Between the white walls of MAMbo the visitor finds a canvas, also white: Resultats pour la recherche, Italo Zuffi – nessun dato trovato (no data found). This is the blunt message that reveals the origin of the work: the artist entered his name in the research form of the online archive of the Center Pompidou website. But the research gave a negative result. The absence of the artist is mockingly represented in the screenshot which, with a change of plan, is placed as a work of art.

The first expected reaction is a smile: a characterization that draws a red thread in Zuffi’s works, irony and above all self-irony make the viewer feel empathically involved in the artist’s research and in some way also makes possible the identification based on a shared fear of failure. Zuffi’s Recherce, which possibly alludes to Marcel Proust’s Recherche, is precisely a search for lost time: what are the conditions under which an artist can be included in a shared memory and therefore be recognized as such? How much do attempts and eternal competition actually lead to a concrete result?

Through a radicalization of his own acting as an artist, Zuffi makes his failure the tool to provoke but also to express the constant fragility of the artist’s figure, always poised within a series of dynamics of acceptance and rejection, frustration and production, constitutive counterpoint of the creative act. The Recherche becomes the icon of an absence but at the same time the field for action and positioning: Zuffi, with his practice between conceptual and situationism, reveals the critical mechanisms of the art system. Furthermore, he show what it is asked, implicitly or less implicitly, to the artists to be able to be part of this system. The canvas itself, left empty if not for those few lapidary phrases, is the reactionary symbol of the denial of the stereotype of the artist who, to be such, must create traditional art objects. Zuffi instead contrasts this image of the artist with the one that has in it all personal fragility and weakness.

Marchel, the protagonist of Proust’s Recherche, fights against his lack of willpower and low self-esteem in a time that passes quickly and seems to slip out of his hands. Zuffi’s work seems to somehow get stuck in this flow to propose a new vision of failure: the artist must fail, because it is precisely the total questioning of his abilities or the distrust of his own role that can lead him to embrace the creative act and pushing the limits of a context that is, after all, too narrow and rigid.


Italo Zuffi, La Recherche, 2016, inkject on canvas
© Italo Zuffi, Courtesy Istituzione Bologna Musei, fotografia Ornella De Carlo


La Recherche  is part of the exhibition Fronte e retro, curated by Lorenzo Balbi e Davide Ferri at Mambo – Museo d’Arte Moderna Bologna, visitabile fino al 15 maggio 2022.


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