A Specially Written Contribution for this Blog

Massimo Vitali’s most recent images are concerned with refugees. – People who find themselves on mediterranean beaches for reasons very different from the ones that lead the holiday makers from northern European cities there. Initially, Vitali’s involvement with the theme was triggered by a commercial commission (by the Time Magazine), but soon it became just as much a personal commitment that made him shift his subject matter so slightly, yet so radically. And in doing so he is putting at risk everything he has achieved in the art world over the last decades: visibility, recognizability and probably just as well the appeal for the market. – I doubt that very many art collectors will be wishing to hang these images of desperate Arab and African refugees on their walls.

Vitali’s courage not only demands respect, yet by taking his work into this new direction, the man who ”still does not trust photojournalists”, (as he recently remarked), should not all of a sudden be mistaken for a reporter. Just like Vitali’s bathers on beaches are much more than innocuous celebrations of carefree living his new pictures of refugees cannot be reduced to a simple political or a polemical message. Yet, as in the middle of ferragosto, the Corriere della Sera is telling us that the average cost of a day on the beach (“tra lettino, ombrellone, e qualche consumazione”) is between 45 and 55 euro this summer, these numbers assume a slightly uncanny meaning.

“Mes personnages ne sont pas minuscules, c’est le monde qui est grand !” The quip is by Sempé, the great French satirist. – Perhaps it is only now, as we are looking at his new photographs of people who have run ashore in southern Italy or at the Austrian border, that we fully grasp the sardonic sting that has always been underlying the serene beachscapes with bathers which have made Massimo Vitali famous. These seemingly off-hand, “very-late-impressionist” photographic remarks all of a sudden become a chilling reminder of the fact that “to be stranded” literally means to be cast away, to have run abeach.

Tobia Bezzola, Giacometti on the beach, August 15, 2016.
Thanks to Marc O'Polo for their support of the project on refugees.