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Fantastic animals, fairy tales and enchanted forests take over Bologna's Palazzo Albergati

Jorge Luis Borges' "Manual of Fantastic Zoology" seems to come to life: dancing giraffes, luminous turtles and winged creatures walk through the exhibition rooms of the palace

Once upon a time is the guiding phrase of the exhibition, a few words capable of awakening in the spectators remote memories, soft voices, and bedtime stories that transport them into a daydream drawing on the entire repertoire of European and Oriental folk tales. This exhibition originates in fairy tale books leafed through carefully and curiously, taking the form of illustrations that escape from the pages, recurring on the walls of the exhibition space and composing an "artist's zoo". Animals take the starring role, transforming the historic Palazzo Albergati, built in 1519 in the centre of Bologna, into a garden of wonders with over 90 real animals, images or hybrids, created by 23 contemporary artists especially for the exhibition "Animali Fantastici. Il giardino delle meraviglie" curated by Stefano Antonelli and Gianluca Marziani.

Mario Consiglio, Ideal Observatory (cow), Resin, neon, cardboard, moss and acrylic, 136x208x62 cm, 2013
Mario Consiglio, Ideal Observatory (cow), Resin, neon, cardboard, moss and acrylic, 136x208x62 cm, 2013

At first glance, such an imaginative itinerary might seem like a project tailor-made for an audience of families and children, but with a closer look, the exhibition's intent appears immediate to present a habitat in which human beings and animals coexist with the same freedom and rights. There are no borders or fences, only fantastic creatures that graze freely through the halls looking out at the audience.

"If Paradise exists, it is only right that it is populated by animals. Can you imagine an Eden without the singing of birds, the chirping of swallows, the bleating of carts and the appearance of the funny and curious wall of a rabbit? Surely in my idea of Paradise cannot fail to echo meows from every corner, the festive barking of dogs playing at last serene" (Giorgio Celli)

Walking through the rooms on the ground floor and the upper floor, we can encounter dancing giraffes born from the imagination of Sandro Gorra, with a clear reference to Edgar Degas's "Dancer", luminous turtles surrounded by candles, similar to liturgical decorations or icons to be worshipped, and sea unicorns similar to mermaids. 

Once upon a time, there was a primordial world born before discrimination that is the result of a morality invented by man to force the immensity of nature into a courtyard, a land where it was possible to catch a glimpse of a giant, slightly scurvy gorilla with completely pink fur. The colour in Maurizio Savini's sculpture "We are skin", made of plaster and Big Babol, moves away from the idea of femininity and fragility to embrace an animal symbolising virility and strength.

Sandro Gorra, Ballerina, scultura in bronzo patinato, 2023
Sandro Gorra, Dancer, patinated bronze, 2023

The collective dimension is at the heart of the exhibition, we are a single group of living beings that for the duration of the exhibition path cohabit in a dreamlike habitat created to unite. The interaction appears fundamental in the itinerary through Camilla Ancillotto's work "We are metamorphoses", a series of paintings that can be modified by turning the tiles from which they are formed. These constantly changing works are inspired by Tangram, the Chinese game with seven pieces that form a square, evoking a popular handheld game before smartphones or video games existed. Ancilotto's camouflage tricks are similar to the strategy adopted by the big cat protagonist in Luca Padroni's work "Siamo mimetici" (We are camouflaged), in which it is impossible not to detect the elegant illusionism and sinuous lines of René Magritte's "Signature in white"

Fantastic bestiaries, dreamlike images with a surrealist flavour, medieval and chivalrous references, science fiction and pop culture symbols rewrite epoch-making events by replacing the faces of Nazi soldiers, astronauts, and American soldiers with popular cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty, giving us a satirical critique of the purely pro-Western reading of history. The same tragicomic atmosphere can be breathed into Mario Ricci's painting, which depicts animals forced into the canvas that seem to push, some with wings and some with fins, to emerge, cutting through the surface in order to breathe. The strictly monochrome hue of his paintings transports the subjects' efforts into a metaphysical, suspended environment.

Dario Ghibaudo, Museo di storia Innaturale, Sala XXII, Altorilievi Hippotragus Anteropostus Multipunctatus. Museum of Unnatural History, Room 22, High-Reliefs, Hippotragus Anteropostus Multipunctatus, acrylic resin with beeswax and aluminium finish, 2019
Dario Ghibaudo, Museum of Unnatural History, Room 22, High-Reliefs, Hippotragus Anteropostus Multipunctatus, acrylic resin with beeswax and aluminium finish, 2019

Dream and reality mingle in the selection of "Fantastic Animals" projecting visitors towards a hybrid, anti-speciesist perspective that confirms how humans and animals suffer and enjoy in similar ways, experience love and pleasure in similar ways: they are therefore all part of "an immense zoo" called life. In conclusion, the exhibition brings together entertainment, the esoteric and the oneiric, cartoons, magic and art in a single container with an absolute coherence that shapes the itinerary into a complex and harmonious ecosystem, where the visitors are not strangers to the narrative, on the contrary, they are an integral part of it even before crossing its threshold.

"Fantastic Animals. Il Giardino delle Meraviglie"

Palazzo Albergati

28 Saragozza Street, Bologna, Italy

Dates: From 07/12/2023 to 05/05/2024

Open: daily from 10.00 am to 8.00 pm, closed on Tuesdays

Further information and reservations T +39 051 030141

List of artists: Giovanni Albanese, Camilla Ancilotto, Marco Bettio, Chiara Calore, Mario Consiglio, Valentina De Martini, Fulvio Di Piazza, Dario Ghibaudo, Massimo Giacon, Sandro Gorra, Giorgio Lupattelli, Giulio Marchetti, Marco Mazzoni, Andrea Nurcis, Luca Padroni, Max Papeschi, Valeria Petrone, Nicola Pucci, Gherardo Quadrio Curzio, Mario Ricci, Maurizio Savini, Lapo Simeoni, Velasco Vitali.


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