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Does Art Have a Place in the World of Commercial Photography: Toni Meneguzzo’s Diptych

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The OED defines “diptych” as a pair of thematically linked paintings, photographs, sculptures, etc. For Toni Meneguzzo, in light of his show, Diptych, opening at 29 Arts in Progress Gallery in Milan, the word seems to mean something much broader. Meneguzzo’s Diptych is an invitation to engage with his newest work side by side with his growing legacy, perhaps as a challenge for the viewer to consider where art and commerce overlap.

To call Meneguzzo’s career eclectic would be a disservice to such a storied career spanning the last 40-plus years. Over the years, Meneguzzo has worked for some of the most famous fashion and luxury brands around the world while still pushing the boundaries on the art circuit.

In talking with Meneguzzo, it became clear that his goals or intentions go beyond just a two-image diptych. His new show seems to examine something larger by combining a series of chapters from his life’s work. I’m going to call it montage. Montage is designed to connect a series of images in order to draw attention to complex or theoretical ideas that only arise in the work when shown together.

Meneguzzo’s Diptych asks viewers to consider art side by side with advertorial and editorial work. Of course, Meneguzzo is loath to ascribe meaning to the juxtaposition, harkening back to Eisenstein and Kuleshov, and leaving the teasing out of symbolic underlying meanings to the audience.

Diptych is made up of 60 images selected by curator Giovanni Pelloso from across Meneguzzo’s career. Guests will have a chance to reflect on the combination of several different stages of Meneguzzo’s work. Guests will be left to decide what Meneguzzo was trying to say when his use of colour, shape, and composition from his large-format fashion Polaroid work is echoed dozens of years later in his new Causa/Effecto work.

Meneguzzo’s polaroids represent the true hallmark of his career. For those that have shot Polaroid, there is, as Meneguzzo puts it, a magic to it. You never truly know what you’re going to get when you shoot it. There is always a chance for what we photographers call happy accidents. The happy accidents you can pull from Polaroids, and even from film, give the medium a kind of romance.

Causa/Effecto, uses mirrors, thread, and pigments released into the landscape, left to interact naturally with the environment to create abstract, unrepeatable compositions, what Meneguzzo calls a “pilgrimage towards the unknown.”

Examined together, it’s enchanting to see the colors and mood of the fashion-centric Polaroids blend so well with the art-focussed landscapes. Certainly, Meneguzzo’s vision has maintained a particular geometry to it over the decades.

More so, the montage of the unrepeatability of the pigment-art experiments juxtaposed with the happy accidents of his fashion-centred polaroids work to create a sense of wonder. When we talked, Meneguzzo referred to the idea of an alchemist, mixing elements together and turning them into more than the sum of their parts. Here, placed side by side, we get the alchemy of age, where we see Meneguzzo’s vision of the world when he was young and now, as a more experience photographer, an evolution. Still though, even as a more experienced photographer, he is still hunting for happy accidents, for unrepeatable magic.

As well, viewers should be left wondering what is art, is it an accident? Is it an evolution? Alchemy? Seeing the similarities between his commercial and art work, we have to ask: what place does art have in the world of commercial photography?

If you want to be involved in commercial photography or art photography, these are the kind of questions you need to be asking yourself. This is the kind of show you need to see.

All images provided by Toni Meneguzzo and 29 Arts in Progress Gallery. Lead image, Toni Meneguzzo, digital, Causa/Effecto. 

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