#insight | Art World





Artist of the week





This week's #MACFOCUS is on multifaceted visual artist and iconic leader of the band R.E.M., Michael Stipe, artist on show at Fondazione ICA Milano with the exhibition I have lost and I have been lost but for now I'm flying high until Saturday 16 March 2024. The project, specially conceived for Fondazione ICA Milano, is curated by the institution's director Alberto Salvadori.


The exhibition focuses, in part, on portraiture, interpreted through a wide range of forms—from photography to, ceramics, sculpture and audio works.
A selection of more than 120 both newly created and previously unseen works will be on view throughout the ICA’s spaces, reflecting the full scope of Michael Stipe's artistic production. The installation interweaves concepts of homage and vulnerability, as concerns embedded in Stipe’s both figurative and non-figurative representation of the human form.


The title of the exhibition emerged from a conversation between curator and artist, in which Stipe identifies vulnerability as a driving force, radically challenging conventional considerations of this feeling state as one of liability or weakness. Within the accelerating chaos of contemporary life, Stipe identifies vulnerability as a powerful tool for survival and a broader philosophical approach to charting new paths forward.



“Vulnerability emerges as a ‘superstrength’... It’s a map that describes the difficulties of our present, while highlighting new opportunities and a renewed understanding of our importance—not only to ourselves, but also to those around us, to our communities, to our world. In this moment I choose to focus on the most precious commodity beyond time, which is the brilliance, beauty and playfulness of life. I have lost and I have been lost, but for now I’m flying high”.


A central inspiration and point of origin for the exhibition, is Max Ehrmann's famous poem Desiderata (1927). In particular, the works directly referencing the poem, Desiderata2027 and  DesiderataTeleprompter fracture and reconfigure the original text, generously expanding and amplifying the themes of vulnerability within it, through Stipe’s personal lens, for a broader interpretation by the public.

Stipe’s ongoing interest in portraiture is represented within the exhibition in multiple forms and media. He has consistently taken photographs since the age of 14, first documenting his heroes as a fan, including Freddy Mercury and the Ramones, and later Tom Verlaine and Patti Smith, also intimately documenting the community of artists and musicians in Athens, Georgia, of which he was a central part beginning in the early 1980s. These relationships that Stipe has maintained over the past four decades merge mentorship, friendship, and collaboration.


For the exhibition at the ICA, Stipe has created works, which themselves embody and reflect the multidimensional nature of how these people have existed in his life, ranging from their portrayal as subject to their involvement in the physical creation of the works themselves. Artists Angie Grass and Libby Hatmaker are central to the creation of the multi-media works which interpret Desiderata, while Stipe’s production manager, the artist Michael Oliveri and ceramicist Caroline Wallner have worked with him on the making of sculptural works. Stipe’s longtime studio manager, the photographer David Belisle, has meticulously hand printed each photograph included in the exhibition through a range of analogue processes.


The photographic portraits in the exhibition reconstruct his most recent publication, which captures often highly candid moments in his life in Athens Georgia, New York City, south of France, and Berlin. These works serve as acts of devotion to his intimates, among them his mother, two sisters, and goddaughter, his boyfriend, the artist Thomas Dozol, and his longtime close friends, filmmakers Tom Gilroy and Jim McKay. The celebration of his friends spills into a series of homages to his heroes rendered through Stipe’s idiosyncratic approach to non-figurative portraiture. These works take the form of intricately crafted pageless book cover sculptures, produced in collaboration with Master Printmaker Ruth Lingen, each of which bears a subjects’ name as its title, utilizing unlikely choices of typography and color as a means to channel the essence of a given persons’ character.

The exhibition as a whole itself becomes a self portrait, by means of vulnerability, where Stipe’s personal and public life are able to exist in a myriad of ways that are true to how he has moved through and viewed the world during his lifetime, from birth to the present. Accordingly, the works included are a testament to his understanding of the human experience—a series of meaningful collisions of seemingly disparate energies, at once found and made, analogue and digital, generative and absorbent, mysterious and revealing.



Michael Stipe, American, born 1960, is an artist, producer and singer/songwriter.  He fronted the band R.E.M. for 31 years, selling over 100 million records and touring the world.  As film producer he made over 25 feature films, including Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich, Jim McKay’s En El Septimo Dia, Chris Smith’s American Movie, and Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine. For the past decade his personal focus has been cross-medium work, incorporating video, soundscape, sculpture, and photographic and digital imagery.  Recent photobooks include Volume 1 (with Jonathan Berger, 2018), Our Interference Times: A Visual Record (with Douglas Coupland, 2019) and a third volume of portraits (2021) all released through Damiani out of Bologna, Italy.  Michael lives in New York City and Berlin. 



#MACFOCUS è la rubrica della Milano Art Community che propone approfondimenti sulle gallerie d'arte contemporanea, fondazioni e spazi no profit più interessanti di Milano e sugli artisti da loro selezionati.




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