Luxembourg & Dayan open a show of Domenico Gnoli’s art tomorrow. Gnoli is one of those cult painters who suddenly burst on the market seemingly known by a few cognoscenti with deep pockets. Last year three of his works sold for prices over a $1m. There had been a few strong sales in 2008 but nothing like the rush of last year where a record price of £2.3m was paid at Christie’s in London.
“Once a few good things started appearing at auction,” Amalia Dayan explains, “there were quite a lot of jumpers.” Now Dayan has organized an exhibition of the painter’s work in her East 77th St. gallery.
Gnoli died young in the late 1960s leaving a small body of work. “Because he died so early and there was no proper estate with work for sale,” says Amalia Dayan. “So the market went quite quiet after he died. The type who collected were old-fashioned collectors who really don’t want to sell anything. It was never cheap and it was always sold to good collectors mainly Pop collectors and those who were interested in Surrealism.”
Gnoli’s rise comes from a convergence of very different market forces. First, there has been a general move toward Italian post-war painting with strong interest in Fontana, Morandi, Burri and Manzoni. Arte Povera has also drawn strong interest. Dayan points out that Gnoli mixed sand with his paint creating surfaces that are quite different from the images you see here.
The imagery too is a strange mix of Surrealism and a vaguely Pop sensibility. But that’s not quite what’s happening, according to Dayan. “It’s really a depiction of Sixties bourgeois life,” she says. “The little details, the purse, the
dress, the bed, the linens on the bed. The images are very strange. They don’t look like anything else I’ve ever seen. They are portraits without the person but you feel you know who the person is.”
This odd take on bourgeois life seems to be the unifying factor to Gnoli’s appeal to collectors. The work fits into a number of different stories. It’s familiar and strange at the same time. “You could put it next to Botero because there is something comical about it,” Dayan says. “It is almost Botero; it is almost Magritte; it is almost Arte Povera.”
Perhaps because there are only about 100 works from the sought-after final five years of Gnoli’s output, few of the 18 works on view will be for sale, Dayan says. “It was a struggle to get work for the show.”