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Ugo Mulas, The Photography Rooms and the inexhaustible magic of Venice


The island (an enchanted one) of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, where the Fondazione Giorgio Cini is located, overlooks the iconic view of the Laguna and Piazza San Marco and is currently hosting an exhibition dedicated to one of the most influential authors not only in Italian photography. The exhibition Ugo Mulas. L’operazione fotografica (Ugo Mulas. The photographic operation) is a project that coincides with the 50th anniversary of the author’s death.

This is an opportunity not to be missed because, with around 300 images, including 30 photos never exhibited before (such as the unpublished portraits of Giorgio De Chirico, Maria Callas and Joan Mirò), documents, books and films, it offers a synthesis that opens up to the different experiences Ugo Mulas faced, allowing a global (and rare) vision of his work. He used to be an eclectic author who worked in many areas of photography and, at the same time, managed to analyse in depth the concept of photography. Indeed, the exhibition itinerary – or rather, the multiple possible paths – in the Sale del Convitto in the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, has 14 sections covering all of Mulas’s fields of interest, essential to render the complexity of his work, which ranges from portraits of friends and personalities from literature, cinema and architecture to theatre, industry and fashion.

Mulas’s photographic approach cannot be related to a genre. His work deals with “experiments in critical thoughts” on photography, which he studied and tried to explain. And the title of the exhibition, as well as its idea, is inspired by his most conceptual series, Le Verifiche (The Verifications), notably from the title of the second of them: L’operazione fotografica, dedicated to Lee Friedlander. It’s a mirror shot, in which Mulas photographed himself covered by the camera, appearing unidentifiable and maybe accepting the idea that behind the camera there is a photographer and not just an impartial observer.

His attitude also gave rise to his pictures of landscapes and cities, of the Venice Biennale (which he photographed from 1954 to 1972) with Pop Art artists, including Alexander Calder, Christo and George Segal. In the 1964 edition, U.S. Pop Art was presented to the European public. Thanks to the collaboration of the critic Alan Solomon and the art dealer Leo Castelli, Mulas was introduced to the American art scene during his first trip to the United States, where he portrayed well-known painters at work, including Frank Stella, Johns, Rauschenberg, but also Andy Warhol and John Cage. In 1967, his analysis of working with artists was published in the volume New York: Art and People.

There are also photos of L’Attesa (in which he managed to document Lucio Fontana’s mental intuition of Il Taglio) and of Milan. Mulas made his debut in Milan, with his reportages that pictured suburbs and dormitories, but also the creative world that met at the tables of the Jamaica. «The Jamaica» – as curator Denis Curti observes – «used to be the place for meetings, for close friendships, those with Mario Dondero, Piero Manzoni, Alfa Castaldi, Pietro Consagra, Carlo Bavagnoli and Antonia Bongiorno, who would become his wife. The itinerary includes “the most significant ‘series’ for Mulas himself, those dedicated to Calder and Duchamp and the fundamental The Verifications (1968-1972), which are considered one of the most interesting “experiments in critical thought” on photography”, Curti adds.

The exhibition is an opportunity to see “in real” Le Verifiche, a series of thirteen photographic works through which Mulas questions photography, providing a formal and conceptual analysis of it. Le Verifiche constitute a topical point in the history of photography, a “meta photographic” analysis that has never ceased to prompt questions about the role of the photographic image. It’s a vision that remains a going concern. Indeed, in our time, as the emergence of new technologies is leading to an aesthetic revolution, it is time to reflect on the role of digital photography in changing the way we live and communicate.

Mulas used to publish in magazines such as Rivista Pirelli, Domus and Vogue. He also developed an artistic collaboration with Giorgio Strehler, which resulted in his photo reports L’opera da tre soldi [The Threepenny Opera] (1961) and Schweyck nella seconda guerra mondiale [Schweyck in the Second World War] (1962).

“The photographic work of Ugo Mulas” – Alberto Salvadori, director of the Archivio Mulas and co-curator of the exhibition, says– offers an indispensable perspective on the status of the work of art itself, which prompts us to reflect on the relationship, every time new and particular, between the artist and his workspace, inspiration and the context that expresses it. The retrospective, that inaugurates Le Stanze della Fotografia accounts for this ever-present «actuality» of Mulas’ gaze, also showing less known aspects of it through snapshots and archive documents never exhibited before”

The exhibition is accompanied by the catalogue published by Marsilio Arte.


New spaces for photography: an island for the image

A few months ago, a new exhibition and research centre, Le Stanze della Fotografia (The Photography Rooms), opened on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice within the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, in the Sale del Convitto (with an exhibition space of 1850 square metres). It’s a joint initiative by Marsilio Arte and Fondazione Giorgio Cini, intended to move further along the path begun in 2012 at La Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice.

The association between photography and the island of San Giorgio is a natural one. Indeed, «major attention has always been devoted by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini to photography, both as an art form and as historical-artistic documentation, creating, at the instigation of Vittorio Cini himself, what today is one of the most extensive photo libraries in Italy and Europe», Giovanni Bazoli, president of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini explains. It stores almost a million photographs, freely consultable by appointment or online) and it is specialized within the sphere of historical artistic research, with collections that belonged to art historians, journalists and writers and from the relations existing over decades between Vittorio Cini, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and the Alinari company.

Conceived as an international centre for research and appreciation of photography and the culture of images, Le Stanze della Fotografia will offer, alongside exhibitions, laboratories, meetings, workshops, seminars with national and international photographers.

Research and exhibition activities are coordinated by the technical-scientific committee chaired by Luca Massimo Barbero, director of the Institute of History of Art of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, and composed of Emanuela Bassetti, president of Marsilio Arte, Chiara Casarin, head of cultural development and communication for the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, artistic director Denis Curti and Luca De Michelis, managing director of Marsilio Arte.

Paola Sammartano


Ugo Mulas. The Photographic Operation
29 March – 6 August 2023
Le Stanze della Fotografia
Island of San Giorgio Maggiore
30124 Venice, Italy

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