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The real and the surreal: in conversation with Alexandra Mazzanti

The real and the surreal: in conversation with Alexandra Mazzanti

The Dorothy Circus gallery opened late last year in London. The first gallery venture outside of her native Italy for owner Alexandra Mazzanti and her mother Maddalena di Giacomo, it is the first centre for Italian contemporary art which focuses on Pop, Neo-surrealism and on new expressions of figurative art. 

But are pop and surrealist art still important and critically valid, or are they part of an era that is now over? Is there still a market for these forms of expression? Alexandra gave us her thoughts.

Dorothy Circus launched 12 years ago in Rome to "allow the contemporary Italian art scene to recognise [surrealist] artists". Was/is the Italian art scene too dismissive of surrealist – and perhaps all "non-mainstream" art – and how does this attitude differ in the UK?

AM: Coming from years of abstractionism, the Italian art scene has often paid little attention to diverse but thriving contemporary movements. When opening the first gallery in Rome, the aim was to focus on the new tendencies of figurative art, and showcase both international and Italian artists of the surrealism and pop surrealism movement, but not only that. In the last 12 years, I have witnessed an important change that concerns all contemporary art rather than just surrealism. More specifically, Pop Surrealism led to a return of figurative codes and to a rediscovery of refined techniques, influencing a large number of contemporary artist across all field. It has somehow freed a surreal and visionary soul, for a long time dormant by a conceptual critique.

There were many very talented artists that did not get the attention they deserved, and I think I played a small part in offering the opportunity to showcase their art on new stages and to distinguish themselves for their originality.

The art scene in London is thriving and there is a lot going on everyday. London has a very distinctive international vibe, more than Rome, and this makes the city and its international citizens particularly avant-garde. We receive a lot of collectors and visitors that have come from abroad specifically to visit the gallery. I decided to open in London to continue reaching new audiences, delivering thought-provoking exhibition, and introducing the New Surrealism and Magic Realism as well as digital art, the strongest movements derived from the American Pop Surrealism.

What is so appealing to you regarding the contemporary surrealist art scene in general?

AM: What appeals to me the most is the iconography, symbology and the emotional introspection of this movement. Each artist delicately accompanies us on a journey to discover our soul, our hidden emotions, and our dormant imagination. As a fan of Watteau and Fragonard, Lancret and Bouguerau, I fell in love with Ray Caesar's works and his modern tailored panneggio, while Joe Sorren's emotional brushes remind me a lot of the Impressionists. Again, Marion Peck's art, strongly influenced by the Renaissance masters, drives me into another wonderful world, full of solitude and a detachment from the reality. Pop Surrealism is an anti-conformist movement that strongly takes into consideration the history of art, our past, and our traditions, while drawing its inspiration from dreams, myths and the subconscious.

Given how surreal the world seems to be at the moment, where is surrealist art going in the next decade, do you think?

AM: Looking at what is happening around the world and at specifically at the art fairs, I can say that that New Figurative Art (including Pop Surrealism and New Surrealism as well as street art) is the the only movement that best reflects and represents our contemporaneity, as it is not elitist. It is very close to the public and speaks for everyone. For instance, looking at the last edition of Frieze London, artists such as Os Gemeos and Have Kahraman have received a great feedback and they were among the most photographed and admire artist of the fair. Other artists such as the Iranian Surrealist artist Afarin Sajedi, the street artists Seth and Millo, and the Japanese Hikari Shimoda, all deal with important thematics that characterise our contemporary society and that is widely reflected in their works.

Has contemporary digital technology opened up new possibilities for surrealism and if so how?

AM: I don't think so. Our artist are still strongly tied to traditional techniques.

How should, or do, contemporary surrealist artists escape from the long shadow of Dali?

AM: Although Pop Surrealism and the New Surrealism are similar, terminologically speaking, to the Surrealism movement, they have magic elements that distinguish them from original avant-garde movement of the early 20th century, both in form and in content. The Pop and New Surrealism movement draws not only from the human mind and the subconscious but also from our society and from anthropologic research.

What are the challenges in exhibiting and collecting surrealist art, in your view?

AM: As with any avant-garde movement, there is always a rupture point at the beginning that generates a lot of challenges in terms of initial recognition and acceptance from those who wish to maintain the status quo. However, the prime movers of the New Surrealism movement have anticipated an artistic tendency that has expanded in time to all contemporary art. We are talking about a return to the figurative, to elaborate techniques, and to harmonious compositions. During the last decade, I witness the global expansion of the surreal language, that has reached the Far East and merged with the oriental surrealism of key artists such as Yoshimoto Nara. I saw the street art and digital art movements developing a new and contemporary figurative language, that is spreading across all fields the fields of photograph, design, and most importantly fashion.

In terms of collecting, many are turning to the Pop and New Surrealism for its universal messages and its ability to engage with everyone. Among the supporters of the artists of the Pop Surrealist movement there are famous names such as Moby, Madonna, Mark Parker, Guillermo Del Toro, and many other celebrities.

The Dorothy Circus Gallery is based in London and Rome. The London gallery, just north of Hyde Park, is currently exhibiting works by Iranian artist Afarin Sajedi. For further information, visit the Dorothy Circus website or @dorothycircus.

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