UCLA's Department of Italian is about to get another piece of art by a prominent contemporary artist from Italy.
Sculptor Pietro Coletta this week will form and complete installation of "Essenza del volo | volo dell'essenza" ("Essence of Flight | Flight of Essence") in the department's foyer, where the wall-mounted donation will join a growing collection of world-class Italian contemporary art.
The public is invited Friday, May 29, to watch the 61-year-old Milan artist at work on a balcony located outside the department in Royce Hall (Room 340).
The final piece will be unveiled Tuesday, June 2, at a 5 p.m. reception to coincide with festivities planned in Royce Hall by the Italian Consulate for Italy's Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day). The Italian equivalent of July 4 in the United States, the holiday marks the 63rd anniversary of the founding of the Italian republic.
"Unveiling this kind of piece on this particular holiday is very fitting," said Luigi Ballerini, a UCLA professor of Italian and the organizer of the unveiling. "Rather than looking back on old glories, we're marking Republic Day by celebrating Italian ingenuity today."
A native of the southeastern Italian region of Puglia and active for more than three decades in the Milan art scene, Coletta counts Indian and African religious and cultural traditions among his influences. He also has been inspired by the work of Rabindranath Tagore, the late 19th- and 20th-century Bengali mystic poet.
Coletta's sculptures have been displayed all over the world and have been the subject of 23 solo exhibitions since 1970 and 32 group exhibitions since 1972. His work was displayed most recently in the U.S. as part of "Spirit Into Shape," an exhibition featuring five contemporary Italian sculptors sponsored by the Italian Embassy and the Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C.
"Sculpture is the means I employ to express the deepest and most mysterious parts of my being, where intuitions function to tear asunder the veil that separates me from the Whole," Coletta writes in a catalog produced for the UCLA sculpture. "I search for the soul of the material in my sculpture. Every life form possesses a soul, and in every form of life there are many energies present."
The piece is part of a series the artist calls "Soglie" ("Thresholds"), which consists of door-like or frame-like portals that imply passages into another world or hold implied mirrors to the viewer, said Ballerini, a Milan native who organized Coletta's first major art exhibition in 1987 at the Milan municipal gallery Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea.
Coletta is expected to arrive on campus Friday. At 10 a.m., he plans to begin forming 60 feet of quarter-inch brass and copper tubing into a free-form shape that he eventually will thread through a 4-by-7-foot iron frame fabricated prior to his arrival. Guided by a series of studies, he expects to complete the wall-mounted piece by about 2 p.m.
UCLA Facilities Management's Design and Project Management unit is assisting in the installation, as it has done on past occasions.
The UCLA sculpture will feature two of Coletta's most frequently used materials: iron and copper. In Coletta's hands, such metals become "so malleable that they seem to flutter in the wind, supple and soft like a precious cloth," writes Luigi Sansone, a major art critic in Milan.
"The metal seems to free itself from gravity and float upwards, becoming a symbol of the spiritual and separating itself from any sort of ballast," he writes. "For Coletta sculpture mediates between earth and cosmos."
Coletta's sculpture is the fifth major piece of art that has been donated to UCLA under the auspices of the Italian department since 2005, when the 7-foot-2-inch "L'occhio del cielo" ("Eye of the Sky") by Eliseo Mattiacci was installed on the north side of Royce Hall. The Italian department overlooks the sculpture, and Royce Hall has Italian roots: the faade of the 1929 structure, UCLA's first, is modeled on Milan's church of Sant'Ambrogio.
"As soon as the university's committee for selecting sculptures accepted our proposal and chose Royce Hall, we immediately began to study the possibility of creating within the premises of our department a gallery of contemporary artists, an idea we know to be unprecedented in the American academic world," said UCLA professor of Italian Massimo Ciavolella.
Donated at the rate of approximately one a year by the artists themselves, the pieces, in addition to Mattiacci's 2005 work, include "RitmiTimir 98" by Marco Gastini, "Forma tesa liberata" by Paolo Icaro, "I lie about my solitude" by William Xerra and a second piece by Mattiacci — "Orizzontale 2/7."
"With this work by Pietro Coletta, we can finally say that the gallery we dreamed about has become a reality," Ciavolella said.
And the Italian department isn't the only place at UCLA that celebrates the belle arti. The Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden contains three pieces by Italian artists: "Grande cretto nero" by Antonio Burri, "Colloquio duro" by Pietro Consagra and "Verticale-Assolonne" by Francesco Somanini.
"Here at UCLA, we're becoming the home away from home for Italian sculpture," Ballerini said.
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