Exhibition Review: Tony Lewis’ Alms, Comity and Plunder

Once again, in Italy, the private gallery Massimo De Carlo Gallery has supported an institutional exhibition focused on highlighting a relevant international artist: Tony Lewis (b.1986) I’ve been interested in using drawings artist revealed in a recent interview, “to describe other drawings as a way to contextualize or create a pointed narrative. It’s definitely a reflection of an organizational technique in the studio, but  also a consideration of how an exhibition layers narratives and different forms of labour that can contradict each other or coalesce. For me, the context between institution and gallery is different, but I still enjoy approaching both with this playful and curious attitude”.

Interpreting and following these insights, Marino Marini Museum in Florence opens Alms, Comity and Plunder, the first solo show held in a European institution by the young African American artist, conceived site-specifically for the museum’s crypt. The Museum is one of the most ancient institutional spaces (in Italy) dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions. Situated in the heart of Florence, it occupies the historical centre and former space of San Pancrazio’s Church. Its particular aim is to support the Marino Marini oeuvre, to further parallel a calendar of events devoted to contemporary artists from the twentieth century with the most recent productions and themes in the crypt.

As a sort of double bind space, the ground floor is dedicated to a monumental presentation of works through which Marini analyses the metaphor of the knight as a man who has lost his faith in mind and self-control, while Lewis’ intervention in the crypt  is primarily founded on a relationship to writing and the policies of its signifier. Usually Lewis’ intertwined compositions are confusing, unstable and distressed in a way that can seem almost sculptural, even gestural. His works are categorized by opposites: the planned and the accidental, both thought out in advance.

This exhibition primarily presents new works dea thea, Good, Day, Proof, and pieces re-formulated I don’t know, but I refuse to find out!, 2015, moulded in order to set up a dialogue with the architecture of the crypt. For the first time, the artist decides to work with a material other than graphite – although for just one of his works –  using pure pigments that reflect Florentine painting tradition. This choice underlines how the exhibitions at the Marini Museum are presented traditionally; projects and productions are specially designed for a space and its context.

Lewis’ intervention in Florence enters into an important chapter of history for the city and for the art world, one in which several decades ago artists and intellectuals formed one of the groups that would leave its mark on the contemporary language of the arts: the visual poets and Gruppo 70. These artists were among the first to find interest in the great universal questions, without hiding in their own history or tradition, but rather leaping beyond such concepts. In the same way, drawings appearing on the walls of some of the crypt spaces exist like broken down words. And it’s what’s there that should prevail, that’s the experience, whether or not we know the sentence that’s being quoted. The sentence is just a structure to attack, to analyze, to break down, to see what happens to language when you put it to through the process of decomposition.

Ginevra Bria

Tony Lewis alms, comity and plunder runs from 12 March – 23 April at Museo Marino Marini, Florence.

1. Tony Lewis, installation view of alms, comity and plunder. Courtesy of Massimo De Carlo www.massimodecarlo.com