The Italian solo debut of the 33-year-old South African artist Ruth Sacks resembled a group show. “Double-Sided Accumulated” presented eight highly diverse recent works that occupied the gallery from floor to ceiling. The exhibition included text-based pieces and sculptural installations made primarily of found and altered objects like handbags, postcards and bells. Despite their apparent formal differences, however, the works shared references to history, a parodic take on monumentality (so prevalent in the show’s host city, Rome) and a reliance on the Duchampian reuse and redefinition of everyday items.
Painted in mustard yellow block capitals high on the wall above the reception desk, the term “ALATOSEUM” greeted visitors before they entered the exhibition space, no doubt inducing puzzlement over the word’s possible meaning. On the other side of the wall, “MUSEALATO” made the nature of the wordplay clear: Sacks’s neologisms merge the Italian word alato (“winged”) with the English “museum” or Italian museo.
This language piece was one of five works from 2010 that allude to Rome, reflecting the chimeric nature of the Eternal City—a place where the ancient pagan past, Catholicism and secular modernity imaginatively coexist and overlap, as in the repurposing of buildings such as the Pantheon. Evoking this temple converted into a church that has now become a major tourist site, Sacks created Pooling Dust, an ephemeral floor piece consisting of an approximately 4-foot-long Pantheon floor plan done in white marble dust, on which viewers were invited to walk. In the antimonumental Triumphal Arch (After Dürer), the handles of Italian-made handbags sitting on a pedestal are fastened together to suggest a series of ceremonial arches. Sacks takes on touristic kitsch in At the Moment, a set of five pristine wooden boxes, all about 61⁄2 inches long, that contain postcards of well-known Roman monuments. On the exterior of each box is a metal plaque inscribed with a future date, ranging from 2014 to 2509, while inside, with the postcards, are absurd mailing instructions. Purchasers are urged, for example, to send a card to “the favorite artwork of the owner of the box.”
Untitled (bells), 2009, conveys a more serious, politically tinged message about rethinking history. Like multiple archeological remains, a number of small bells that Sacks gathered over a few years, mostly in South Africa and Belgium (the artist is currently based in Brussels), are neatly arranged on black velvet in two identical vitrines—with the bells’ bodies in one and their clappers in the other. Once used to summon servants, the bells have been muted. An association with the much larger bells that ring in Roman churches is unavoidable, suggesting a critique of Italian Catholic culture. In this context, a call for the dismantling of hierarchies—implicit in the dismantling of the bells and the satirizing of monumentality—seems to ring out loud and clear.
Photo: Ruth Sacks: Triumphal Arch (After Dürer), 2010, leather bags, 161⁄8 by 391⁄4 by 153⁄4 inches; at Extraspazio.