Matteo Massagrande was born in Padua, Italy in 1959. Massagrande is an accomplished painter and a talented engraver. He has exhibited in over one hundred exhibitions internationally in the past 30 years.
Matteo Massagrande’s desolate interiors are extraordinary feats of skill. At a time when many of the subtler processes of painting are in the course of being lost, probably forever, they exhibit a dazzling refinement of technique – something that clearly derives from an intensive study of the Old Masters, perhaps, most of all, Vermeer, since technical skill is here combined with an ultra-refined feeling for effects of light.
Why then does he choose this particular range of subject matter, dilapidated interiors, but not the grandiose spaces of some fabled palace, now fallen on hard times? These are, instead, the banal rooms and corridors of out-dated apartments, which have, for some reason, been abruptly abandoned by their inhabitants. Evidence of the haste with which this abandonment took place is evidenced by the scattered items of furniture they left behind – here an upended divan bed, there a shabby kitchen-table. None of it is furniture of any quality. These are just things that those who left didn’t have the energy or will to take with them. Or perhaps they are things left behind when the householder died – items no friend or relative wanted or thought useful.
There is also evidence that these abandoned rooms have been in their present state for some time – dust and small pieces of rubble on the tiled floors, flakes of plaster fallen from the walls. In other words, the paintings represent a kind of limbo. They are an image, realized in every detail, of a state of not-being: painted paradoxes, in other words.
It is perhaps carrying things too far to see these works as lamentations for things past – they are anti-romantic, rather than romantic, and this is what marks them off from the paintings of ruins that have a long tradition in European art. They are not even really ‘theatrical’, as that adjective is usually understood. They prompt, not an empathetic gaze, but a neutral one. ‘This,’ they tell us, ‘is the way things sometimes are. Life ebbs away, there’s nothing you can do about it.’
The literary and philosophical connections of works of this kind are fairly obvious. They belong to the story of Existentialism – we are invited to read them as we read the texts of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. It is at this point, however, that one must make a distinction. Paintings are not texts in themselves. They are metaphors for the human condition, not direct interpretations. This means, in fact, that there is no definitive interpretation. Every spectator brings something different to the work, and every spectator takes something different away from it.
It is here, I think, that the question of reality – or, rather, of the realization of reality – comes in. When we talk of ‘realist’ writing, for example, we are in fact talking about something very different from what we see in Massagrande’s paintings. He gives us the detailed texture of things in a much more forceful way than any verbal artisan. In an odd way, this means that he offers hope, where existentialist philosophers eschew it. The paintings show us how intensely we can – or he can – experience quite ordinary visual events, the events of texture and colour that surround us every day. And these events, in turn, suggest what is valuable to the human spirit, even in scenes of desolation.
Edward Lucie-Smith, Art Historian, Author and Critic
cv / exhibition history / awards
Selected Solo Exhibitions
Matteo Massagrande, Sala Pares, Barcelona
Fényben, Galleria Stefano Forni, Bologna
Massagrande, Galeria de Arte Gaudì, Madrid
Massagrande, Galleria Il triangolo, Cremona
Opere recenti, Galleria Stefano Forni, Bologna
Racconti di luce, Sergio e Thao Mandelli Arte Contemporanea, Milan
Dipinti, guaches, incisioni, Stamperia della Pergola, Pesaro
Paintings, J.J. Brookings Gallery, Palo Alto
Paintings, J.J. Brookings Gallery, San Francisco
Selected Group Exhibitions
54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, Italian Pavilion on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy curated by Vittorio Sgarbi, Villa Contarini, Piazzale sul Brenta (Padua)
ArteFiera Bologna, Galleria Stefano Forni
Colectiva, Sala Pares, Barcelona
Salò de Maig, Anquin’s Galeria d’Art, Reus, Tarragona
Italian Artists, Aida Cherfan Fine Art, Beirut
Intervallo. Paesaggi Italiani, Galleria Stefano Forni, Bologna
Selected Public Exhibitions
Festival dei Due Mondi, Palazzo Pianciani, Spoleto
Premio Arciere, Museo archeologico “Ferruccio Barreca”, Sant’Antioco (CA), curated by Vittorio Sgarbi
Contemplazioni. Bellezza e tradizione del nuovo nella pittura italiana contemporanea, Castel Sismondo e Palazzo del Podestà, Rimini, curated by Alberto Agazzani
Massagrande. Scene d’Ungheria, Villa Manin, Passariano di Codroipo (UD), Esedra di Levante, curated by Marco Goldin
Not So Private. Gallerie e storia dell’arte, Bologna, Galleria Stefano Forni, Villa delle Rose, Bologna, in collaboration with Mambo
Arte Italiana, 1968-2007. Pittura, Palazzo Reale, Milan, curated by Vittorio Sgarbi
Massagrande. Dalle voci di una conchiglia, Museo al Santo, Padua, curated by Sandro Parmeggiani e Giorgio Segato
A.A.A Ambiente, Arte, Architettura, Ex Chiesa di San Mattia, Bologna
Mito, Auto, Moto, Palazzo D’Accursio, Bologna
Racconti di luce, Museo Civico, Chiusa, Bolzano
Massagrande. La prima luna, Museo delle Mura, Borgotaro, Parma
Incisioni 1974-1998 Casa dei Carraresi, Treviso, curated by Marco Goldin
Opere su carta, Casa dei Carraresi, Treviso, curated by Marco Goldin
Civiche Gallerie di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Ferrara, curated by Francesco Lo Perfido
Opere 1986-1996 Palazzo Sarcinelli, Conegliano, Treviso, curated by Marco Goldin
Opere 1974-1994 Palazzo Crepadona, Belluno, curated by Paolo Rizzi
Incisioni 1974-1994 Museo Civico, Padua, curated by Giorgio Segato