Benrubi Gallery 
New York, NY, USA
20 April  – 17 June 2017

The  subject  of  Vitali’s  latest  exhibition  is  the  intersection  of  land  and  sea,  the  end  of  the terrestrial  human  habitat  and  the  beginning  of  the  aqueous.  As  is  usual  for  Vitali,  the pictures  are  heavily  populated  and  feature  an  elevated,  distant  perspective  that  captures thousands of square meters in the frame, simultaneously magnifying the grandness of the landscape  and  multiplying  the  human  presence.  These  are  landscapes,  but  they’re  also crowd scenes. Individuality is less important than the tribe, and the very idea of the frame is threatened by the enormity of the scenes they attempt to contain.

The tension between human habitat and the natural world is always present in Vitali’s work, yet  is  even  more  emphasized  in  the  current  pictures.  In  one,  the  massive  Praia  da  Torre Fortress  shadows  a  beach  in  Portugal;  in  another,  the  Praia  do  Moinho  juts  out  into  the water,  less  protective  than  glowering—though  whether  it  menaces  the  ocean  or  the swimmers depends on your point of view. Concrete pools box off becalmed sections of water from  adjacent  rivers  and  seas,  or  a  concrete  pier  juts  out  beyond  a  beach,  its  hard rectangular lines in unavoidable contrast—conflict?—with the sinews of sand and surf. What land  is  visible  is  often  sere  and  forbidding:  rock  cliffs  in  which  wispy  shrugs  have  taken tentative hold, gravelly beaches, lumpy hills covered in dry grass.

It takes an act of will to turn these environments into playgrounds. And indeed, though some of  Vitali’s  human  subjects  revel  in  the  surroundings—a  girl  turns  a  cartwheel  here,  a  boy goes for a cannonball there—many of the human players stand with their gaze aimed at the horizon as if keeping watch, for a storm, maybe, or a shark fin. Then, too, this is the coast along which more than a million Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi refugees first arrived in Europe—not all of them alive. The refugees aren’t on your mind when you first look at the pictures,
but  once  you  think  of  them  you  can’t  stop  looking  for  them  just  beyond  the  edge  of  the frame.

And as in so many Vitali pictures, there are always one or two people regarding the camera. In  some  cases  the  gaze  is  quizzical,  if  not  downright  suspicious;  in  others,  it’s  self consciously boastful, as if subjects were bombing a gigantic selfie. Their gaze reinforces our sense of ourselves as voyeurs, but the smallness of each individual face amidst the vast sea emboldens us to step a little closer, stare a little harder. There is always an imminence in these vast scenes, as if, if the beach goers wait long enough, something will happen. Yet the
swimming  and  sunbathing  and  standing  around  are  all  that  ever  happens,  and  one  can almost  see  the  relief  in  the  faces  of  those  who  are  packing  up  or  showering  off  in preparation to leave. Yet somehow one knows they’ll be back tomorrow.

Massimo  Vitali  (born  in  Como,  Italy,  1944)  studied  photography  at  the  London  College  of Printing.  He  worked  as  a  photojournalist  in  the  1970s,  but  at  the  beginning  of  the  80s  a growing mistrust in the belief that photography had an absolute capacity to reproduce the subtleties of reality led to a change in his career path. He began working as a movie camera operator,  before beginning a fine-art practice in 1995.

Vitali’s work  has been collected in four  monographs:  Beach  and  Disco, Natural  Habitats,  Landscapes  With  Figures,  and Landscapes  With  Figures  2.  His  photographs  have  been  published  in  magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals around the world. Additionally, his work is represented in the  world’s  major  museums,  including  the Centro  de  Arte  Reina  Sofia in Madrid, the Guggenheim  Museum in New  York,  the  Museum  of Contemporary  Art  in Denver,  the Fond  National  Art  Contemporaine  in Paris,  the Centre  Pompidou in  Paris,  the  Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, the Fondation Cartier in Paris, and the Museo Luigi Pecci in Prato.