At Home With the Curator Championing a New Generation of Italian Artists

 

TALIAN DESIGN HAS rarely been a fount of wit. Often rendered in stone, steel or polished wood, it tends to embody understatement — minimalist geometry nodding toward classical proportion. Not since the Memphis Group in the 1980s have Italian designers been considered playful.

The opposite is true, however, of the country’s contemporary art scene, centered in Milan, which has long reveled in daftness and satire. The landscape is dominated by merry pranksters with a Dadaist bent, including its chief provocateur Maurizio Cattelan, 58, whose puckish work includes “La Nona Ora” (1999), a sculpture-cum-installation of a lifelike, full-size Pope John Paul II felled by a meteorite, and “Daddy, Daddy” (2008), in which a Pinocchio puppet floats face down, presumably drowned, in a fountain. The multimedia and video artist Francesco Vezzoli, 47, is also a lodestar, known for his elaborately embroidered portraits of movie stars with metallic-threaded tears flowing from their eyes, evoking both Cindy Sherman and children’s paint by numbers.