by Xiaomeng Li
The heavy and light sentiments swing back and forth throughout Elisabetta Gut’s exhibition. Sometimes the splash of colors and delicate pieces make you smile and recall your carefree childhood, other times the deep tone and expressive rendering of paints strike your heart with sympathy and agony.
Gut’s Solo Debut
This fall, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) holds Elisabetta Gut’s American solo debut The Visual Poetry of Elisabetta Gut from Sept. 10, 2010 to Jan. 16, 2011. The exhibition features more than 20 of her artists’ books, collage-poems, book-objects and object-poems.
Gut, born in Rome in 1934, had her art education at the Art Institute and later the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. Her early career mainly focused on Cubism, but in the 1960s, avant-garde Dadaist artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray inspired her, thus she changed her career to assemblage and book arts.
The Artist’s Work
The books, poems and music scores are not the significant part of Gut’s art. They are merely a working platform for the artist. However, the essence of poetry and music transcends rhythmically in Gut’s artworks. Sometimes her paper cutouts are so colorful and energetic that they splash all over the background; other times she splays the pages with depressing colors that draw the audience into a black hole of sadness. Her mood swing is fascinating to see through the exhibit and it engages audience effectively in her art.
Some of Gut’s artworks are sentimental. They are personal, dark, and convey a strong desperation. Talking about her Volo-volume (Flight volume), 1980, Gut says that she created it “during a time of personal anguish following the death of my husband. The book opens to the blackest and most disturbing page of my life and marks it with a woolen bookmark. Cotton clouds and seagulls fly away with my happiness.”
But do not forget the playful traits of literature and music that Gut is so in love with. She uses her imagination to deliberately echo those famous names that has influenced her art. 14 Chiodi (L’impronta di Man Ray) (14 Nails (The Man Ray Footprint)), 1991 is inspired by Man Ray’s famous Gift, 1921, an iron with 14 nails on the ironing surface. In her responding artwork, Gut seems to have “used” Ray’s iron. She found a discarded book (which exemplifies full well the Dadaist creed of “readymade”) and pressed the iron onto the pages. The finished artwork therefore has this burned shape of the iron and 14 holes that sink deeply through the pages. She also imposed her own interpretation of her favorite writer by making a collage with a cigarette that has “KAFKA” printed on it (Fumo d’autore (A Kafka a Kafka) 1983) even though Kafka was not a smoker at all.
Sized to Scale
None of Gut’s artworks have phenomenal scale. They are all inlayed on white boards, hung in photo frames or even gently placed in a bird’s nest or a nutshell. Each single piece of construction is connected by hard-to-notice elements such as thin cotton strings and iron wires, as if every little piece protects an important part of the artist’s mind.
Gut’s art has exceptionally rich content. Even though the meaning of texts on her working materials is minimized into a general surface for creating art, her art is indeed captivating as the artist distills the poetic essence of literature and music and grants a new life to them—the life of her own.