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TURIN, Italy — A new exhibit at the Pinacoteca Gianni e Marella Agnelli introduces visitors to Mario Testino’s private collection of artwork: a plethora of images that inspire the Peruvian photographer and that will be on display through Sept. 14. Dubbed “Somos Libres II,” the exhibition explores the idea of creative freedom and the synergy between art and photography.
The gallery’s president Ginevra Elkann said the idea to bring Testino’s collection to Turin came about when she visited his home in London and stumbled upon a portrait of her grandmother, Marella Agnelli. “From there, I saw the rest of his collection, a truly beautiful collection, very strong and very representative of him and of his work,” she said, adding it was exactly the sort of original perspective the gallery always seeks. The Pinacoteca Gianni e Marella Agnelli is housed in a futuristic space designed by Renzo Piano atop Turin’s first major Fiat car factory, overlooking the Alps, and contains the Agnellis’ own private collection of art in addition to various temporary exhibits.
In an interview at the inauguration of the exhibition, Testino said he was fascinated by the overlap between photography and fine art, and that truly interesting images go beyond the people or objects they depict. “It’s to do a lot with layers…. There’s a difference between a photographer that documents something that exists, and a photographer that documents an idea,” he said.
Curator Neville Wakefield noted that “unlike many collections that are about collecting trophies,” Testino has resolutely focused on “living with his art.” Hence several of Testino’s photographs appear on large glass panels, with works he has acquired hanging on top of them. In a separate area, a sizeable cluster of paintings hints at the influence of photography on that medium. For instance, a highly realistic oil painting by Kehinde Wiley, “St. Francis” (2007), portrays a young black man in athletic gear, posing in a manner reminiscent of Renaissance portraits, and presented in a rich, golden frame. “He’s shifting our own values, and making us think: ‘Well, should I be looking at this like this or not?’” Testino said, adding: “I like those people that make you look twice. It could be considered garish, and it could be considered amazing. I like the thin line between good taste and bad taste, elegance and [the lack thereof].”
Other paintings on display included Cris Brodahl’s oil on acrylic “Major Tom” (2008); Nigel Cooke’s oil on canvas “Scandalous Magic Par Excellence (with Iggy Pop”) (2001); Katy Moran’s acrylic on canvas “Sick Boy” (2006) and Elizabeth Peyton’s oil on medium-density fiberboard panel “Birthday (Tony)” (2000).
“A good picture can be aesthetically pleasing, which is one reason why you would go for [it], but then there is a picture that will make you discover and go on discovering things with other meanings…. In general, things that make you change the way you think, make you grow,” Testino said, noting that he sometimes deliberately chooses pictures that make him uncomfortable. To wit, some of the pictures in “Somos Libres II” are violent and disturbing, such as Larry Clark’s “Brother and Sister” (1973) and “They met a girl on acid in Bryant Park at 6 am and took her home” (1980): The first shows an aroused naked man pointing a gun at a naked woman bound with rope, and the second shows the gang rape of a drugged young woman. “Larry Clark to me opened my limits a lot, because I was shocked when I saw those pictures,” Testino said. “I was almost embarrassed to be looking at them at the time, I was embarrassed to own them but I had to buy them, and then I would never hang them in my house because I was worried that my mother, or my sister’s children would see them.”
The exhibition also features numerous photographic portraits: Andy Warhol’s “Self-Portrait in Drag” (1979), “Mick Jagger” (1975), “Marella Agnelli” (1973) and Farrah Fawcett (1986), as well as a black-and-white shot of Claudia Schiffer by Herb Ritts, another of Elizabeth Taylor shot by the actor Yul Brynner, and a picture of Babe Paley by Horst P. Horst.
In 2013, Testino showcased “Somos Libres,” at the Asociación Mario Testino (MATE) in Lima, Peru, with special emphasis on Peruvian works. The exhibition is expected to travel to other cities in the future.