Yuri Ancarani “Sculture” at Kunsthalle Basel

Yuri Ancarani, Da Vinci, 2012, film still (detail)
Courtesy the artist and Kunsthalle Basel


Kunsthalle Basel presents the first solo exhibition in Switzerland and first exhibition ever to survey the output of the Italian artist-filmmaker Yuri Ancarani, which spans his production from 2010 to the present, including a new film installation conceived for the occasion. Such an exhibition is perfectly poised to highlight this seminal artist’s impressive career and to present an overview of his films in the artistic context for which his films were originally made. It is also a timely moment to allow audiences who might know one or more film to view the precision and poetry of his fascinating vision across the last 10 years of his practice.

Ravishing in their every cinematic detail, the films of Ancarani (b. 1972 in Ravenna; lives and works in Milan) are engrossing portraits of the more obscure places and sides of our everyday existence. Each follows a peculiar choreography of bodies and places and technologies that constructs an image of labor, the human condition, the mechanical, and the architectural that is as mesmerizing as it is diagnostic. The process and resulting artworks of this artist-filmmaker, who is also professor of video art at NABA – Nuova Accademia Belle Arti (Milan), are methodical and exquisite, exacting and hypnotic. Unlike either the tradition of documentary filmmaking that privileges the collection and exposure of “evidence,” or the cinematic tradition that privileges the creation of a narrative, Ancarani’s tightly composed, often wordless films have from the start been aesthetically driven—strangely beautiful and poetic engagements with the history of painting and sculpture and sound art as much as with the history of artist-made films, from Andy Warhol to Tacita Dean.

Ancarani has applied his vision to the design of the exhibition itself, having conceived a scenography with different kinds of screening possibilities for each film as well as special attention to the kind of perception particular to an exhibition. His show includes a presentation of the artist’s trilogy of short films La malattia del ferro, portraying the symphony-conductor-like gestures of a Carrara stone-quarry foreman guiding workers and their forklifts to extract and displace massive hunks of marble with the elegance of ballet, in Il Capo (2010); the closed environment of scuba divers on a submarine stationed deep below the surface of the ocean, in Piattaforma Luna (2011); and chillingly filmed surgical procedures, performed with the aid of specialized medical machinery, Da Vinci (2012). It also includes his film devoted to the spirit of Carlo Mollino, conjured by a medium who “speaks” for the deceased designer-architect, Séance (2014), as well as several recent short films, The Wedding (2017), revealing the idiosyncratic side of an all-male world and rituals of a Qatar wedding, and Whipping Zombie (2017), focused on a ritual of another sort, the so called Kale Zonbi, or “whipping zombie” dance of masters and slaves in a remote Haitian village. Importantly, the exhibition also features his first long film, The Challenge (2016), presented with a specially conceived immersive projection.

These previous productions, each focused on a different, difficult to access or closed environment, provide the perfect contextualization for a new film installation that the artist wishes to make in Milan’s San Vittore prison. Ancarani’s new film San Vittore (working title) is a project the artist has wanted to realize for several years already. Having already visited the San Vittore prison over the years, Ancarani proposes to make a new video installation from inside this legendary prison, focusing on the peculiar architecture of incarceration and in particular on the wing for female inmates and their children. It would serve as a kind of pendant element to his 2014 film San Siro, a portrait of another Milan architectural landmark, the San Siro sports stadium, which is also shown in the exhibition. Although each film can be considered independent of the other, by pairing the two and creating a relationship between them—much as with his films in the trilogy La malattia del ferro—the understanding of each becomes even more layered and complex in meaning. In San Vittore, the artist would turn his peculiar attention to architectural detail and fascination with different kinds of human labor (whether that of the athlete or of the incarcerated) into a diptych with his previously realized San Siro. Ancarani would thus, importantly, complete his long dreamed of tribute to Milan and two of its saints, thus documenting and celebrating the city where he has for 25 years lived and worked, from his student days until now.

Ancarani’s films have been shown at some of the most prestigious national and international museums and exhibition contexts. Despite this attention and indeed confirmation, the range of his filmic practice has not until now been shown on a grand scale. His exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel aims to remedy that and allow a greater understanding of the complexity and artistry of Ancarani’s oeuvre.

Connected to this, the exhibition is followed by the publication of the first monographic catalogue on the artist, a co-production of Kunsthalle Basel and Castello di Rivoli in Turin. The catalogue surveys the artist’s filmic production and includes newly commissioned essays.


Yuri Ancarani, Il Capo, 2010, film still.
Courtesy the artist and Kunsthalle Basel


Yuri Ancarani, The Challenge, 2016, film still.
Courtesy the artist and Kunsthalle Basel


Yuri Ancarani
9 February–29 April 2018

Kunsthalle Basel | Steinenberg 7, Basel
+41 61 206 99 00