“Tappeto Natura” by Piero Gilardi at Magazzino Italian Art – ARTnews.com


Piero Gilardi’s signature “nature rugs” do not appear natural or rug-like rugs, which is part of their quirky charm. The artworks are large rectangles of polyurethane foam, into which the artist sculpted intricate, earthy tableaux before saturating them with synthetic pigments, and occasionally adding other smaller foam sculptures. The works represent contoured segments of land or, in a few cases, sea: a beach dotted with driftwood and water lilies; a mossy forest path marked by fallen tree branches; bubbling ocean water with seagulls flying close to the surface. In “Tappeto-Natura” at Magazzino Italian Art, the artist’s first museum exhibition in the United States, curated by Elena Re, the twenty-five selections transform the floor and walls of the gallery into a cornucopia of tiled ground.

Take Sassi (Rocks, 1967), a natural rug approximately five square feet whose bumpy surface has been sculpted to appear as if covered with stones. Each of its hundreds of stones is rendered in realistic detail, with hollowed and steep textures and mottled coloring. Yet the room as a whole creates a sense of artifice, given the stark contrast between its borders and the surrounding ground. It’s as if the artwork is a snippet or quote from nature, a particular cross between a fabric swatch in a furniture store and a diorama in a natural history museum.

Piero Gilardi, Papaya and pitaja2018, polyurethane foam, 59 by 59 by 5⅞ inches.

Photo Marco Anelli

Review: “Tappeto Natura” by Piero Gilardi on

Piero Gilardi, Corn1966, polyurethane foam, 59 by 59 inches.

Biasutti & Biasutti, Archivio Piero Gilardi, Turin

Whereas SassiGilardi faux stones look believable, most Gilardi nature rugs contain whimsical touches. Corn (Corn, 1966) depicts dozens of cartoonishly angled ears of corn, all in carrot orange, next to a crude wooden rake. Papaya and pitaja (Papaya and Pitaya, 2018) revolves around a papaya tree whose constricted proportions, spreading fruit growth and spreading on the ground (rather than vertical) are unnatural. The composition, deformed to adapt to the format of the natural carpet, avoids the semblance of verisimilitude. This trend is most pronounced in nature rugs made between 2018 and 2020, which are grouped together on a single wall at Magazzino and whose bright, tropical surroundings celebrate their own artifice more than their predecessors. The decision to display these works on the wall may seem strange but is not new: soon after Gilardi began making nature rugs in the 1960s, they became collectibles too precious to be subjected to the wear and tear of a real carpet.

Gilardi wanted the nature rugs to be usable interior design pieces that he believed could break down the barriers between art and life. This gesture can be understood as a precursor to an immersive and relational aesthetic, influenced by the artist’s links with the nascent Arte Povera movement. Gilardi’s decision to work with polyurethane – a synthetic that became commercially available in the 1950s and used in things such as sofas and car seats – also embraces the movement’s concern for everyday materials that complicate the nature-culture binary. Many natural carpets were originally rolled up on large spools and sold by the metre, like industrial products: an example, Terreno di montagna (Mountain Terrain, 1966), extends over the ground of Magazzino like a sticking out tongue.

Review: “Tappeto Natura” by Piero Gilardi on

Piero Gilardi, Terreno di montagna 1967, polyurethane foam, 39⅜ by 157½ by 5⅞ inches; at Magazzino Italian Art.

Photo Leo Gilardi, Fondazione Centro Studi Piero Gilardi, Turin

Although natural rugs garnered considerable and immediate recognition, Gilardi’s aesthetic and political concerns with the anti-capitalist community led him to withdraw from mainstream artistic creation in the early 1970s. Over the next decade he directed his energies into writing and a wide range of artistic civic activism, from street theater and art therapy for psychiatric patients, to factory protests and nuclear protests in Italy, to community outreach programs in Africa and the Americas. When Gilardi resumed more institutionally recognizable artistic practices in the early 1980s, he pursued interactive new media initiatives such as the unrealized Ixiana Project, a plan for an immersive artistic and technological environment in the Parc de la Villette in Paris. In the 2000s, these efforts culminated in Turin’s Parco Arte Vivente, or Living Art Park, a collaborative outdoor exhibition site initiated by Gilardi, whose grassy central mound – a complex containing a museum and laboratory focused on bio art – looks like earthwork. nestled in an urban neighborhood.

One question the exhibit might raise is why Gilardi intermittently resumed making new natural rugs throughout his career, given his environmentalist leanings. The covers seem aesthetically redundant and materially unnecessary. Yet in interviews, Gilardi has been refreshingly honest about how the periodic production of new natural mats has allowed him to fund the more idealistic aspects of his practice. Changes in the appearance and use of rugs – from understated to over-the-top artifice; from utilitarian to decorative objects – take on the most meaning when understood in the context of the artist’s career.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that natural rugs were Gilardi’s first steps towards a larger vision of what art can be and do. The paradox is that, in a career dedicated to moving beyond the conventional values ​​and uses of visual art, carpets most closely resemble traditional artistic production, and therefore lend themselves more easily to museum display than do less object-oriented aspects of his practice. This makes the exhibition an effective, if necessarily partial, introduction to an underappreciated artist: an incentive for visitors to see and learn more about a work whose ambitions are full of stars even if its politics remain down to earth.


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