Although not officially classified in any artistic group or movement, in the course of his career Gino Marotta (Campobasso, 1935 – Rome, 2012) was an assiduous experimenter with techniques and materials, using original and lateral approaches to traverse the avant-garde experiments that emerged in Italy during the sixties, from Pop and New Dada to Arte Povera.
After his early paintings in the fifties, Marotta undertook research into multimedia works that made use of a variety of materials (lead, tin, sheets of aluminum and iron) moving from painting to sculpture and neo-Dadaist assemblages. In the sixties he turned to synthetic materials and in particular methacrylate (or perspex), which he used to produce sculptures in series using industrial casting techniques. Methacrylate, a high-tech material and therefore “cold,” was chosen in an interplay of contrasts with the subjects represented, forms of nature that drew on the plant and animal worlds. In this way Marotta conducted experiments that explored and represented the dichotomy between natural and artificial, recreating imaginary scenarios populated by colorful, transparent forms, taken from nature yet admittedly fictitious and devoid of any corporeal substance. Orthogonal sections endow his sculptures with a three-dimensional quality, above all light, which passes through this glass universe and is capable of reconstructing its volumes, in an interplay of transparency and brightness, presence and absence, magic and nostalgia for a lost paradise.
Marotta’s sculptures in methacrylate already tell of an interest in the creation of works of an environmental nature, which encroach on space and redesign it, involving the viewer on the sensory level. In 1968 he produced Foresta di menta (“Forest of Mint”), an installation consisting of plastic lianas which giveoff a strong scent of mint, accompanied by candy and mint liqueur available to the public; sight, touch, smell and taste are all stimulated at the same time to convey a multisensory experience.
Giardino all’italiana (“Italian Garden”) was created only a few months later, presented at the Arte povera più azioni povere exhibition in Amalfi in the azioni povere section, directly involving the city center. A series of bales of straw, arranged to form a line with a central rhomboid, stretched across one of the city squares, providing a point of reference and gathering for the artists participating in the event as well as for the inhabitants of Amalfi. Giuseppe Bartolucci, a theater critic present in Amalfi, termed the work a coda di paglia or “straw tail,” punning on the Italian idiom for a guilty conscience. Unlike his creations in plastic, here Marotta chose a plain and natural element, used to relate to an environment that is not its own, the town, and drawing attention to the dialogue-conflict between nature and artifice, city and countryside.
Giardino all’italiana was a work to be experienced, as evidenced by the period photographs which saw it inhabited by the protagonists of the Amalfi exhibition, who sat conversing in this temporary, ephemeral architecture.
In Marotta’s original idea, in Amalfi the straw bales were supposed to catch fire, so recounting a new transition from volume to line, as in his famous silhouettes in methacrylate. However, due to the proximity of a gas station, this further conversion, the true azione povera, could not be performed. Despite the impossible final metamorphosis, Giardino all’italiana presents itself, thanks to the performativity embodied in the phase of construction and the public’s subsequent relation to the work, as in an intervention that denies the closed form of traditional sculpture and is in continuous action and transformation, as well as contemporary works by artists of the Arte Povera group.