Bigger is not necessarily better in Luciano Benetton’s innovative project: an extraordinary collection of micro-artworks curated from around the globe.
Imago mundi is Latin for “image of the world”. The ambitious travelling exhibition engages established and emerging artists from different countries and continents, mapping a growing atlas of art and human culture.
Following its participation in the Venice Biennale from August to October 2013 and Dak’Art Off 2014 from 10 May to 9 June earlier this year, Imago Mundi next exhibits in Treviso, Italy from 9 July to 3 August 2014.
Entitled “Imago Mundi: The Art of Humanity”, the exhibition presents eleven contemporary art collections from ten different countries, with a total of two thousand 10x12cm paintings from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Japan, India, Iceland, Mongolia (double collection), Romania and South Africa.
When Luciano Benetton, former President of the retail giant Benetton Group, retired and set off on a world tour, a South American artist left him two 10x12cm paintings instead of a business card. He began to ask other artists to send him visual visiting cards when he did not have time to meet them, promising to get in touch if he was interested.
Soon, however, Benetton’s growing collection of miniature works took on more ambitious aims. As the exhibition’s press release states, “Imago Mundi”
presents a great atlas of the world and of humanity, through free, democratic and inclusive contemporary art that goes beyond styles, trends or market forces.
“Imago Mundi’s” concept is simple, inclusive and innovative. Artists from different regions are invited to produce any image in any format or medium, with the only condition being size. As The Daily Beast reports,
the resulting collection is an intriguing combination: huge, wooden framed mosaics of tiny images, each standing over six feet high. Bright daubs of colour sit alongside dark, meticulous illustrations – each piece bursts off the canvas, vying for audience attention.
The micro-artworks are presented in five-gridded display cases designed by Tobia Scarpa, each one devoted to a particular country. According to the press release, the collapsible cases enable easy installation and transport, supporting a project that is
destined to travel without frontiers […] shown, in collaboration with private institutions and public museums, to the greatest possible number of people in the world.
An encyclopaedic approach
The collection hopes to increase its size to more than 10,000 artworks from over 80 countries by 2015. Imago Mundi also catalogues all artworks in digital form and enables them to be viewed online. Benetton told The Daily Beast:
What we really want to do is eventually map the contemporary art situation all over the world, trying to include as many countries as possible. No countries excluded.
Such a format allows the work of individual artists to be discovered, and also presents a snapshot of each region’s rich creative landscape and cultural diversity. As Artinfo puts it, each display
functions as a cabinet of curiosities for the globalised world.
Voices of Asia
Compared to previous exhibitions, there are more participating Asian countries in the upcoming show in Treviso. The originality of the project brings power and fresh perspective to some often unheard voices.
For example, the collection from Azerbaijan is an evocative mix of themes from the East and West, Islam and Christianity, ecology (environmental and moral) and the race to success. Artists play with ideas of memory versus everyday life, amid ancient myths and legends of wind and fire.
Artists from Afghanistan sent in works with a common theme of freedom and hope. The collection includes painters, graphic artists, miniaturists, writers, musicians and multimedia artists at every level and from various backgrounds. Many chose not to give a title to their works, making a deliberate statement as to their quest to provide an authentic portrait of a country plagued by uncertainty.
Finally, artists in remote and mysterious Mongolia responded so enthusiastically that an extra collection of 210 works was added to the first 140. In addition to portraying Mongolian contemporary society, artists are also preoccupied with ethics, abuses of modernity and general reflections on human existence. There is also a great sense of space, inspired by the open steppe and the limitless Mongolian sky.
Dialogues of diversity
“Imago Mundi” curates and exhibits on a voluntary and nonprofit basis. The collection has no commercial ambitions, aiming only to unite diversities in the name of artistic experience. The goal is to create the widest possible map of human cultures in order to promote knowledge and awareness of art and the world.
Benetton himself says in the press release:
The art of “Imago Mundi” is art that creates connections. Echoing the aspirations of the great German artist Joseph Beuys, I believe this collection to be an expression of ‘unity in diversity’: our goal, in fact, is to connect, bring together and promote artists around the world, overcoming geographical, political, ethnic and psychological boundaries […] In the colours and stories of these works […] lies the urgent invitation to act, to look at reality with new eyes, to transform our idea of the world.
- Think global, ‘art’ local: Curators discuss contemporary curatorial practice – conference – May 2014 – Eminent international curators discuss the role of art and curating in Asia in the radio show “Urgency and Relevance: A Curatorial Perspective”
- Why artist Aman Mojadidi is “Afghan by blood, redneck by the grace of God” – ARTonAIR podcast interview – April 2014 – US-born Afghani artist Aman Mojadidi talks about his work and the contemporary art movement in Kabul during an ARTonAIR interview
- Inspiring creativity: YARAT Contemporary Art Space – profile – March 2014 – Art Radar looks back at the short but successful history of the most active art organisation in Azerbaijan
- “Art is stronger than war”: Afghanistan’s first female street artist speaks out – interview – July 2013 – Shamsia Hassani talks to Art Radar about the growing art scene in the country, women’s rights and the memory of war
- Mongolian Mugi’s first Hong Kong solo: Rediscovering past lost to communism – May 2012 – Mongolian artist Mugi concluded her first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, showcasing works depicting women who deal with the re-emergence of Mongolian heritage
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