Art speaks if you listen closely to it. Paintings perform on canvas, drawings dance off surfaces and sculptures open the imagination. Such imagination was key when viewing the recent exhibition of Francesco Vezzoli’s sculpture at Sotheby’s in London.


FRANCESCO VEZZOLI EXHIBITION AT SOTHEBY'S, LONDON

For the inaugural Ancient Marbles: Classical Sculpture and Works of Art sale, Sotheby’s curated an exhibition of five of Vezzoli’s contemporary sculptures that highlight the artist’s utilisation and manipulation of ancient marble sculpture as raw material. Vezzoli paints and repurposes the marbles as freely as a readymade. Whether restoring the marbles to their allegedly intended colourful state or creating assemblages with marble self-portraiture and mixed media, Vezzoli’s sculptures need to be studied like archeology – layer by layer – to be fully experienced.


LEFT TO RIGHT: LOT 56: A MARBLE HEAD OF A WOMAN, QUEEN, OR GODDESS, EGYPT, LATE HELLENISTIC, CIRCA 1ST CENTURY B.C. ESTIMATE £200,000—300,000.
FRANCESCO VEZZOLI, TELEFONI BIANCHI (PORTRAIT OF A ROMAN ACTRESS), 2015. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND GALLERIA FRANCO NOERO, TORINO.

The juxtaposition of the lots in Sotheby’s Ancient Marbles auction and Vezzoli’s contemporary Roman marbles demonstrates that ancient sculptures are not a tabula rasa but rather a meaningful, and literal, base for contemporary innovation.

Take a closer look at the idealised oval face of a woman above (Lot 56), and embark on a visual journey up her long neck to her bow-shaped lips. Then, glance (at least twice) at Vezzoli’s painted Portrait of a Roman Actress; the pursed, ruby lips and blonde, wavy hair are jarring at first. However, this should not be so surprising considering Vezzoli, with the assistance of an extensive research team of archaeologists, conservators and polychrome specialists carefully restored the head to the way it would have been originally decorated. Why is the unpainted white marble not the one to surprise us today?

LEFT TO RIGHT: FRANCESCO VEZZOLI, ANTIQUE NOT ANTIQUE: SELF-PORTRAIT AS A CRYING ROMAN TOGATUS, 2012 ROMAN MARBLE TOGATUS TORSO (2ND – 3RD CENTURY A.D.), WHITE MARBLE HEAD, COURTESY THE ARTIST AND GALLERIA FRANCO NOERO, TORINO.
LOT 20: A ROMAN MARBLE HEAD OF APOLLO, CIRCA 2ND CENTURY A.D. ESTIMATE  £70,000—100,000.
LOT 66: A ROMAN MARBLE STRIGILLATED VASE, CIRCA LATE 1ST CENTURY A.D. ESTIMATE  £20,000—30,000.

Stripped of paint, Vezzoli’s assemblages draw from his interest in contemporary culture and attention to ancient civilization. His Antique Not Antique: Self-Portrait as a Crying Roman Togatus (above, left), combines a Roman marble togatus torso and a contemporary white marble head. It is a clever nod to history and narcissism, like an ancient selfie. The wavy hair parted in the centre and the undulating lines on the surface pairs well with the curves of Lot 66, A Roman Marble Strigillated Vase. Inspired by the classical form of Roman marble heads (as seen in Lot 20), Vezzoli does not just create an anonymous head to complete the fragmented body; instead, he fabricates his own self-portrait. In this way, Vezzoli inserts himself into antiquity.


FRANCESCO VEZZOLI EXHIBITION AT SOTHEBY'S, LONDON

The exhibition was designed in collaboration with award-winning architect Alessandro Bava, whose work focuses on the relationship between architectural form and technology – most recently with an installation at the Serpentine Galleries in London.

#ImagineTheConversation

The Ancient Marbles: Classical Sculpture and Works of Art sale is on 13 June.