-air park in Mammola, Calabria.
OTHER 21ST-CENTURY INTERPRETATIONS OF THE BRONZES OF RIACE
The other work in this exhibition that caught my attention was Andrea Branzi’s I Giganti di Riace (The Giants of Riace). The Italian architect and designer’s print on canvas placed the statues on the site of the Twin Towers. As I said, it caught my eye, the Greek masterworks towering over New York’s cityscape, a little bit like King Kong. I’m sure all sorts of hypotheses could be proffered as to what the Bronzes represent here—from something profound to something in very poor taste and everything in-between. I would rather not comment and leave it open for individual interpretation.
Speaking of openings, Sacha Sosno’s (1937-2013) Bronzi di Riace (Bronzes of Riace) does just that. The French sculptor and painter’s work consists of 1.2 x 2.71-meter (3.9 x 8.89-feet) steel cutouts of the figures painted red. The sculpture is part of Cosenza’s Museo all’aperto Bilotti, named after its benefactor Carlo Bilotti, an Italian-American from this Calabrian city. The open-air museum features a number of works, several by world-renowned artists including Giorgio De Chirico and Salavador Dalì, and could be considered a culturally minded, upscale beautification project of Cosenza’s main pedestrian-shopping thoroughfare. Sosno’s Bronzi, created in 2006, are a playful contribution to the permanent collection displayed in the provincial capital’s pedestrian zone.
The works from the Reggio exhibition are still on display in the city’s archeological museum, and Sosno’s Bronzi di Riace will indefinitely surveil the comings and goings of Cosenza’s Via Mazzini. Future interpretations of these magnificent statues are sure to come.
Read more about these beautiful statues in my book Calabria: The Other Italy, on my blog post’s Reflection On The Riace Bronzes and on my guest post on Italy Chronicles: See the Spectacular Riace Bronzes.