Orbita. An exhibition by Massimo Uberti

The artist of the work that will change the Museo Gamba
A project by Casa Testori
Curated by Davide Dall’Ombra
Castello Gamba – Museo d’arte moderna e contemporanea
Châtillon, Valle d’Aosta
26 March – 5 June 2022


Orbita: the exhibition

Massimo Uberti is an artist who designs with light. To do this, he extends his hand to our daily routine, gathering objects and tracing rooms and environments that belong to us. Often, they are elements of disarming simplicity. A ladder, a chair, two easels, the structure of the house as we drew it when we were children… A simplicity that aims to put us with our backs to the wall, obliging us to go to the essential of what surrounds us, disregarding the contours, so that the appearance of things will reveal their structure, their substance. The house, the ladder and the chair become the idea that generates them and the use that makes them necessary and familiar, fundamental. At the root of things is us, it need hardly be said, and wiping them clean of connotations makes them universal, belonging to all humanity. It is at this level of essentiality that the mind becomes free to take flight in its thought. Not to flee from reality, but to take stock of its complexity. And not only because the house is a personal universe, because the chair stands for cosiness and repose of the soul, because the ladder implies height and the desire for human and spiritual elevation… Light is in itself a means towards the dilation of the contingent to the universal. It expands, with its luminous particles, the elements of daily life. It illuminates them and their context, but above all, it summons them to generate potentially infinite volumes, causing us to raise our eyes from the merely personal. It liberates the material from its limits. This is what makes Uberti’s lines so attractive and satisfying. They are able to restore to us the sensation that things have returned, if only for an instant, to their right place at last.

At the entrance

In this process of dilation and liberation of the material, until it achieves the purity of the Orbit that will encircle Castello Gamba, the object becomes the leading player of the space it occupies, not to circumscribe it, but to generate it. The works in a museum are the launching pads of thought and emotions. ESSERE SPAZIO [BEING SPACE] is a simple luminous phrase that, by branding the Castle, declares this generative process that the works trigger in the eyes of the visitor. The museum as a place generated and generative of the essence, primarily artistic and hence human, the power of which is in the hands of those who experience it.

Among the works of the collection

Thus, certain works by Uberti participate in this re-creative process and mingle with the works of the permanent collection in such a way as to underline their key aspects.

In the simple tautology of the emotions that characterizes this artist, a mountain could not be lacking among the mountains of the first room, evoked with that glazed clay that, a little way ahead, also initiates the itinerary mounted in the exhibition spaces. The theme is thus announced of the divide between preciousness and simplicity, but also of the ambiguity between impermeability and porosity that characterizes these bricks. At the centre is the intangibility of matter, incapable as we are of defining it totally, reducing it to a single object.

In the principal room, the sculpture Tre dimensioni [Three Dimensions] is none other than a large chair, elevated to the role of a throne of the absolute, while it is crossed by the luminous lines of the possible directions. Here it is called to compete with the heroism of the Castle’s leading player, Arturo Martini’s Ercole (Hercules], which is placed at the real and symbolic centre of the entire building. It is around him, ultimately, that Uberti’s Orbita will revolve and he is the “male” who will now clash with the “female” of this sculpture which, with its luminous lines, is only apparently more fragile.

Walking around the rooms, we will find other unexpected works, with which Uberti embroiders the discourse, interacting with the space itself and with the Museum’s communicative “claim” more than with the single work. Spread on the floor, therefore, are the woollen kilim carpets that open up the rooms to the harmonic complexities of the ideal cities. Or one of the artist’s neon chairs appears, accepting, exactly like the paintings around it, to be “used” on the condition that the spell is not destroyed by breaking the two golden rules: that of the due time for observation and that of looking but not touching.

Coming to terms with objects is not a painless operation. Neon, like our flitting thoughts for that matter, does not always embrace the forms of reality. At times, it seems to overturn them or, rather, pierce them. That is what happens when light gushes out like a sword in the rock from a book, or passes it by. The same thing can happen between two chairs, disembowelled by the dramatic nature of a complex relationship that seeks its own way ahead, starting from the title: Due come noi [Two Like Us].

In the exhibition room

The itinerary in the exhibition room begins with a work specially created for the event: the series of “bricks” (glazed, gilded, enamelled or marked with a text…) which decline, in their simple linearity, the basic module of constructing space for living, fundamental to the artist’s poetics. The preciousness and simplicity of the material that introduced us into the dialogue with the mountains in the first room returns, but here it is the natural element that carries all the burden of human labour: reality shaped from tradition and thought. The coloured levels become samplers of the sensations and experiences, the bricks are the “cornerstones” of the artist’s thought and the imagery he creates. Not by chance, four of these, four cardinal points or, rather, the four corners of the room of thought and living, are marked with the topical phrases that underlie the artist’s entire work: Spazio Amato [Loved Space], Altro Spazio [Other Space], Spazio Necessario [Necessary Space] and Essere Spazio [Being Space]. They are the spaces of artistic creation, generated or accepted by his work. Because Uberti’s sign language, rather than overwhelm us with meanings, often does no more than indicate the lyrical poetry of what surrounds us. Not by chance, the artist describes himself as “a designer of places for poetic inhabitants”.

Facing each other in the salon are two large works that the artist conceived at a distance of almost twenty years. Spinario [Boy with Thorn] dates from 1994. It is a fundamental work in his development, in which the homage to the famous sculpture in the Capitoline Museums, one of the subjects most frequently repeated in the history of art, becomes a poetic image of the role of the artist, summoned as he is to stand on the threshold between the visible world and another, infinite, one, represented here by the square of light. The artist, called to describe this other world to us, recognizes fully the gravity of the task and its human limit. He is not in the stentorian position of Friedrich’s wayfarer before the absolute of nature, he places himself on that threshold curved upon himself, distracted by his accidents. He even turns his back on nature, revealing himself as a man like us, incapable of facing it yet dependent upon it.

Opposite him is the large sculpture Giorni Felici [Happy Days], created for the exhibition of that name at Casa Testori in 2011. This has the mature elements of Uberti’s language. Its transfiguration of the daily elements and the ordered, paratactic procedure of the luminous bands that free its grandeur, dilate the function of the everyday objects. In a traceable key, Uberti now seems able to come to terms with that luminous absolute, not to close it but to orient the form towards the imperceptible.

On the balcony

A second series of works created for the exhibition marks the walls of the balcony. Not by chance, if we position ourselves at the centre of the salon with our backs to the window, between the two large luminous sculptures, we can see the two levels at the same time: that of the bricks and that of these canvases. These are, in fact, two strictly related families that, in a certain sense, reveal the bare bones of the artist’s poetics, momentarily opening up his tool box for us. Canvas after canvas, we can discover the specific nature of the formal instruments with which Uberti declines his four interpretations of Spazio [Space]. Declaring the features that these conceptual bricks have assumed over these years, his Archetypes are exhibited here. The synthetic and generative forms, that is to say, that recur in his ambient and three-dimensional works in general: the ladder, the opening, the house, the ideal city, the line…

The screens placed to the side show a narration by images of works, large installations and public interventions that the artist has realized in Italy and in the world during these years, unfolding these archetypes, dilating them on a potentially infinite scale with the use of light, which has the function of demonstrating the union between vastness and formal clarity.

The last of the archetypes is that of orbita itself, which is to generate the large permanent installation designed for Castello Gamba, and which is examined more thoroughly at the end of the itinerary.

Massimo Uberti, Orbita

The Altana (Roof Terrace) of the Castle is dedicated to Orbita, as a preview of its installation in Castello Gamba next summer. Original preparatory drawings, technical elevations, renderings and testimonies to the genesis of the work are exhibited on the walls.

A line of warm LED lighting flows within an imposing but light steel structure. It follows the course of the supporting structure for an extension of 65 metres, with a width of 20 metres and a depth of 13. It is an ellipse of light conceived by the artist to encircle the top of the castle and embrace its perimeter. At the level of the central tower, an orbit visible from a great distance, and not only by night, represents a unique case of its kind in Europe and will transform the Museum into an iconic image recognizable throughout the world.

This work, which will change the face of the Castello Gamba, is the result of a project elaborated by the artist with Casa Testori, at the wish of the Superintendence of the Autonomous Region of the Valle d’Aosta, and was realized with the support of the Ministry of Culture, which awarded it the 2020 PAC (Piano per l’Arte Contemporanea), a competition promoted by the Direzione Generale Creatività Contemporanea.

An orbit of which the building, and the works of art it contains, are the generative centre, the sun around which it revolves. The severe structure of the castle pierced and lightened by a contemporary symbol that accelerates the capacity for cultural irradiation of its content, placed in a new circle of transmission. The museum becomes a hub and an ideal “engine”, a “sun” of the collectivity, around which rotate its “satellites”, that is to say the contemporary collective expectations of beauty and knowledge.

The presentation of Orbita on the Altana has been mounted with the contribution of CVA energie.


Davide Dall’Ombra

[Back to the main page]