Artist Spotlight: Francesco Arena

Artist Spotlight: Francesco Arena

Current Exhibition: Due ritratti con persona, Sprovieri, London, UK, 2 March – 28 April 2018.

Francesco Arena’s second solo show at Sprovieri’s London gallery, Due ritratti con persona, comes to an end on 28 April.

This is the first work of a new series by the Italian artist. It deals with two recurring themes in Arena’s practice: representation of the individual and time. As the show’s title (which translates as Two portraits with person) suggests, the exhibition is centred around the broad subject of portraiture.

Frosted white bronze sculptures, which are purposely designed to function as stools, enable an interaction to take place between the object and a performer. The artist intends for a participant aged 33 years old to sit upon the sculptures. 33 holds a particular significance – it is the age difference between the artist and his father. Thus, a symbolic portrait of the two, which finds representation through the performer, is created. Combining sculpture with a heightened consideration for the conceptual, Arena’s work are interactive and multifaceted.

Due ritratti con persona remains in flux and is inextricably linked to the effects of time and mortality.

Installation shot, Due ritratti con persona, Francesco Arena. Image courtesy the artist and the gallery.

While both subjects of the portrait – the artist and his father – are alive, the performer of Due ritratti con persona will always be 33 years old. However, if one of the two subjects dies, the artist has instructed that the age of the performer must change (increasing should the younger die first or decreasing should the oldest die first).

The work conveys the link that exists between father and son with an intimate representation. Conveying a bond of kinship through the use of an alternate performer, who is related only by the relevance of their date of birth, seems counterintuitive – perhaps even detached. Yet, it is the performer that brings a tangible level of human empathy to the piece. Not only are they a proxy, a symbolic surrogate for the artist and his father’s portrait, the performer obscures whose portrait it is the viewer is meant to study.

‘Numbers that take on form’

The press release quotes the Walker Art Centre’s Curator of Visual Arts, Vincenzo de Bellis, who, in 2016, said of Arena’s practice: ‘Numbers that take on form. If one were to compress a large part of Francesco Arena’s work into a simple, direct formula, this could certainly be it. From a linguistic point of view his work can be read as a development, a personal “derivation” of sculptural processes that arise from the geometric shapes of Minimal art and from the more archetypal ones of Arte Povera, from a thematic point of view his pieces are often the translation of formulae and numbers linked to those facts or histories from which they originate.’ (Vincenzo de Bellis, 2016)

Installation shot, Due ritratti con persona, Francesco Arena. Image courtesy the artist and the gallery.

The exhibition also includes two further stool sculptures from the same series, which will be available on commission, and four geometric sculptures in frosted white bronze as well. They link the exhibition with Autumn Lines, his first solo show held at the gallery in 2016. Here the use of a 2,100m ribbon, made by tying fragmented bits of ropes, shoelaces and electrical cables, corresponds with the length of the metal fences and barbed wire raised between Slovenia and Croatia on the 11 November 2015; the first day Europe started raising barriers and closing borders to the flow of migrants.

In Arena’s artworks the narrative “informs” the objects – be they everyday objects or composed of traditional sculptural materials. The artist’s research often moves along two tracks. It explores collective history and personal history, forming two lines that touch, overlap and intersect.

Divisione del quadrato (Kafka) (2016), 100.0cm x 100.0cm x 2.0cm, Francesco Arena. Image courtesy the artist and the gallery.


Francesco Arena was born in Torre Santa Susanna, Italy, in 1978. He lives and works in Cassano delle Murge, Italy. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Lecce. His work has been exhibited internationally: recent exhibitions include Mario Merz Prize, Fondazione Mario Merz, Turin (2017); Maxxi, Rome (2017); La Capella, Barcelona (2017); Triennale di Milano, Milan (2015); Palazzo Strozzi, Florence (2015); Castello di Rivoli, Turin (2015 – 2014 and 2012); OSAP – Olnick Spanu Art Programme, Hudson Valley (2014); Museion Bolzano (2012); Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin (2012); Peephole, Milan (2011); Nomas Foundation, Rome (2008). In 2013 he participated in the 55th Venice Biennale.

Author: George Greenhill

Cover image: Installation shot, Due ritratti con persona, Francesco Arena. Image courtesy the artist and the gallery.