There are fifty four artists represented at Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri, a sculpture wonderland set in the Tuscan countryside. I thought we had done a credible job of covering the ground but, on reflection, we only discovered half of them. It doesn’t matter, what we did see was astounding. Eva Aeppli was born in 1925 in Switzerland and, after her studies, moved to Paris. Around 1967, she started concentrating on textile life-size figures, creating sewn heads that refer to the planets. If you look closely, the stitch lines can be seen on the bronze casts of the Astrological Signs group.
The gold faces of The Planets represent the positive aspects of the Moon (in silver), Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, Neptune and Uranus
while the negative aspects, responsible for the sinful facets of human beings, are expressed in A Few Human Weaknesses. From left to right, these are Sloth (Moon), Envy (Mercury), Lust (Venus), Pride (Sun), Wrath (Mars), Gluttony (Jupiter), I seem to have missed Avarice (Saturn). Again, the heads were originally sewn and the texture of the silk fabric can be seen on close inspection.
An attempt to glue the figures rather than sew them wasn’t very successful. Two of the failed pieces were used as scarecrows in Eva’s vegetable garden while others were used for airgun target practice. One of the heads, collapsed and shrivelled, has been cast in bronze and embedded between two branches of an olive tree. Although it seems to be watching the passersby, the empty eye sockets see a world on The Other Side.
The three Greek goddesses of vengeance and retribution, known as the Erinyes or Furies, represent the negative aspects of the so-called invisible planets Neptune, Pluto and Uranus.
Ars Moriendi (Latin for ‘The Art of Dying’) by Italian artist, Giampaolo di Cocco, comprises three sculptures that represent life-size elephant bodies in various stages of decomposition.
Katharina Duwen’s Refuse from the Bronze Age relates to the subject matters that interest her most: traces of the past and relics of civilisation. Various items lie together as if on an illegal dump site, made of bronze they contradict the notion of putrefaction and decay. In the future, this evidence may provide useful information to archaeologists about the everyday lives of a past culture.
Not only is Angelo Maineri a maestro of sculpture, he has been responsible for the care and maintenance of the Giardino since 2016. He has melded bodies of steel and cement, seemingly weightless yet grounded, with the twisting branches of a tree for Chlorophilia – Rooted Life. He describes the work as, “humans, destroying nature, are yet dependent upon it and cannot escape it.”
When Daniel Spoerri was invited to propose a sculpture for the slopes of Vesuvius, he immediately thought of a drawing by his friend, illustrator and satirist, Roland Topor who died in 1997. The crouching woman intently watched a handful of small balls rolling from her lap (I’m not absolutely convinced of this anatomical description). The Vesuvius project was abandoned and Mamma muntagna, the Neapolitans name for their volcano, was sculpted in stone for the garden by Simone d’Angiolo.
A tower of old harrows and ploughs, wedged in amongst each other and screwed together, is titled Monument to Settledness. The artist, Arman, was well known in the sixties for his accumulations of several objects of the same kind such as milk cans, hairslides and bottle caps. These agricultural machines are the insignia of soil management and are stuck, immovable and useless, while the sound of modern agricultural machines can be heard in the surrounding hills.
Amongst the olive trees, sixty geese run in the direction of Seggiano, pursued by three extremely threatening, oversized and masked figures with drums. French artist, Oliver Estoppey has included a boy standing off to the side holding a goose under his arm, perhaps protecting the bird from the Day of Wrath.
An interesting figure that appears like a piece of wood is, in fact, bronze and is carefully attached to the wall of the villa. The Pisser served as an artist shower during a sculptors’ symposium in Freiburg in 1977 and Daniel Spoerri retrieved it from storage for the Giardino with artist Alfonso Hüppi’s consent. The refreshing stream of water usually emitted from the woman was absent on this day.
A connecting link between the distant past and modernity is seen in Two Steel Lenses, One Leaning Tower and Five Geode. The installation, by Jürgen Knubben, consists of two lens-shaped steel constructions lying next to slate stones of similar shape and size, known as geodes, that are around 180 million years old. The leaning tower resembles the obelisks used in Egypt around 2000 BC as cultic stones to honour the sun god.
Daniel Spoerri wanted an iron sculpture by his Swiss friend, Bernhard Luginbühl for the Giardino. Peasant Monument comprises ploughs and parts of agricultural machines, symbols of power, and the exaggerated verticality is a symbol of fertility.
Over the course of a year, Josef Pleier visited the Giardino several times to make measurements and calculations regarding different positions of the sun. The holes in his basalt column, Sunstone, direct the gaze to certain points on the horizon where the rising or setting sun can be seen on the day of the winter solstice (21st December), the equinox (23rd September and 21st March) and the summer solstice (21st June). The opening at the top is the point of true midday when the sun is at its zenith in the sky (and it’s not 12 noon).
Pavel Schmidt has an interest in the phenomenon of kitsch, in particular replicas of popular sculptures. Do Not Open Before the Train Has Halted (Venus and David Between the Buffers) features kitsch figures of Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Venus that he blew up and then glued the fragments together. They have been placed on railway buffers arranged in the form of a cross, gazing in opposite directions.
Austrian artist Erwin Wurm became famous for a series of One Minute Sculptures where he poses people in unexpected relationships with everyday objects. Sewn together at the waistband, the pant legs of Doppelhose seem to be fidgeting in the air.
The Gordian Knot is a legend associated with Alexander the Great, the untying of an impossibly tangled knot often used as a metaphor to describe an intractable problem. German artist Till Augustin created a series of sculptures with this title, two of which are presented atop pillars each side of the path. The cables were pressed together under huge pressure and then cut so that the inside of the twisted rope is visible, giving the impression the knot could spring apart at any moment.
In a hollow in the Giardino, elaborate iron constructions topped with reddish-brown, bell-shaped heads reach 4-6 metres into the sky. Luigi Mainolfi’s mushrooms symbolise The Fertile Earth in these towering species.
The bronze figure of Banzai! Banzai! Banzai! was inspired by a small sculpture standing on Ay-O’s desk when Daniel Spoerri visited him in New York. A few grains of rice placed in the boy’s mouth would traverse the short digestive tract and exit from the rear. This impressed and amused Spoerri and he asked Ay-O to produce a life-size version for the Giardino where Banzai! wishes happiness, success and good health. I didn’t realise at the time but for those wishing to see the little fella “in action”, little bags of rice are available at the reception desk.
Roberto Barni’s figures in Continuo are positioned mid-stride on a seesaw in permanent equilibrium. The title is a contrast to the musical term, Continuo, meaning a constant accompaniment provided by the bass instruments. The men are blindfolded, a typical element of Barni’s works, perhaps in order not to disappoint their illusion of progress.
Italian Luciano Ghersi describes himself as a ‘hyper-textile hand-weaver’. The chairs of The Fakirs’ Meeting are woven with barbed wire, a comment that they would be a good seat for the government which, in Italy and elsewhere, should not be able to sit back in comfort.
The Cake Dream, created by Rosa Roedelius using aluminium and clay, is accompanied by a few lines:
What remains is the cake dream
What was or will be, trivial
Floating above the water
Living things grow from it
Standing on a viewing tower taking in the ambience of the landscape, The Visitor by Esther Seidel looks out over the labyrinthine wallpath. But is he really observing it or only seeing images inside his head?
Flying Buttress is one of the many installations by Mauro Staccioli found in public spaces all over the world. Viewed as a fragment of an archway, the large steel construction establishes a link to the motto of the Giardino, Hic Terminus Haeret and to Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries and transition.
Famous ballet dancer, Daniel Nijinski was legendary for his high leaps from a standing position. A photographer captured the moment when, at an advanced age, he leapt unexpectedly for one final time into the air. Artist Non Vital based his sculpture, Daniel Nijinski Superstar, on that photograph and he is appropriately suspended high above the ground.
Yoko Ono is famous for many reasons, one of them being her contribution to art. The first iteration of Play It By Trust was exhibited in 1966 and since then has been represented in various sizes and materials. The all white interactive chessboard functions as a metaphor for the futility of war, eliminating the colour-based opposition of one side versus another. Beyond a series of initial moves, the game is doomed to failure.