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Lifting the lid of a gray box
It was 1977 at the Maldoror Bookstore on Via di Parione in Rome "Francesca was fishing through a box of old photographs. She came by often, but we had not noticed her, with a long shirt and knee-high socks, shopping bags smelling of fish: eels, garfish bought at the market in Piazza Vittorio - stuff she needed for her pictures (Fish Calendar)...
<b>Lifting the lid of a gray box</b>

Published on Monday, June 20th, 2011

Then one day she comes to me with a gray box and says to me, I am a photographer, if you want, take a look at these pictures and do something with them. At that moment I realized that I was talking to a person with great vitality. We respected her immediately - even if we never respect anyone. As we communicated with books, she communicated with pictures."
Thus might begin the story of the Roman experience of a young of American Art-student, through the words of Giuseppe Casetti, who met Francesca Woodman (Denver 1958 - New York 1981 ) in those years. At the time he was co-owner of Maldoror Bookstore, which hosted an exhibition of the artist in '78, now the owner of the Bookstore Museo del Louvre which hosted from May 23 to June 19 Francesca Woodman's photographs 1977/1981. An exhibition of previously unpublished, in large part from a personal file kept locked away in a drawer for years after her death in 1981. Photographs, drawings and cards with their artistic dimension of research and reflection, laying the foundation for the realization of Woodman’s photographic masterpieces, with traces that document the artist's life, the relations of art and friendship that developed in that period, allowing the viewer to relive the intensity and passion, almost to the point of extreme but never bordering on scandal. Out of this was born the need to move from the visual plane to get to the bottom of the story, seduced by the strong communicative component of photographs and drawings that carry messages, even daily reminders, invitations, remembrance of moments spent together images, photos, full of holes and stuck in drawer handles, drawings attached to the windshield of cars, still bearing the signs of the wipers. Many of the works have a relational nature: like the “glove” series set at the Fassi gelato shop, in which the figure with her friend Francesca Sabina Mirri, represent Cristiano Riso e Ricotta, action photographs with graphics that refer to the eating habits of a friend, "Cristiano" was the pseudonym of Giuseppe Casetti at the time, telling of a dinner invitation from the artist.
Rotolo di carta 1978, matita su carta. Courtasy of Giuseppe Casetti
A small bookstore-museum with a grandiloquent name, composed of a single room, on Via della Reginella in the ghetto of Rome, proved a crucial step to getting to know an artist who, thirty years after her death, her creative production cut short by suicide, moves the minds of new generations, and transports people of all ages around the world. "The opening day I found hundreds of girls in their twenties in front of the bookshop, it was practically impossible to open. I didn’t think there could be such an identification so many years later." Her nakedness but at the same time romantic stance touches the strings of female adolescents in all times. This is not a feminist statement, but a curiosity about herself in relationship with the outside world, a relationship in which the body acts as an intermediary. "She lived a lot in his photos, to see how she was in space," says Casetti. The photograph is then used to deal in an authentic way with the layers of the most intimate and true self and to experiment with honesty, openness, and with a defenseless relationship with empty space, which refers to the presence of another self. But the viewer is also a judge, to which you submit observation. The relationship with the spaces will be back in future works, designed by the architecture or the result of specially designed performance, but it succeeds with ease in the wonderful photographs taken by Henry Luzzi in the study of Joseph Gallo in via degli Ausoni, while Francesca Woodman sets the stage for some photographic shots (1977-1978).
But what prompted the artist to approach the Maldoror Bookstore? Francesca came to Rome in 1977 with a European program of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, which had and continues to take place at the Palazzo Cenci. "She began to go to the Maldoror for her love of Surrealism. She loved Duchamp and the avant-garde, and in that time the bookstore was curating shows on the avant-garde, it was a sort of Wunderkammer ... there was even a magazine of Sciences from the '30s that suggested impossible inventions, such as invisibility rays, which seem to see their effects in some photos of Francesca, a spot where the body becomes indefinite and moved as if about to split itself (Ravenna)".
Invito Maldoror 1978. Courtasy of Giuseppe Casetti
The Roman exhibition anticipates the major retrospective of the artist to be held at MoMA in San Francisco and then in the current year at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2012, but the design was completely independent: "I spent a year preparing this show; I did it to close a cycle." The cycle of exhibitions of Francesca Woodman curated by Giuseppe Casetti begins with that of '78 at the Maldoror, reproposed in '95 - after a period in which these images were confined to a trunk to distance the memory of the death of a friend - with a little-publicized show, meant to last 20 days but eventually going on for 6 months due to requests to extend it and word-or-mouth dissemination. The next stop was "Rome Providence New York City" held at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in 2000, crucial to the success of the artist in Italy and the basis for creating an archive of Francesca Woodman: the works and materials provided for the event were photocopied and made available to students who were writing theses on the artist, theses which were then in turn included in the archive itself, and also made available to others. The recently concluded exhibition in Rome closes the cycle by opening the "drawer", bringing to the public realm letters and drawings as well as the photographs. And if the exhibition could be said to be "mutilated" because many works have been sold or lost, the whole is in the book that accompanied it, Francesca Woodman's photographs 1977-1981 by Giuseppe Casetti and published by Francesco Stocchi Agma. Not a critical text, but one of poetry, stories, and dreams; a gray booklet that refers to the appearance of the box that gave rise to the Roman history of Francesca Woodman. A book which in 2011 and 2012 at the Moma and Guggheneim, will provide to an overseas audience the sensation of opening a box and discovering an artist.

related article:
Francesca Woodman Milano, Palazzo della Ragione

curated by anita fumagalli

From May 23rd to June 19th 2011
Francesca Woodman photographs 1977/1981
Curated by Giuseppe Casetti
Bookstore-galleria museo del louvre
Via della Reginella 28 – 00186 Roma
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