Vanitas Rabbit, 1998-2000. Aquamarine Swarovski crystals, 35 x 32 x 15 cm.

The Sculpture is Never What You See: A Conversation with Nicola Bolla

Nicola Bolla’s sculptures have many peculiarities, foremost among them, his choice of materials and subjects. He uses Swarovski crystals, playing cards, and glass to create macabre relics such as skulls, tibias, and skeletons; symbolic objects such as ropes, axes, and chains; and animals, including domestic cats, panthers, parrots, ostriches, and unicorns. His aim, however, is not to represent the “real thing” but to evoke its metaphor and metamorphosis. Bolla’s sculptures remain faithful to their originals, but they are reinvented, extremely artificially, through his unusual materials. When Bolla (who is also an ophthalmologist) uses crystal, he is perfectly familiar with its light-refracting properties. Playing with light and shadow, he pushes the idea of the ephemeral to its extreme: we perceive these sculptures through their reflection of immaterial light.

We could read Bolla’s work as an allegory revealing the ephemeral nature of life and art. He titles all of his Swarovski sculptures vanitas. “Empireo,” his most recent show of the “vanitas” works (at Corsoveneziaotto Gallery, Milan), was named for the highest heaven in medieval Catholic cosmology, the Paradise of God and the angels. But the most important piece in “Empireo” was a group of five Swarovski toilets. In Vanitas Toilet, the vulgarity of the object is nullified by the allure of the material. The toilet becomes an object to be admired for its sparkling beauty, to be shown and prized—not simply because it has been chosen by “the artist,” as with Duchamp’s urinal, but because Bolla has transformed and transfigured it into a vision of seduction.

Bolla was born in 1963 in Saluzzo (Turin). His father is a painter. He graduated in medicine and specialized in ophthalmology in Turin, where he now works as a well-known ophthalmologist and successful artist. He had his first solo show in New York at White Columns Gallery and has also exhibited with the Nohra Haime Gallery in 1988 and 2002; his most recent New York exhibition was “N.B.” (2007) at Sperone Westwater. Since 1991, he has exhibited regularly in Turin (Franco Noero, Palazzo Bricherasio, Galleria 1000 eventi) and across Italy, including Milan; his work has also been shown at the European Parliament in Brussels (2004).

Laura Tansini: In recent exhibition catalogues, your sculptures are reproduced in an atmosphere of gothic horror. Do you prefer to show your work in such unusual settings?
Nicola Bolla: I like staging my works because my aim is to create a fantastic world parallel to the real one, but I do not resent the antiseptic atmosphere of the white cube. I think that the work’s strength and energy, if it has any, defeat and conquer any space.