Ortisei is located in Dolomites Val Gardena, South Tyrol. The town became famous thanks to its carved and decorated wooden sculptures, prepared by the deft hands of woodcarver families for generations running. The Dolomites’ Val Gardena craftsmanship continues to this very day to be a main driver of woodcarving, offering a lot more than world-famous nativity scenes.
A lot more such as the work of the edgy, contemporary sculptor Peter Demetz, who lives and works in Ortisei. The Italian artist has a gift for breathing life into wood much in the way George Segal used quotidian materials – orthopedic bandages dipped in plaster – to create some of the most hauntingly memorable figures of the past (20th) century.
Likewise Pop artist Duane Hanson, best known for his hyperrealistic figurative sculpture of everyday people, fashioned through a complex process of casting from live models, then recreated in fiberglass resin, vinyl, or bronze.
The figures in the works of all three artists (and the list of Demetz’ predecessors could go on) – Demetz, Segal, and Hanson – are actors in a play that never ends. We catch them in a scene frozen in time, moments that provide windows onto the human condition. The unadorned veracity of their characters prompts responses normally reserved for interactions with living people. Though the “actors” are indifferent to our presence, we want to engage, which is frustrating, but at the same time, compelling.
Unlike the two aforementioned antecedents who created life-size sculptures of their subjects, however, Demetz’s doll-sized figures inhabit architectural spaces constructed as small theaters with trompe l’oeil special effects. That persistent feeling of unreality is heightened when, approaching the sculpture, the viewers is shocked to find the roundness that was expected is actually a relief.
Demetz’s work then, while honoring his Gardena Valley roots, is also tied to Pop representations of the figure, best summed up by one of the titans of that genre, artist Claus Oldenberg.
Oldenburg famously said he was for an art ”that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum..I am for an art that embroils itself with everyday crap and still come out on top.”
Everyday “crap” like the women wearing Target or Walmart, not couture, but striking runway poses. The two forms in Demetz’s “Self made fashion” were created with Linden wood, acrylic, and LED light.
‘“Girl in the Water,” features a young lady in a two-piece bathing suit partly submerged in what looks like water, eyes focused on a distant horizon.
Ever fantasized about being model beautiful in your Free Box or thrift shop finds?
Ever felt under water when thinking about your future?
Th Demetz’s at Slate Gray are for you - or about you in a private moment of reflection.
And while the meticulousness of Demetz’ hand is noteworthy – the artist is able to shape tiny folds in clothing, reproduce loose strands of hair, and define the human anatomy so well that you’d think his figures could really exist – the exciting part of his work are the psychological underpinnings.
In Demetz’s miniature theaters, the figures, his actors, could care less about us, the voyeurs: their backs are often turned away as they stare at each other, at the ground, or off into the distance. We tiptoe in to catch them in contemplative, in-between moments in the existential spaces they occupy, places where they are free to access their interior lives.
Faced with this surreality, our heart and soul knows something special is going on and so we are left with a single, singular question: In a minimalist context like this, who am I?