Margherita Raso, installation view of “Vizio di Forma,” 2022. Photo: Alexa Hoyer, Courtesy Magazzino Italian Art, Cold Spring, NY

Margherita Raso

New York

Italian Cultural Institute in New York

Interdisciplinary artist Margherita Raso has literally changed the atmosphere for “Vizio di Forma,” an exhibition-cum-installation (on view through November 25, 2022) that marks her U.S. institutional debut. Inside a small room occupied by three new bodies of sculptural work, the temperature has been lowered to a consistently cool degree. Such a subtle, meaningful gesture is typical of Raso, who is delicately powerful in her plays with material, form, and space. “Vizio di Forma,” whose title (“Inherent Vice,” in translation) comes from a conservation term describing the tendency of materials to self-destruct, coalesces such gestures into a comprehensive meditation on time, decay, and display.

Each work contends with the gaze—seeing, being seen, and preserving so that future generations can see. Auto Body (2022), an ethereal sculpture in dark, silvery aluminum, rests directly on the floor. Meant to be viewed in the round, this fantastical figure, with its contrapposto pose, hints at Italian art history but dispenses with custom by eschewing the pedestal and bringing viewers down to its level. Headless and androgynous, the figure’s most defining feature consists of three neat, precise braids that flow down the wrinkled surface of its back. This detail gives Auto Body a certain contemporary humanity; otherwise, it might be a metallic replica of an antiquarian ruin. As we follow the braids around the figure’s back, the sculpture confronts us with a hollow front. Has the work been eroded by time, or will it be completed in the future? Will the braids one day fray? Vision denied, we are left to fill the void by projecting what we want to see.

Two floor-mounted textiles, Pour une seule nuit (plus d’etoiles) and Untitled (both 2022), flank Auto Body. Both have an oversized feeling, as if they were details magnified for better viewing. Like Auto Body, these works condense time: each one was made on a Jacquard loom, a machine introduced in the 18th century to create elaborate patterns like damask and the first such machine to adopt computer technology in the 20th century. Tessellated with woven shapes that could be suns or stars, Pour une seule nuit (plus d’etoiles) was inspired by a damask that Raso found while researching the textile collection at the Fondazione Antonio Ratti in Como, Italy. Wanting to share her discovery, she created a temporary work in which she placed the cloth in a glass vitrine for 24 hours (the maximum time that conservators would allow its exposure to sunlight). With Pour une seule nuit (plus d’etoiles), Raso replicates the same sun-star shape in a repeated pattern, expanding the fragment into a larger-than-life screen supported by a black steel armature. The presentation seems to underscore how cultural objects—like the Jacquard damask—are protected by their means of display, but Raso also coyly undermines such conventions by allowing Pour une seule nuit (plus d’etoiles) and Untitled to be seen from behind as well as from the front.

The invitation to go behind is strongest in Untitled, the most enigmatic and lucid work in “Vizio di Forma.” A chiaroscuro composition of white and gray, the textile has the scale and drama of a history painting, though nothing is clear or settled. Rows of white threads billow from the back, while hands, feet, and other limbs surface on the front. Untitled seems to be caught mid-decay, with one side frayed to formlessness and the other still just legible. Like Auto Body, Untitled suggests figurative specificity before receding into abstraction. It’s tempting to view Untitled from a perpendicular perspective, trying to see both sides at once, but a full sight line is refused.

The relationship between refusal and offering, containment and display, is best articulated in Hoarders (2020–22). Thirty ceramic urns sit on a metal museum-storage shelf, each one closed in some fashion (with cork, ribbon, or stoneware). Unlike the other works in “Vizio di Forma,” the urns are whole, and we are prevented from seeing what’s inside. Clustered in groups on the shelf, they pull us in to appreciate their minute details. We hear and feel the cooler air as we contemplate each vessel—a haptic reminder of the invisible conditions that shape our perception.