Luigi Ghirri. The Marazzi Years 1975 – 1985

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Preserved for decades in the archives of ceramics manufacturer Marazzi, an unseen collection of photographs by Luigi Ghirri becomes the focus of an exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale in Sassuolo part of the heritage of the Gallerie Estensi

It is a story of research, creativity and bonds with the local area of which the Gallerie, much loved by the author, embody the history and the beauty. The recently refurbished Appartamento dei Giganti spaces reopen to the public for the first time describing the meeting and collaboration between the Emilian photographer and the company, which began in Sassuolo in 1975.

From 16 September to 31 October 2021, an almost completely unseen collection of photographs by Luigi Ghirri is the protagonist of the Luigi Ghirri. The Marazzi Years 1975-1985 exhibition, curated by Ilaria Campioli, at the Palazzo Ducale, Sassuolo.

The Project, put on by Gallerie Estensi in partnership with the Archivio Luigi Ghirri and Marazzi Group, will be presented at the 21st edition of the Festival Filosofia (philosophy festival) in Modena, Carpi and Sassuolo, whose topic, Freedom, perfectly represents the spirit of the long-standing partnership between the artist and the ceramics company founded in the 1930s.

Luigi Ghirri first met Marazzi in Sassuolo in 1975, in a phase of personal growth and experimentation which communicates well with the direction of the company’s research and development, focused at that time on some fundamental points such as colour, dimensions and internationalisation. The result is a unique partnership, where the artist creates an important corpus of works, almost completely free from the criteria of the advertising image: a research in which ceramics are read as surfaces and mental space, an infinite possibility of composition, light and colour.

On the ground floor of the Palazzo Ducale in Sassuolo, thirty photographs, fruit of this extraordinary partnership and preserved for almost forty years in the Marazzi archives, are exhibited in the Appartamento dei Giganti spaces, reopened to the public for this occasion: a small room (camerino) and two large rooms overlooking an imposing Italian garden, decorated with geometric perspective and friezes composed of scrolls, panels and two reliefs with Tritons and Nereids.

“With this exhibition, we are celebrating a little-known yet fascinating aspect of the work of Luigi Ghirri, who was one of the most important and best-known Italian photographers of the second half of the 20th century,” says Martina Bagnoli, Director of the Gallerie Estensi. “This exhibition in partnership with Marazzi reiterates the close and successful relationship which Gallerie Estensi enjoys with the local area and the thriving enterprises in this region.”

Luigi Ghirri. The Marazzi Years 1975 – 1985 reveals how much Ghirri used ceramics to deepen themes and reflections dear to him in those years, like the function of photography itself, being a tool to interrogate the world, to understand collective and shared perception, to analyse architecture, landscape representation, illusion.

The exhibition itinerary opens in the camerino of the Apartment with photographs in which ceramics become a geometric grid that defines the spaces, where the tools of childhood learning are the protagonists – the blackboard, the abacus, the coloured pencils – alongside those of play (the ball) and imagination (a rainbow held up by the shadow of a hand).

Alongside these images, in the next room, those dedicated to perfect architecture and fragments of classical aesthetics interact again with tile grids whose geometric and alienating effect is heightened by the use of mirrors and reflections. In the last room, miniatures, changes of perspectives, small optical illusions are once again placed alongside the grids, in a continuous interrogation of the vision and its thousand variations.

“In his works for Marazzi, Luigi Ghirri placed the ceramic material within a wider reflection on representation,” explains Ilaria Campioli, curator of the exhibition. “The surfaces become part of this system of measuring and reducing the world into scale, which was so important for the artist in that period. The combination of the different planes and grids allowed him to further investigate and reflect on knowledge and learning, as if they were a new page on which to learn how to write and draw each time.”

Thanks to the efforts of Marazzi and the contribution of the Archivio Luigi Ghirri, the exhibition held at the Palazzo Ducale in Sassuolo – a location symbolic of his local area – forms the centre of a major promotional project, enabling the public to appreciate a unique cultural experience that significantly adds to our understanding of the works and thought of one of the greatest figures in Italian photography.

Alongside the exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale, the project Luigi Ghirri. The Marazzi Years 1975 – 1985 involves the publication of a volume of the same name which will not go on sale, and the creation of a website providing further information – www.ghirri.marazzi.it – completely dedicated to this special productive period of Ghirri’s career. The exhibition itinerary incorporates a symbolic beginning with the display, at the Musei Civici in Reggio Emilia museum, of a small focus dedicated to the work symbolic of this operation, on the occasion of the 2021 edition of the Fotografia Europea Festival; after Sassuolo the travelling exhibition will go international, with its first stop being the Italian Cultural Institute in Paris from 10 November 2021, during Paris Photo.

“We are very happy to be able to commemorate this unique association between the company and one of the grand masters of Italian photography, by exhibiting Luigi Ghirri’s work in the Gallerie Estensi’s Palazzo Ducale in Sassuolo, a location symbolic of the artist’s local area,” confirms Mauro Vandini, Marazzi CEO. “A 10-year partnership, which has allowed Ghirri to express himself with the utmost freedom and vision, creating a body of works that has left its mark. It is thrilling to rediscover them and publish them now together, displaying all the facets, poetry and intelligence of an artist who has established an exceptionally long-lasting, deep bond with us that yielded outstanding results. Results that are now finally visible and accessible to all. This exhibition somehow completes the path undertaken 45 years ago and which is continuing thanks to the partnership with the Archive and Adele Ghirri and the dialogue that has been established with the Gallerie Estensi and the Director Martina Bagnoli.”

Luigi Ghirri (Scandiano, Reggio Emilia, 1943 – Roncocesi, Reggio Emilia, 1992) is considered one of the most important Italian photographers of the 20th century. In the early 1970s, he developed artistically, coming into contact with young Modenese conceptual artists who shaped his subsequent career. His work deals with the rules of photography: his images are not acts of mimesis or simple reproductions, but ways of exploring reality, emphasising the fictitious nature of vision and representation. His figurative culture is rooted in 20th-century poetics, from the Dadaist objet trouvé to conceptual art and American pop art; in the field of photography, he is influenced by the photographers of the American and French schools. His images, which are often organized ‘in series’, are the result of lengthy, thoughtful research before the shot, in which reality and its details are thoroughly analysed. This unconventional approach immediately brought him into the international limelight, so much so that by the early 1980s he was already considered one of the twenty most significant photographers of the 20th century.

Ghirri’s extensive exhibition work was flanked by significant cultural promotion, involving the creation of editorial projects developed within its Punto e Virgola publishing house and with the organisation of shows such as Iconicittà (1980), Viaggio in Italia (1984) and Esplorazioni sulla Via Emilia (1986), milestones in the history of contemporary Italian photography that placed him at the centre of a lively debate. During the 1980s, through public and private commissions, he expressed himself as an interpreter of Italian architecture and landscape, offering, among other things, his insight into the work of several important architects.

Ilaria Campioli is primarily involved in contemporary art and photography. She has worked for the Louvre and for the Collezione Maramotti, and for several years curated the exhibitions of the Fotografia Europea Festival. She has managed various projects for the Festival, some of which were dedicated to the photography books. She has worked with important international artists such as Joan Fontcuberta, Sarah Moon and Erik Kessels, also working on the publications for the exhibitions. Since 2018 she has been co-curator of Giovane Fotografia Italiana, a project dedicated to the discovery and promotion of emerging young photographic talent in Italy. She is also curator of the photography section in the major reorganisation project for the collections of the second floor of Palazzo dei Musei in Reggio Emilia, conceived by Italo Rota.

The Gallerie Estensi is an extended complex of museums which incorporates various cultural institutes between the provinces of Modena and Ferrara that follow the history of the Este dynasty and their collections. This characteristic makes the Gallerie Estensi an innovative museum model: a network of museums which is always in movement, but at the same time an enchanting place which offers visitors a unique cultural itinerary. The Galleria Estense exhibits the extraordinary art collection of the Dukes of Este, including paintings, sculptures and applied art. The Library is a modern institute of national importance, which joins the precious book collection of the House of Este with the extensive university library. The Museo Lapidario tells the history of Modena, from its Roman foundation to the modern day, with a huge collection of monuments and archaeological finds. The Pinacoteca Nazionale offers a journey of discovery through Ferrarese painting, in the incredible setting of the town’s Palazzo dei Diamanti. The Palazzo Ducale in Sassuolo is one of the most important Baroque residences in northern Italy. It owes its current appearance to Francesco I d’Este, who in 1634 appointed architect Bartolomeo Avanzini to transform the old family castle into a modern out-of-town residence for his court. Wall paintings, stucco decorations, sculptures and fountains still today convey the sense of splendour of the House of Este.

Marazzi Group, present in more than 140 countries, is universally recognised as synonymous

with high-quality ceramic floor and wall coverings, and symbolises the best of Italian style and manufacturing in the interior decoration and design sector. Marazzi was founded in 1935 in the Sassuolo (Modena, Italy) district, an internationally famous ceramic tile manufacturing hub. Marazzi is responsible for the main technological, process and design innovations that have made the district a point of reference for the entire ceramics world. Marazzi belongs to Mohawk Industries, Inc., the world’s biggest flooring manufacturer and a multinational group listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Luigi Ghirri. The Marazzi Years 1975-1985, curated by Ilaria Campioli

16 September – 31 October 2021

Press conference | 15 September 2021, 12:00 noon

Inauguration| 15 September 2021, 6:00 p.m. – invitation only

Palazzo Ducale – Sassuolo (Gallerie Estensi)

Piazzale della Rosa 10, Sassuolo, Modena