Hirshhorn Museum opens Directions. Antonio Rovaldi

The Hirshhorn Museum presents Directions. Antonio Rovaldi, an exhibition on view from July 6.

The artist’s body of work, which includes performance, drawing, sculpture and video installation, often explores how distance is represented in art through means both imaginary and actual. According to Associate Curator Kelly Gordon, “The relationship between time and distance is among Rovaldi’s preoccupations during the long bicycle rides and walking treks he uses as extensions of his studio and as opportunities to contemplate art and nature.”

In “The Opening Day,” viewers enter the gallery near a larger-than-life-sized projection of Italian-league baseball pitcher Fabio Betto, dressed in the pinstripes of his team, UGF Fortitudo Bologna. On the opposite wall, various arrangements of inexpensive, mass-produced glossy ceramic knickknacks sit poised like still lifes against a background of velvety darkness. Betto winds up and delivers a pitch. Sometimes the targets remain unmoved as a ball thuds harmlessly behind them. At other times, the tchotchkes topple over or shatter loudly upon impact, shards tinkling as they fall and skitter away. Viewers are challenged to keep their eyes on the ball, their attention drawn on the one hand to the professional sportsman as he labors to hit his mark and on the other to the plight of the imperiled gimcracks that sooner or later wind up in pieces. Rovaldi uses sound effects to underscore how the intangible arc of the fastball seems to physically connect the facing screens, spanning the gap between them.

This scenario is engaging, amusing, a bit threatening and suggestive on many levels. The intersection between mass culture, in this work connoted by the baseball player, and pretensions to fine art, represented by the choice and placement of the fragile collectibles, presents a new twist on an age-old aesthetic debate about the relevance of so-called low culture to high. Despite the absurdity of the situation, the pitcher’s expressions are serious and analytical, not those of a gleeful vandal. Rovaldi’s work hints at several analogies. Artists, like athletes or indeed anyone, face pressures and frustrations while struggling to perform consistently and continually “up their game.” “The Opening Day” also brings to mind the fact that the boundaries that once relegated moving-image artwork to marginal status have been smashed.

In recent years, moving-image art has become a central part of the Hirshhorn’s long-running “Directions” series, which has presented the work of such artists as Pipilotti Rist and Grazia Toderi, among others. In addition, the Hirshhorn’s Black Box space remains dedicated exclusively to moving-image work by an international array of emerging and established artists. “Directions: Antonio Rovaldi” is organized by Gordon.

For more information about exhibitions and events, visit hirshhorn.si.edu

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