F Taylor Colantonio’s Solo Show in Venice Makes You Feel Like You’re in an Underwater Grotto

To enter F Taylor Colantonio’s show Frutti di Mare (literally, fruit of the sea) is to be submerged in an otherworldly environment, a kind of aquatic grotto where things are fluid and surreal. Glowing forms that have a rippling effect, as if underwater; vessels that feel like remnants of an ancient civilization or like they landed here long ago from outer space. It’s Colantonio’s solo debut with the roving gallery Object & Thing, in partnership with D.H. Office. Curated by Abby Bangser, Object & Thing’s founder and creative director, the exhibition coincides with the Venice Biennale and features 11 new sculptures by the American artist, who is based in Rome.

Materially, these pieces incorporate patinated and unpatinated bronze and, in a first for Colantonio, fused glass. But what gives Colantonio’s work its distinctive character is cartapesta — a form of papier-mâché that dates to 17th-century Lecce, Italy — which Colantonio polishes. It’s a technique he developed and has been exploring for over a decade. (Colantonio received his MFA in furniture design from RISD in 2013). What results is almost ceramic or stone-like, and in that way, this show is site-specific: on display in a former Venetian mirror workshop, these materials and forms echo the marble-clad facades, terrazzo floors, and Byzantine mosaics of Venice, along with the city’s canals. One of the works is a bronze gondola chair, You will dance with me in the sunlit pools, produced in a limited edition of eight. (The poetic title is also a lyric from Kate Bush’s “Jig of Life” – the line that follows is “We are of the going water and the gone.”)

In addition to sea life and the architecture of Venice, the themes and references here range from the cosmological to the mythological. Fishhead Nebula, on the ceiling, is polished cartapesta, glass, and silk, conjuring the depths and mystery of both the sea and the universe. A pair of lamps entitled The Spoil of a Coral Flowered Cave wave like a kind of marine plant growing from ocean floor with shell-like shades that seem to be aflame. A mirror framed in polished cartapesta is fittingly called Narciso Marino. And Tesoro Mio, a large, tiled amphora, has handles in the shape of ammonites, the mollusks that died out 66 million years ago and whose spiraling fossils have carried potent symbolism since ancient times. It’s Colantonio’s most personal work, featuring samples of his polished cartapesta inlaid in a dark gray layer made from the dust byproduct Colantonio accumulated in the process of grinding and polishing over 80 works he’s made since moving to his current studio in Rome in 2019.

Frutti di Mare is on view through June 24.

Photos by Enrico Fiorese