Tat­tooed stat­ues, tires, the Pi­età with a black Christ, a sail­able 253-pound boat: For more than 20 years, Viale has been work­ing with mar­ble, giv­ing the ma­te­rial light­ness and life. Here is the story of a vi­sion­ary artist.

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It spies, amazes, makes you think. The art of Fabio Viale leaves no room for in­dif­fer­ence: mat­ter is his chal­lenge, trans­for­ma­tion his as­pi­ra­tion. Viale does not set lim­its. When it comes to mar­ble, he only sees pos­si­bil­ity wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered. Ec­cen­tric, per­haps. Provoca­tive, when needed: Fabio Viale - sculp­tor since he was 16 years - man­ages his tal­ent with the ma­tu­rity of those who know that art is not made sim­ply to be dis­played in a glass case, but must break the glass to be in­tro­duced to those who con­tem­plate its mes­sage. Art must have some­thing to say, it is not meant to be si­lent. Viale’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­stru­ment is mar­ble, its hard­ness and ap­par­ent im­mo­bil­ity: heav­i­ness be­comes light in his hand, rigid­ity be­comes mod­u­lar, sculp­ture filled with soul.

His lan­guage is an oxy­moron, not con­trast, but com­plete.

Born in the Pied­mont prov­ince of Cu­neo, Viale chose mar­ble when he was at art school. His pro­fes­sor - see­ing his ease with mod­el­ing clay - of­fered him a mar­ble stone: he dis­cov­ered the beauty, the phys­i­cal­ity and the com­pat­i­bil­ity needed to cre­ate an in­ti­mate and full re­la­tion­ship. To learn the trade he opened a work­shop, try­ing to earn a liv­ing from work­ing mar­ble. At the be­gin­ning he worked alone, mainly as a re­storer and “forger”, recre­at­ing stat­ues on de­mand, like one im­i­ta­tion of an 18th-cen­tury sculp­ture com­mis­sioned by a crafts­man. The path be­came more clearly de­fined when he be­gan at­tend­ing the Al­bertina Academy in Turin. But he al­ways learned the prac­ti­cal­i­ties away from “school desks”, work­ing among the artisans. His break­through prob­a­bly oc­curred when he met the New York gal­lerist Sper­one, who ush­ered him into the most im­por­tant gal­leries and al­le­vi­ated the eco­nomic wor­ries of ac­quir­ing costly mar­ble that had held him back. But if the meet­ings were im­por­tant, his ideas were even more so.

The vis­ual and emo­tional im­pact of Viale’s work is in­cred­i­ble, sug­gest­ing reflection­s and com­ments that may be con­tro­ver­sial or

In his hands’ heav­i­ness be­comes light, rigid­ity be­comes mod­u­lar, sculp­ture filled with soul. This is the lan­guage of the oxy­moron, not con­trast, but com­plete.

har­mo­nious, de­pend­ing on the ob­server’s eye. They are cer­tainly not com­pla­cent or in­dif­fer­ent. His works are made of move­ment and go be­yond bor­ders: Aghalla, the float­able mar­ble boat able to move among the wa­ters is proof.

He had just fin­ished his stud­ies and, af­ter hav­ing tested a me­ter-long pro­to­type in a bath­tub, he went to the city of Car­rara and suc­ceeded to ac­quire the mar­ble needed by con­vinc­ing a quar­ry­man to give him credit. In two months, hewn in an at­tic, that piece of mar­ble was trans­formed into a boat. Once the en­gine was mounted, it sailed from the wa­ters of the Tiber in Rome to Gorky Park’s lake in Moscow. A work, but also a chal­lenge to the laws of physics: mar­ble be­yond sculp­ture, be­com­ing liv­ing mat­ter, vi­brat­ing and ac­quir­ing a func­tion of­ten dis­tant from the aims of art.

Viale con­tin­u­ally scru­ti­nizes him­self and his re­pro­duc­tions, but with the author­ity of canon­i­cal and clas­si­cal art — widely seen as un­touch­able. Viale does not ques­tion artis­tic mas­ter­pieces, but uses them to cre­ate con­tem­po­rary, en­trust­ing them with a con­cep­tual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of to­day’s child. A faith­ful mar­ble copy of Michelan­gelo’s Pi­età with an African boy in flesh and blood, the black Christ, aban­doned on the lap of the Madonna, is an ex­am­ple. The mean­ing is there to be­hold, and needs no in­ter­pre­ta­tion: it is as naked as the body guarded by the Vir­gin, it is ma­ter­nal pain, a sa­cred pain that

Fabio Viale con­tin­u­ally scru­ti­nizes him­self and his re­pro­duc­tions, but with the author­ity of canon­i­cal and clas­si­cal art — widely seen as un­touch­able.

em­braces ev­ery­one, start­ing from the most des­per­ate of souls. His found­ing prin­ci­ple is dis­place­ment di­alect, a piece en­ti­tled Door Re­lease that in­cor­po­rates the same el­e­ments found in Con­stan­tine’s hand.

The orig­i­nal ‘hand’, an in­te­gral part of the colos­sus of Con­stan­tine kept in Rome’s Capi­to­line Mu­seum, is cov­ered with Soviet-pris­oner tat­toos, cre­at­ing a tem­po­ral and con­cep­tual fu­sion that gen­er­ates frac­ture. In the same way, the Venus of Milo, an icon of clas­si­cal beauty, aban­dons the canon­i­cal schemes by adorn­ing her body to “tat­tooed” fres­cos.

The signs up­set re­fined and el­e­gant beauty, mak­ing it more tan­gi­ble for this strong and in­ci­sive ef­fect. Viale’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Venus of Canova ac­cen­tu­ates the il­lu­sion’s con­trast: the sculp­ture ac­quires light­ness through the artist’s use of poly­styrene, hid­ing its real mar­ble mat­ter. While the ef­fect is dis­tanc­ing, the re­sult is im­pact. The white­ness of the mar­ble is al­tered, clas­si­cism is ac­tu­al­ized, and ag­gres­sive marks give the statue a life­time’s story. The phi­los­o­phy of re­al­ism and con­tem­po­rane­ity de­fines the works of Viale, who segues from draw­ing on clas­si­cal works to re­pro­duc­tion strictly in mar­ble - of ob­jects of lit­tle value, such as SUV tires, and turns them into works of art. It is ap­par­ent that Viale’s path is made of artis­tic vir­tu­os­ity and provoca­tive out­bursts that lead him to con­tin­u­ally seek out food for thought, a pre­text for shap­ing the ma­te­rial, mak­ing us for­get the cold­ness and the fear that it eas­ily in­spires. Ev­ery­thing be­comes a short cir­cuit in which the artist goes be­yond the aes­thetic bal­ance of clas­si­cal sculp­ture, giv­ing his works new his­tor­i­cal sense.

Viale is con­stantly ex­per­i­ment­ing with new lan­guage and prefers im­me­di­acy to ret­ro­spect, rooted in a per­fect knowl­edge of sculp­tural tech­niques, guided by a peren­nial cu­rios­ity that an­i­mates. It is art that ac­quires life. It is cold mat­ter that finds warmth through reap­pro­pri­a­tion of a story.

It is ap­par­ent that Viale’s path is made of artis­tic vir­tu­os­ity and provoca­tive out­bursts that lead him to con­tin­u­ally seek out food for thought.

Sou­venir Pi­età (Chris­tus)

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