Oliviero Toscani: TOSCANI CHEZ MAZZOLENI Curated by Nicholas Ballario 26 April – 4 June 2023 Mazzoleni Art 15 Old Bond Street London W1S 4AX
Mazzoleni presents TOSCANI CHEZ MAZZOLENI, the first solo exhibition at the London gallery by the internationally celebrated photographer and art director Oliviero Toscani. The show follows the major exhibition that took place at Mazzoleni Torino between November 2022 and January 2023. Bringing together a curated selection of photographs chosen by the artist himself, the London show presents new and historical shots – printed on microcement using an innovative technique – to the UK art scene. A special event with the participation of the artist at the Embassy of Italy in London will complement the exhibition, presenting his other ongoing project Razza Umana (Human Race) on 26 April.
Oliviero Toscani (b. 1942) is internationally known as the creative force behind some of the most famous magazines and brands, such as Polaroid, Porsche, Chanel, as well as Elle, GQ, Vogue, among many others, working in Paris, London, Milan and New York. However, Toscani has always gone beyond commercial goals, masterfully exploiting the medium of photography to support his own version of contemporary humanism. To Toscani, photography is communication, and “communication, with its entire media, could really be at the service of the humanity.
Being creative means researching the new language that we are looking for to symbolise and identify the human condition and the exertions of society, to understand and explain the new world that is racing towards us with the speed of a meteorite. They could be utilised to help enrich humanity in the laborious task of expressing itself better in this world, to connect with the rest of society and permit a better future.” (Oliviero Toscani, speech presented at ADC NY and D&AD London Arts Directors Club, in More than Fifty Years of Magnificent failures, 2015).
Toscani’s institutional and corporate projects have brought themes of social responsibility into mainstream media, with campaigns promoting awareness of major social issues including road safety, anorexia, violence against women, religion, as well as racism and integration. Among his most important collaborations, Toscani contributed to establish United Colors of Benetton’s image and identity as a globally recognizable brand. By shifting the communication strategy towards promoting messages of peace and tolerance, focusing attention on social issues such as AIDS, the death penalty, integration, and equality, Toscani was able to create striking and thought-provoking images.
This is exemplified by San Francesco, 2019, a shot that charmingly captures Toscani’s engagement with the topic of race. Referring to Saint Francis of Assisi – the 13th -century friar known for his ministry to the poor and underprivileged, and care for nature and animals – he celebrates diversity and promote equality.
Toscani is also known for challenging prejudices and conventions, as Manette (Handcuffs), 1989, on display exemplifies, another work used for a United Colors of Benetton’s campaign. The subject represented allows the viewer to confront their own prejudices – especially relevant in the late 1980s when this photo was taken – by testing whose hand they assume to belong to the policeman or convict.
The final corpus of showcased works will be the photographs of the Grande Cretto (Great Cretto), Alberto Burri’s monumental masterpiece of Land Art created in 1981, which covers part of the ruins of Gibellina, a Sicilian town devastated by a massive earthquake in 1968. Printed on monumental slabs of concrete for the exhibition – echoing the depicted subject – these shots were taken by Toscani for the “Louis Vuitton Fashion Eye” project in 2018, when he was invited among other photographers to shoot a city of their choice for a travel series.
Toscani captures the Great Cretto with high-angle and quadrangular shots, projecting the viewer into the labyrinthine space of intricate alleys, skirting the line with abstraction. The project presented at the Embassy of Italy in London complements the show at the gallery. Since 2007, Oliviero Toscani has been curating Razza Umana (Human Race), a photographic project focusing on the different morphologies and conditions of human beings and representing all the expressions – physical, somatic, social and cultural – of humanity.
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