Winter Stories #54, 2009 © Paolo Ventura. Courtesy of the artist and Hasted Kraeutler Gallery

A figure with a bunch of colorful balloons covering his face floats up over a gray cityscape. A lone man wearing a fedora and a black coat with a fur collar stands on a street corner in front of a cafe holding a sparrow. In an old studio with dirty skylights, the torso of an automaton is perched on a stool surrounded by books, clocks and mechanical tools. These are some of the scenes that Paolo Ventura invents, constructs, and then photographs. I’ve been lucky enough to see a preview of his exhibition opening on January 24 at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, and I can tell you that it’s worth seeing. 

Behind the Walls #01, 2011 © Paolo Ventura. Courtesy of the artist and Hasted Kraeutler Gallery

Paolo Ventura’s photographs are eerily familiar but completely original. They have the power to bring us back in time to another world, when dreams and reality collide. Ventura has managed to tap into our Collective Unconscious and create works that speak to us in mysterious ways. His technique is equally impressive: he uses found objects to create elaborately detailed miniature sets and photographs them so they appear life-size. The result is a collection of images that are realistic from far away and surreal upon closer inspection.

Automaton #06, 2010 © Paolo Ventura. Courtesy of the artist and Hasted Kraeutler Gallery

Ventura was affected by the fantastical stories his father, who was a children’s book author, used to tell him and his brothers. His Automaton  series is based on one of his father’s many stories. It’s set in 1943 in Venice, when most of the Jews have escaped, leaving the ghetto empty. An old watchmaker who has lived in the city all his life decides to create an automaton to keep him company in this dark time. Paolo Ventura’s Venice is foggy and foreboding, with dark reflective water in the canals and buildings in muted colors. Though the story is fictional, it resonates with a dark truth about the reality of Italy during the war, and about the way human resilience enables us to continue living in the face of tragedy, or perhaps, the denial necessary to endure. The series was shown at the Venice Biennale in 2011, and a selection of the Automaton photographs will be displayed at the Italian Academy.

Winter Stories #06, 2007 © Paolo Ventura. Courtesy of the artist and Hasted Kraeutler Gallery

Also featured are selections from Paolo Ventura’s series Winter Stories, which was published by the Aperture Foundation in 2009, and Behind the Walls. The exhibition has been curated by Renato Miracco, Cultural Attaché  to the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the lead coordinator of the initiative 2013: the Year of Italian Culture in the United States.

Paolo Ventura: Selected Works
The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America
1161 Amsterdam Avenue
Opening reception: January 24, 6-8pm

Get in touch with the author @lauraitzkowitz. Follow @ItalianAcademy for updates on cultural events.