Federico Solmi (b. 1973, Bologna, Italy) is an internationally acclaimed multi-media artist who employs a satirical aesthetic in order to portray a dystopian vision of our present-day society. Combining traditional media, such as drawing and painting, with emerging technologies such as 3D animation, video-game software, and kinetic technology, Solmi's animations playfully and irreverently depict the most loathed and hypocritical aspects of contemporary life and western society through absurd narratives. Solmi stages a a virtual world where our leaders become puppets and the absurdity of exploitative action is accentuated, brilliantly animated by computer scripts and motion capture.
Solmi’s process of creating video animation involves the construction and development of a virtual world within a video game engine. Surface textures and characters are scanned from original paintings and drawings, later applied to 3D-models designed in Maya and ZBrush. Within each designed "game," Solmi uses the first-person view to explore chaotic environment as both voyeur and director. During production the narratives and images continually evolve and are further developed with drawings and storyboards. Various characters' actions are captured in real time with screen recording software, then edited and overlaid with audio compositions. Once exported and assembled, the resulting video-paintings merge seamlessly with the hand-painted frames surrounding each tv monitor. Each project can take up to three years to complete.
Solmi’s animated video series The Evil Empire (2006-2009) provoked controversy and censorship in France and Spain, eventually escalating to a now infamous trial in Italy in which he was charged with and tried for obscenity, blasphemy, and offense to religion. The hand-drawn animation is set in "Vatic-Anal-City" in the year 2046 and portrays the exploits of a fictional pope who is addicted to online porn and predatory sex with priests and nuns. A number of related objects accompanied the series, including a sculpture of a crucifix that features Solmi as the Pope with a large grin and a huge erection. The charges were ultimately dismissed, but the attention from this controversy led to Solmi to receiving a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship. Other videos and series by Solmi include: The Brotherhood (2015-2018), Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth (2012), King Kong and the End of the World (2005), The Giant, and Rocco Never Dies (2004).
Recent exhibitions include The Bacchanalian Ones (2020) at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ; The Great Farce (2019) presented by Times Square Arts’ Midnight Moment across 100 Times Square billboards; The Great Masquerade (2019), a 20-year survey exhibition at Tarble Arts Center, Charleston, IL and at Kunstkraftwerk, Leipzig, Germany; Open Spaces: A Kansas City Experience (2018), organized by Dan Cameron; The Good Samaritan (2018) at Rochester Contemporary Art Center, Rochester, NY; The Great Farce (2017) at Frankfurt B3 Biennial, a commissioned work presented on monumental digital billboards on the exterior of the Frankfurt Opera House; 2016 Quadrinnale di Roma, Rome, Italy; and the 2015 B3 Frankfurt Biennial, at which he was awarded the Ben Main Prize. Solmi’s work has been exhibited in numerous museums, institutions, and festivals, including: 54th Venice Biennale (2011); 2010 SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Drawing Center, New York; Haifa Museum of Art, Haifa, Israel; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Kasseler Kustverein; the Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival, Kassel; Shenzhen Independent Animation Biennial, Shenzhen, China; National Center for Contemporary Art, Moscow; Reina Sofia and CA2M Centro de Arte de Mayo, Madrid; Loop Barcelona; Australian Center of Moving Images, Melbourne; Victoria Memorial Museum, Calcutta, India; Contemporary Art Center of Rouboix; Palazzo Delle Arti, Naples, and Palazzo Delle Esposizioni, Rome; and Impakt Film and Video Festival, Utrecht.
His work has been reviewed by publications and media platforms such as Artforum, Art in America, Flash Art Magazine, Frieze, Tema Celeste, Artnet.com, Artillery, Artinfo, Artfacts.net, Art Scene LA, Art Actuelle, Contemporary, Marie Claire, Glamour, L’Espresso, Visual Art Source, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, KCRW ArtTalk, Le Figaro, Daily News, El Mundo, El Pais, il Giornale, Il Mattino, and La Repubblica.
Solmi’s work is part of many notable collections including The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.; Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL; Tarble Art Center, Charleston, IL; 21C Museum Hotels, Knoxville, TN; Thoma Foundation, Chicago, IL / Santa Fe, NM; OCAT, Oct Contemporary Art Terminal, Shanghai, China; Collezione Farnesina Experimenta, Rome, Italy; Dr. Arturo and Liza Mosquera Collection, Miami, FL; and Collezione Marchina, Milan, Italy.
Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfed while Americans died of a pandemic. In The Bacchanalian Ones, the inaugural exhibition at Luis De Jesus’ new downtown Los Angeles space, Italian-born Federico Solmi inspires such musings, and then some, mixing traditional painting with the latest digital technologies. The result is a captivating political theater for confronting the grim reality that megalomania is both universal and enduring.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Federico Solmi will be in conversation with Lawrence Weschler on Saturday, May 22, at 11:00 a.m. in conjunction with Solmi's solo exhibition The Bacchanalian Ones. This conversation will be the gallery's first in-person event at the new 1110 Mateo Street location. Due to social distancing seating will be limited, so an RSVP will be required. Please RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org with the names of the people in your party.
Not long after he began making video works in the early 2000s, Federico Solmi started to incorporate the “first-person shooter” point of view familiar from video games. Organizing the sequence of tableaux so the viewer appears to be constantly moving in and around the action, Solmi’s adapted gaming architecture also enables massive chunks of virtual landscape (and other backgrounds) to sweep rapidly under, over, and past us. Mimicking conventional strategies of pursuit and escape, our visual perspective isn’t that of a stable point fixed in space, but rather something akin to a stunt pilot operating a small aircraft mid-hurricane, with accompanying feelings of occasional seasickness and vertigo.
The gallery is excited to announce that Federico Solmi will be participating in the centennial exhibition of The Phillips Collection in Washington DC. His piece, The Great Farce, in a Portable Theater edition, will be part of this incredible show that celebrates the impact of artists from the 19th century to the present, including Simone Leigh, Sam Gilliam, Anselm Kiefer, Frank Stella and Howard Hodgkin, amongst other iconic historical works by Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Pierre Bonnard, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning, and Jacob Lawrence.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Hugo Crosthwaite and Federico Solmi's work will be included in The Outwin: American Portraiture show, which has now traveled to D'amour Museum of Fine Arts. The Outwin: American Portraiture Today premiered at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in the fall of 2019. Every three years, artists living and working in the United States are invited to submit one of their recent portraits to a panel of experts chosen by the museum in the call for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The works of nearly 50 finalists were selected from over 2,600 entries. For the first time in the triennial’s history, the museum specifically asked that submissions respond “to the current political and social context,” and this resulting presentation offers perspectives on some of today’s most pressing issues.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is very pleased to announce that a seminal work by Federico Solmi (b. 1973) has been acquired by The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. The Great Farce “Portable Theater” (2020) is a translation of Solmi’s most ambitious work to date, The Great Farce (2017-2019)—a monumental, multi-channel video installation that presents a sprawling send-up of empire-building as an enterprise. Past and present, history and amusement, reality and spectacle are conflated and distorted in The Great Farce—a scathing commentary on contemporary culture, where spectacle and celebrity may be distractions from sinister machinations and speed contributes to the blurring of myth and truth.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Federico Solmi will be included in Everything is Art, Everything is Politics curated by Elga Wimmer and Berta Sichel as an online exhibition. Appropriately curated during the 2020 election, this work features artists grappling with social and political motifs. In particular, artists who have had the politcal turn personal with how their work has been viewed by onlookers.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is pleased to announce that the Tarble Arts Center at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, IL has acquired two seminal works by Federico Solmi. Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth (2012) is a single-channel video running 10:09 minutes enclosed within a hand-painted presentation box and The Beloved Autocrat (2018) is a unique artist book consisting of 12 bound paintings. Both works were exhibited recently in Solmi's 2019 full scale survey exhibition at the Tarble. The Tarble Arts Center is a major cultural arts resource serving east-central Illinois. Its founding purpose is to “take the arts to the people."
A conversation with Eleanor Heartney, Joan Jonas, Barbara London, and Federico Solmi, moderated by Martha Schwendener, and Phong Bui to celebrate the publication of Barbara London's recent monograph Video Art: the First Fifty Years (Phaidon) and Eleanor Heartney's new book Doomsday Dreams (Silver Hollow Press).
The Quest for Happiness – Italian Art Now presents a selection of the most interesting Italian contemporary artists. Their common theme is the quest for happiness. The majority of them have never exhibited in Finland before.
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has announced the finalists for its fifth triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. Their work will be presented in The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today, a major exhibition premiering at the National Portrait Gallery Oct. 26 through Aug. 30, 2020. Every three years, artists living and working in the United States are invited to submit one of their recent portraits to a panel of experts chosen by the museum. The works of this year’s nearly 50 finalists were selected from over 2,600 entries. The first-prize winner, to be announced this fall, will receive a cash award of $25,000 and a commission to create a portrait of a living person for the museum’s permanent collection.
Past and present, history and amusement, reality and spectacle are conflated and distorted in Federico Solmi’s monumental media work, “The Great Farce” (2017), recently acquired by Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art. The Block received the multiscreen, limited-edition work as a gift from the artist’s studio in recognition of the museum’s upcoming 40th anniversary and its related initiative “Thinking about History.”
Originally commissioned for the 2017 B3 Biennial of the Moving Image, Frankfurt, Germany, “The Great Farce” is Solmi’s most ambitious work to date in terms of technical complexity, physical scale and scope of content. Featuring a cast of time-traveling world leaders with a feverish madness for power, Solmi’s animation turns a frenzied, fun-house mirror to grandstanding historical figures.
"Solmi reimagines these figures as devilishly smiling partiers, who are unconcerned with the people – particularly Native victims of colonialist action – who are trampled over by their revelry. The show, through all its varied mediums, points a finger towards the rampant deification of these historical figures despite the atrocities and pain they perpetuated and profited from."
"The real showstoppers — Solmi’s video paintings — are situated in the main gallery. Created using a unique synthesis of painting, drawing, 3D digital animation, gaming, screen recording and motion capture software, each video is developed through a process that may take up to three years to complete. Seeking to achieve what he views as a humanizing of artificial looking digital imagery, Solmi scans the textures of hand-drawn or painted figures, objects, and settings, and maps the scans over digital skeletons, the blueprint-like imagery that is created using animation software. Motion is incorporated by capturing movements that he and his assistants create in the studio. In this way he creates compositions that resemble expressionistic figurative paintings brought to life. "
Solmi’s recurring subject is the knowing abuse of power, and he has a bleak and urgent message for us regarding this particularly agonizing moment in history: it has happened before, it will happen again, and there is very little within our power to stop it. Bucking convention, Solmi even sees it from the perspective of the aggressors, whose greatest wish is to wall themselves off from the rest of us, the better to enjoy the fruits of their plunder.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles has moved his gallery to Mateo Street in DTLA. His space is now heroic in size. Federico Solmi inaugurates the gallery. Solmi dominantly uses computing processes to produce his extravagant morality play films/videos. There are so many skillful layers from the unique painted frames that surround the video monitors to the “films” themselves. I must call his films, films. The word “video” is too simple to describe the depth and nuance of Solmi’s art. The opportunity to experience Solmi’s work wearing Virtual Reality goggles is beyond wondrous. A peak experience. Take this opportunity while you can.
Federico Solmi will feature VR art, video paintings, paintings and drawings in the inauguration exhibition of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles's new gallery in the DTLA Arts District.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles has revealed works by its artists that have recently added to museum collections. The Nasher Museum in Durham, North Carolina, acquired Peter Williams‘s 2020 painting Birdland; the Baltimore Museum of Art acquired photos from two series, “Relationship” and “Before and After,” by Zackary Drucker; Federico Solmi‘s video installation The Great Farce Portable Theater was acquired by the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.; Edra Soto’s installation Open 24 Hours is now held in the collection of the DePaul Art Museum in Chicago; and five works by Erik Olson have been acquired by the Art Gallery of Alberta in Calgary, Canada. Additionally, the gallery announced that Lia Halloran has been named a 2020–21 City of Los Angeles Individual Artist Fellow. As such, Halloran will be awarded a $10,000 grant to produce a new body of work.
Mary Salvante, the director of Rowan Universtiy Art Gallery and curator of this exhibition art titled "The Bacchanalian Ones," by Federico Solmi, which will include virtual reality and augmented reality works.
The Rowan University Art Gallery offers a couple of reasons why people should make an appointment during a pandemic to see its newest exhibition, “The Bacchanalian Ones” by Federico Solmi, in person. The exhibition provides a rare opportunity in South Jersey to see art enhanced by augmented and virtual reality.
Federico Solmi’s timely solo exhibition here, “The Bacchanalian Ones,” interrogates the greed and corruption of world leaders both past and present. The artist’s paintings and multimedia installations caricature his famous (and often infamous) subjects—from the realms of politics, religion, the military, and the aristocracy—by combining digital technology with the most traditional of media. Solmi’s acidic portraits reveal these renowned figures for what they really are: soulless prevaricators crazed by power.
Rowan University Art Gallery presents The Bacchanalian Ones, an exhibition that investigates the contradictions and inaccuracies in historical narratives that have led society to a chaotic era of misinformation, corruption, and hypocrisy. On view by appointment from November 2, 2020 – January 9, 2021, The Bacchanalian Ones will feature augmented reality-based artworks, a new virtual reality project, paintings, and never before seen video animations from artist Federico Solmi.
Federico Solmi (Italy, 1973) currently lives and works in New York. Solmi’s work utilizes bright colors and a satirical aesthetic to portray a dystopian vision of our present-day society His exhibitions often feature articulate installations composed of a variety of media including video, painting, drawing, and sculpture. Solmi uses his art as a vehicle to stimulate a visceral conversation with his audience, highlighting the contradictions and fallibility that characterize our time. Through his work, Solmi examines unconscious human impulses and desires in order to critique Western society’s obsession with individual success and display contemporary relationships between nationalism, colonialism, religion, consumerism.
There’s a challenging tension to his work in the way he conflates entertainment and celebrity and power and authority,” says Bleu Cease, RoCo’s executive director and curator. “And there is a push-pull … It’s attractive, but once it draws you in, it’s grotesque and maybe even repelling. Things are on the verge of breaking down and there’s a sense of impending doom.
Hugo Crosthwaite, the 2019 first place winner was recognized for a stop-motion animated drawing. “A Portrait of Berenice Sarmiento Chávez” (2018) depicts a young woman from Tijuana and explores her pursuit of the American dream. The animated video project is part of a series based on oral histories Crosthwaite has gathered at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Every three years, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery showcases finalists of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, named for a late benefactor. A total of 46 works are on display from the latest edition, selected last year by a panel of jurors from more than 2,600 submissions, all from American artists who were instructed to respond “to the current political and social context.” Hugo Crosthwaite’s A Portrait of Berenice Sarmiento Chávez, a three-minute video of stop-motion animation, took First Prize.
Yale School of Art faculty member and alumna Sarah Oppenheimer ’99 ART, along with some former faculty members and alumni, are featured in the current Artspace exhibition “Strange Loops,” on view through the end of February. The group exhibition explores psychological affect and the human condition expressed through instruments, systems, and objects of human design.
...The selection includes far more photographs and videos than paintings and drawings, although some entries blur those categories. The top prize went to Hugo Crosthwaite for a series of black-and-white drawings, animated into a video, of Berenice Sarmiento Chavez. She is a young Mexican woman who ventured north across the border in search of the American Dream, but has since been deported. The artist encountered her in Tijuana. As winner of the top prize, Crosthwaite will be commissioned to do an official portrait. The 2016 winner, Amy Sherald, made a painting of Michelle Obama that became one of the gallery’s most popular attractions.
Portraiture is due for a reframing. Although the art form has traditionally served to memorialize the affluent and the powerful, the finalists of the 2019 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition point to a future where portraits empower the disenfranchised. The triennial competition, founded in 2006 by an endowment from the late Virginia Outwin Boochever, calls for artists to “challenge the definition of portraiture.” First-prize winner Hugo Crosthwaite does just that. His 2018 stop-motion animation, A Portrait of Berenice Sarmiento Chávez, illustrates one woman’s journey from Tijuana, Mexico, to the United States.
Past and present, history and amusement, reality and spectacle are conflated and distorted in Federico Solmi’s monumental media work, The Great Farce (2017), recently acquired by Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art. The Block received the multiscreen, limited-edition work as a gift from the artist’s studio in recognition of the museum’s upcoming 40th anniversary and its related initiative “Thinking about History.”
Few other places in New York conjure up such strong feelings. For residents, those feelings range from irritation to revulsion. For tourists, it’s a must-see falling somewhere on their itinerary between the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State building. From the unwashed hordes to stores that can be found in any mall to the neon sorcery decking every block, there’s no question that Times Square is a repository of excess in every way. Whether you find it distasteful or endearing, there’s no denying its pull, even if your personal contact with it is limited to TV on New Year’s Eve or, for locals, a train transfer on its many platforms.
Jamie Martinez: Congratulations on your recent shows, especially the solo booth with Ronald Feldman at the last Armory. It was one of the top booths in many publications. We’ll have to get back to that. Can you first talk about your background in the arts and your journey to becoming an artist in New York? Where did it all begin? Federico Solmi: Well, it’s a long story. It all began almost 20 years ago, when I left my hometown: Bologna, Italy, and I decided to move to New York to pursue a career in the arts. It was the best decision of my life, of course; not an easy decision, but it proved to be the right one.
Solmi exploits emerging technologies to reveal the hypocrisies in contemporary society, making art with political and social commentary as a means to disrupt the power structure of our technological age,” the Italian artist’s site says. “ … Solmi confronts the audience with his own absurd rewriting of past and present-day events. Solmi stages a virtual world where our leaders become puppets, animated by computer scripts rather than strings.
Federico Solmi’s large-scale, one-of-a-kind books (each contain six acrylic paintings) are some of the most unique works on paper I’ve ever seen. They feel like medieval folios—heavy with paint—yet the pages still turn easily. Solmi’s Counterfeit Heroes series is the newest and frighteningly timely iteration of his many years of work indicting power-hungry politicians and celebritism. His images are the right kind of creepy. He also reminds us of the very real link between our present and our imperial past.
Federico Solmi’s painting-video hybrids resemble the early viral internet pages of Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, which consisted of a near bottomless reservoir of United States iconography, collaged into schizophrenic politically-driven compositions. Solmi’s doing pretty much the same thing, but in the form of an object. In these works, the United States is cast as colonizer and oppressor.
Federico Solmi has created a drawing of George Washington, Pope Francis and Christopher Columbus holding the world as well as a glass of wine and other props. Solmi investigates the contradictions and inaccuracies of historical narratives, scanning his paintings into a game engine to combine past and present-day events.
With the collapse of time and geography in the artistic plane, Solmi strongly underlines the ways in which state power, colonialism and imperialism have a symbiotic relationship with capitalist ambitions. Using drawing as a starting point, he creates a hybrid artistic medium by which to criticize – today’s society. With this goal in mind, the artist uses various media which lead drawing to a new state of movement and dramatization, through the use of 3D technology, game engines, motion capture, paintings and screens.
The body of work is maximal and grotesque and off-putting, but at the same time viewers can't look away, Cease says. "There's a complex push-pull and a cinematic character to them. They pull you in, they're transfixing. And then you realize what you're looking at. There's an implication, for sure, it's not just skewering the powerful leader, it's also pulling us in and then we realize, 'Oh wait, we're really just sitting back watching this happen.'"
Other videos take a more abstract approach. Three works by Italian artist Federico Solmi, collectively titled Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth Video Trilogy (2011–2014), present a loose narrative and surrealist whirl of political symbolism in a jarring mono-channel animation. Cartoonish dictators and bloodless politicians move through landscapes of corporate logos and flag motifs. There is little sense of specificity, and yet the characters and scenarios feel disturbingly identifiable and common — political machinations have become as predictable, impersonal, and codified as ballroom dance.
Multifaceted artist, versatile and absolutely impossible to circumscribe in a definition, he works, or rather, he manipulates, or even deconstructs; no, in reality, it dismembers, corrodes and fleshless, everything. Yes, everything. The symbols. Characters. The men. The environment. History. Everything that the artist has seen, heard, read, studied, lived, passed through a meat grinder before being re-assembled and served on a plate that reads «Here is civilization».
In a way, Trump bookends the fairs, with Golden Showers playing outside the VIP tent at the end of the pier. Just beyond the entrance, meanwhile, is Federico Solmi’s work, in which two animated clips in elaborate frames, set against a backdrop of red satin curtains, show the new president arriving at a grand palace.
With this we have arrived at the most pertinent aspect of Solmi's work, social and political satire, conducted with forms and methods imbued with sarcasm, kitsch and irony. The artist claims to be self-taught, but also to be a scholar of history, literature and politics, as well as obviously a passionate user of science fiction cinema and video games. If I have to find a model in the past, the references to James Ensor and Emil Nolde, the great blasphemers of the Expressionist avant-gardes, are certainly immediate; in the present, one can perhaps find a closeness of Solmi to William Kentridge, either for the techniques used (even if Kentridge often tends to mix real images and drawings), or for the style often close to the grotesque and primitive.
I think they don’t want to connect because usually satire is not very elegant or polite. It’s always brutal, direct, grotesque, and aggressive. I think my work is connecting better now because I am astute with experience, and of course I’m becoming an older and more mature artist.
In our daily life we have become addicted to technology that does not push boundaries, it simply helps us connect virtually and feed our appetites as consumers. It seems that people are more concerned with uploading their selfies and vacation videos, or downloading the latest app, than improving the human condition and spending those couple dollars on charity. I think this is a crucial moment in history, where in the next twenty to thirty years we will be deciding if we want to live as actual humans, or as digital entities within virtual reality. If we decide on the latter, we may stop meeting real people altogether. Sadly, the decision isn’t up to us, but to some tycoon in Silicon Valley. Of course, not everything is negative. Realtime graphics engines have become an incredible tools and inspiration for me to take advantage of.
Federico Solmi’s “The Brotherhood” offers a dystopian nightmare-scape where the cult of celebrity overwhelms one’s every sense. The pseudo-cliché of the beautiful versus the profane collides in the meticulously painted frames of “smart” TVs projecting Solmi’s drawings and paintings, as rendered into 3D animation loops portraying some of the most notable times of history. The exhibit is overwhelming and would definitely terrify any suburban mom.
The cynical and unsettling feelings that resonate throughout the video installations are a reflection of Solmi’s views on human history. “I definitely see a pattern of wrongdoing, from ancient Rome to the present. Through the deception of politicians, consumerism, and celebrity culture, we have created our own dystopia,” Solmi explains. “The Brotherhood promotes our hypocrisy by mirroring and exaggerating it, becoming obsessive to the point of stupidity and chaos. In the series, this forms a cycle where we are the inspiration for the horrible decisions these leaders made, and they continue to influence us.”
The Brotherhood, according to the artist, consists of the powerbrokers of world history. They are gathered here to celebrate their victories without a moment of regret: Napoleon Bonaparte, Genghis Khan, Christopher Columbus, Benito Mussolini, Sitting Bull, Marie Antoinette, Idi Amin, Montezuma and more. He seems to say that the abuse of high position spans centuries, continents, race and gender.
In the animations the Brotherhood struts down red carpets to the flash of camera lights, descends imposing flights of stairs and socializes at a magnificent ball on the fashionably gross order of New York’s famous Met Gala. The installation work, dubbed “The Ballroom,” is set up like a theater, complete with crimson curtains, and our job is to passively gape. Black waiters haul giant champagne bottles and enormous lobsters on silver trays to a cohort of dancing celebrity power, textbook leaders and villains who get increasingly intoxicated as the sumptuous event wears on.
"We are spreading freedom and liberty across our empire, and we will continue to rule the world thanks to our invincible military. Our currency is gaining strength. Our appetite for supremacy and authority endures. And because of this, the rest of the world is on their knees. God bless America." Titled American Circus, Federico Solmi's piece is actually from 2014, but it seems as though it could have been created specifically for this occasion.
The exhibition’s opening piece, Federico Solmi’s Pope Fucking Machine After Leonardo (2015), is a mechanized sculpture where rotating dictators kiss the Pope’s erect penis. Are the curators equating the Vatican with the Orthodox Church? The Vatican has certainly been guilty of cozying up to dictators—but then, so has the U.S. government. Pope Francis, with his anti-capitalist stance, rails against defense contractors, and washing the feet of the poor, and his revolutionary encyclical on the environment is also part of the story.
Federico Solmi (Bologna, 1973) returns to Naples after six years of absence, in the enchanting and melancholy setting of the former military wool mill, near Porta Capuana, guest of the Dino Morra Contemporary Art Gallery. On this occasion, the Bolognese artist, who has lived and worked in New York for fifteen years, exhibits a video trilogy entitled Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth, a rich and multifaceted work, created through three years of research work.
With The Great Dictator, the artist illuminates the gallery and model spaces, through an elegant videotrilogy - A Song of Tyranny, Chinese Democracy and The Last Day on Earth and The Return of the Prodigal Son- which makes use of images borrowed from the world of comics, videogames and the Internet, a sharp reflection on a sick organism, on a system that has abandoned its qualities to suck the democratic sap of society.
Of course, language and technique have evolved a lot compared to the works of 2005, and clearly the number of collaborators and assistants has increased, but let's say that this doesn't really matter: what matters is to make new projects and deal with increasingly good artists ... and New York certainly does not lack these challenges. Sometimes it is very difficult to work with the studio full of people, but with my type of research there is no alternative: I need 3D modelers, video editors and assistants. But the most exciting moment is the preparation of the video storyboards: a very intimate process.
The small space wreaks of incense and is an echo chamber of bizarre sounds emanating from the excellent, but admittedly out of place piece of work by Italian artist Federico Solmi. The Brotherhood (2015) is hallucinatory animation depicting a mechanical doll-like Pope acting very Satanic indeed, parading through the streets, waving like an animatronic horror movie character at his blank-eyed constituents.
Using images taken from the internet in a grotesque collage about today's politics, Solmi composes 3-D (Cry Engine) images that recall both science fiction and the tabloids. Most of his videos are housed in hand painted wooden frames and incorporated into suitably shaped paintings. The video-painting "Chinese Democracy" is composed of three parts, each of about nine minutes (A Song of Tyranny, Chinese Democracy and The Last Day on Earth and The Return of the Prodigal Son), in which Solmi denounces the self-destructive nature of mankind
Using crude gaming software, Solmi brings together some of history’s greatest tyrants and creeps – Idi Amin, Genghis Khan, Marie Antoinette – and has them strut their stuff on the red carpet and the dance floor. More than anything, Solmi captures the garish pomp and obscene self-display that despots almost always prefer.
In his latest output, Federico Solmi scans hand-painted imagery and applies it to digital three-dimensional models of world leaders. He then imports each into a video-game platform and records their movements as if they were on a movie set. Titled “The Brotherhood” 2015, this series includes “video-paintings” of mostly infamous leaders with works that indict the viewer and society as much as the leaders themselves, as they flamboyantly posture like shallow celebrities.
Important figures of the world historical and political scene such as Pope Ratzinger, Marie Antoinette, George Washington, Mussolini and Napoleon animate the scarlet red walls of the Soho gallery. With an aesthetic reminiscent of that of street theater puppets, the artist represents these illustrious characters with grotesque and satirical features, in a swirl of bright colors that recall the circus atmosphere, not far from the reality that nowadays surrounds political and prominent socialites. Thus, within painted frames appear parades and masked balls that see the protagonists move with forced and jerky movements as if really animated by wires.
Solmi, 42, who was a butcher in Bologna, decided to play the New York card with his very complex animated videos, inserted in very colorful object paintings. In this second exhibition he has drawn an allegory of power: a truly original style that allowed him to achieve the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and to obtain a professorship at Yale University. Stories that can only happen in the new world.
They stand against a background filled with an American flag, and before a bank of microphones, nodding their heads to acknowledge the cheers of an unseen crowd. Their faces are ghoul-like, complete with waxy-looking skin, dark bags under eyes that practically pop out of their heads, and curious crimson splotches that resemble splattered blood. The bright reds, whites, and blues that comprise the scene glow and pulse continuously.
A few years ago when I started to develop these video paintings, I had pretty big dealers and curators who said video paintings were a terrible idea. Who does video paintings! Nowadays, the video game industry is much bigger and has more visibility so my work is more culturally relevant. But for me, I could tell there was something relevant happening – an aesthetic revolution. People were creating these parallel worlds with an incredible quality of graphics and I was interested in figuring out how to tweak those graphics and use them to create artwork with social commentary.
The open-mindedness of the collectors can be inferred from one of the works on display: Federico Solmi’s “Douche Bag City” – a critique of capitalism – includes 15 screens, each surrounded by a black laser-cut frame with Gothic or Baroque undertones, that use video game imagery to follow Dick Richman, “a Wall Street capitalist with greed and anger issues.”
Solmi’s trio of video paintings are haunting and cynical. You may find yourself mezmerized by the moving caricatures, The Last President of the United States, The Next President of the United States, and The Wall Street Tycoon.
The news is supposed to provide information and context about what is going on around us locally and globally so that we can make informed decisions in our daily lives and at the ballot boxes. The free press and its modern iterations have long been venerated as the lynchpin of democracy. Yet, evolving tastes and cultural norms, as well as financial concerns, seem to be leading the traditional news media astray from this noble role, leaving space for genuinely informative reporting. To a certain extent, satirical news coverage is filling the void. So where does today’s confused news media landscape leave us?
This Bologna boy, living in New York, updates the fucked-up narrative of Bishops balling with Nazis in an arcane video format. At times it’s reminiscent of early shoot-up video game, Doom, and at other more poignant moments the illustration of esteemed RCA professor Andzej Klimowski. It is, of course, also satirical: Chinese Democracy and The Last Day on Earth (2012) ridicules communist leaders’ abuse of power, while leaving the US presidencies shortcomings hanging. Once hooked in, the viewer is left gagging for more.
What is “Chinese democracy” supposed to be — a pun? If you want to find out, then be sure to check out New York–based Italian artist Federico Solmi’s exhibition, mysteriously titled Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth. Replete with crazy videos, crazy paintings, and crazy drawings, this outlandish show comically explores the decline of all Western civilizations through a buffet of symbolic characters and apocalyptic scenarios
Solmi’s imagery is childlike – but paradoxically not with the accompanying naivete of a child’s point of view. It’s clear he is having fun ridiculing the values of our misguided society -- corruption, greed, power and excess. A kind of visionary who proffers a cautionary tale in words and pictures, Solmi may be pulling our leg and warning us at the same time. His artistic vision is all once playful, imaginative, gruesome, amusing, violent and shocking. Brilliant, yes. We can only hope it is not prophetic.
The paradigm-changing result is a transparent labyrinth where – without sound leakage – viewers can glimpse suggestive movement on the screens ahead or behind the one they are standing in front of, as well as of other viewers with whom they share the Plato’s Cave of cinema and video. The works range from comic vaudeville (Edison, Lassnig, Rhode) to tragic vaudeville (Reid), from post-punk angst (Solmi) to the elegiac (Berni, Kentridge, Mosley), with much else in between.
And while viewing “Douche Bag City” (2010), Federico Solmi’s terrifying vision of violence, I think of video games, the most ultraviolent of which are never censored by the U.S. government.