Emilio Isgrò. Ulysses

From 18 November 2023 to 16 March 2024, M77 in Milan is hosting a new and unprecedented installation by Emilio Isgrò, custom-designed as site specific to the Milanese gallery venue.

The artist’s work, which develops to occupy the two floors of the building in via Mecenate 77, revolves around the figure of Ulysses.

This is not the first time that Emilio Isgrò has related to the heroes, the legends and the myths of antiquity. Born in the Sicilian Magna Grecia, Isgrò has often explored the artistic and cultural output of Greek and Roman heritage in order to create works of contemporary art with the potential to interpret the present while observing the past.

One example is his recent undertaking in Brescia, where he drew inspiration for his work from the Winged Victory, a classical-era sculpture of primary significance and a symbol of the city, as a prelude to the major exhibition held in the locations reminiscent of Brescia’s Roman origins, from the archaeological park to the Museum of Santa Giulia and from the Capitolium to the Roman Theatre.

Nor has the artist’s literary output failed to be influenced by the classics: it was between 1983 and 1985, when his L’Orestea di Gibellina was performed on the ruins of the village eradicated by an earthquake, that he achieved one of the pinnacles of his creative career.

For this new and much-anticipated event, Emilio Isgrò started from the tradition established by Homer to pursue the myth of Ulysses, progressing to represent the hero who symbolises the human thirst for knowledge and tireless drive depicted by Dante in the Divine Comedy, then to the psychoanalytical angle adopted in the early twentieth century by James Joyce, before culminating with the main character in Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, Captain Ahab, who is treated as a latter-day reincarnation of Ulysses.

Curated by Claire Gilman, Chief Curator of The Drawing Center in New York, in collaboration with the Emilio Isgrò Archive, the exhibition Ulysses starts on the gallery’s ground floor, where an uncompromisingly white environment houses a collection of historical works, such as Dichiaro di non essere Emilio Isgrò  (1971), a conceptual self-portrait in seven elements, comprising seven sheets of paper on which the artist and the members of his family repeatedly deny his identity that, in addition to representing the spark that sets off the exhibition, reveals a direct link to Homer’s hero. “I drew my inspiration from Ulysses,” confirms Isgrò, “from the cunning he employed to deceive Polyphemus: ‘What is your name?’. ‘My name is Nobody!’”.

The visit continues with erased maps of the Aegean sea, the sea around the islands of Lipari and the Mediterranean basin, a clear reference to the theme of travel, with a planetarium suspended from the ceiling featuring eight erased globes and, for the first time, the eight volumes of the erased Odyssey (1968).

Moving up to the first floor, the installation culminates in the erasures painted in negative (grey on a black background) directly on the four walls, dedicated to Herman Melville’s masterpiece.

The quotations from Moby Dick dialogue with three pedestals placed in the centre of the room, where they support respectively the Canto XXVI of Dante’s Inferno, James Joyces’ Ulysses and the American author’s novel.

The exhibition ends with the pictogram of the whale’s tail from Moby Dick, which has been chosen as the event’s guiding image.

“A true polymath, Emilio Isgrò single-handedly created a new genre of art when he combined language and visual form in his erased artworks, termed cancellature, in the early sixties,” explains the curator Claire Gilman. “Ulysses represents the culmination of Isgrò’s longstanding commitment to retrieving the value of the word in an image-saturated culture as he applies his signature technique to the story of Ulysses, the epic tale of human resilience and the unquenchable thirst for knowledge.”


Claire Gilman


18/11/2023 -