Secci Gallery, Joan Witek, and Giò Pomodoro at The Armory Show 2023: Review

Walking through this year’s edition of The Armory Show, which the over-the-top number of photos now housed in my iCloud shows how much I enjoyed, the artwork of Giò Pomodoro — whose name I didn’t know before walking through the expansive convention hall — immediately captured my attention at the booth for Secci Gallery, an Italian institution.

Pomodoro, an Italian artist who died in 2002, cultivated a decades-long career in the arts, and I was fortunate only enough to see a comparatively small selection of his works. Yet, thanks in part to the rhythmically arranged gallery booth with a walk-in area in the back, Secci’s display showcased the richness of Pomodoro’s artistic practice.

Marble on Marble

One standout piece features a rippling chunk of black Belgian marble that you could compare in its general shape to a slightly crumpled piece of paper turned on its side. The piece, which features that strikingly colored, richly ensnaring top portion resting upon a selection of an Italian red marble, is enlivening.

Imagine a field that’s full of low grasses and wildflowers, and then imagine a moderate gust of wind moving in front of your vantage point, which shifts the plant life into expanding contortions. Visible colors of the environment shift, since you’re now looking at your botanical neighbors from a slightly different angle, and the physical assemblage of the field’s many parts also updates. Some new arrangements and shapes arise, spurred by the liveliness communicated from the shifting colors. Though this progression rearranges the mental picture plane into new configurations, the organic naturalism remains.

And reflecting a similar scenario, you have the piece: “Folla,” a significantly sized but personable (not imposing) 1992 work by Pomodoro. It’s about five feet tall, and the black marble that comprises its immediately attention-grabbing top portion tapers to an area that rests upon the red marble of the supporting foundation, which itself adds to the monumental nature of what we’re seeing. (Check out an image here.)

Windy Marble

The specific iteration of rippling wind that Pomodoro captures is decidedly uplifting, with the black marble portion proving itself substantially assertive, even if communicating a delicate sense of touch and somehow capturing that interchange between the person and their environment in which an individual can fade into the collective. The soaring rhythm of the construction adds to its imposing nature, because you could easily conceptualize the most extended points of the marble’s ripples as an outline of energetic outbursts communicating just the greatest passion.

There can be such a dramatic contrast between sculpture where its most extended points are relatively close to its central line and sculpture in which the figure — or shape — twists and extends itself into the surrounding environment to the point perhaps of even directly engaging with viewers. Pomodoro’s sculptures collected for The Armory Show this time around fit distinctly within the latter category. They’re all aggressively soaring creations.

An Optimistic Perspective

I’ve since learned Pomodoro created a series of sculptures related to advancements in science during his career, and I can see the connection. Even if tempered somewhere, it’s — at least sometimes to most of the time — an optimistic view, where the roundly compelling, forceful energy of straightforward human advancement dominates.

This year, Secci also spotlighted bronzes from Pomodoro, like “Tensione,” 1959. That work and an accompanying piece featured again rippling, brightly polished bronze that slightly ranged in the intensity of its, well, tension. You could easily see what these pieces are reflecting as more personalized and internal, like the brief, merely seconds-long tensing of a muscle as you reach out to shake hands. Pomodoro carries those fleeting factors to a fuller end, as though rounding off the ends of those moments and memorializing them in something quite lasting.

How Monochrome Shapes Make You Think Celestially

Also at Secci’s booth were canvas works by Joan Witek. “Edward Teller’s Dream [P(S)-12],” 1982 is a remarkable more than nine feet wide — and across its entire surface, Witek appears to have only added a single color to the canvas: black. Using oil stick and graphite, Witek fashioned across the canvas a series of closely situated, oblong shapes. Because they’re rather small, a staggering number is needed to actually fill the surface, most of which features those black ovals in symmetrical, horizontal rows. (The shapes themselves are vertical.) The brief breaks in this pattern suggest, in the middle of the canvas’s bottom edge, a door, as though you’re looking at an imposing building. (The shapes get longer and extend horizontally instead of vertically.) (Check out an image here.)

I contemplated quite a bit while taking in the sights at The Armory Show how the method in which a work of art was assembled could suggest something about the assemblage of our experience of reality itself. Our internal palettes, so to speak, simply shift as we physically (and mentally) move through experiences, and varieties in artistic mediums nicely capture that range. Examining representational, painted works featured elsewhere by an artist named Timothy Lai was part of the inciting inspiration for what I was contemplating.

In short, the texture within a color — whatever is evoked by the specific hue the artist has chosen — combined with the nature of how the shapes are assembled across the page have something compelling to say about a particular way of experiencing our assembled reality. What are the physical manifestations of something intangible you’re utilizing? Is your world more warm to the touch or less so? Or will it become something you’ve yet to even encounter? In your interactions with the world — or your corner of it, do the points of contact reverberate or remain sharply situated in place? Is it an orderly progression or something unsure, uncertain?

Getting Back to the Crux

That leads back to “Edward Teller’s Dream [P(S)-12].” I found the orderly composition to speak to the gathering of many individual parts in its version of our walk through this existence. It was specifically orderly — precise in its arrangements and uplifting in its precision, as though the backdrop to a moment of realization. The canvas is also unmistakably grand in scale — somewhat similar to Pomodoro’s sculptural works on display, actually. It gets existential. It’s specifically pushing you to something outside yourself, a place where the individualized, identifying characteristics of a shape smoothly become subsumed into something shimmering and simply beyond any individual element that’s presented. The canvas becomes almost celestial.

It’s tempting, perhaps, to look at the individual parts. On an abstract painting with various shapes, you might want to, well, find something, as though you were looking for shapes in the clouds. (I briefly did that above!) Here, Witek’s painting pushes you into, well, not doing that. There’s (relatively speaking of course) nothing to find if you examine each shape in detail, considering the uniformity. That leaves you looking at the very connective energy shared by these figures.

The presentation from Secci Gallery for The Armory Show 2023 can be viewed, in part, via Artsy at this link. I also closely read before this article the gallery’s page about Pomodoro, which is housed right here.