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Lorenzo Marini Alphacube, 2019, portrait interior view. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The A-B-C’s of Immersive Art

“It’s time to celebrate the beauty of every individual letter, to discover the architecture of spaces and to contemplate the dynamic geometry of these everyday signs. It’s time to take away the intrinsic function of type and to shift attention to the aesthetic dimension.” — Lorenzo Marini

All of us have a set of expectations that arise when we contemplate entering a traditional art gallery. We enter a space, often cube-shaped, with interior white walls. Within the space there may be sculptural objects on the floor, which we can walk around to view from several perspectives. There may be pieces hanging on the walls, which invite us to look from afar, then up close, then back away again to see how the composition and distance play with our perceptions. Sometimes, the walls of the gallery itself form the boundaries of a work of  installation art, allowing us to walk inside the actual work.

Lorenzo Marini, an Italian artist who lives and works in Milan, Los Angeles and New York, has come upon the perfect vehicle to challenge our preconceptions about how we view art and even the space in which it is presented. “Alphacube,” his most recent large-scale work, flips the script the moment we enter the gallery, a space often resembling a white cube. How? We walk in and we see…another white cube!

While Marini is best known for colorful, energetic artworks based on letters of the alphabet, this placing of a structure, within a structure that it echoes,  not so much of a departure as it might seem. Marini, who attended the Academia di Belle Arte in Venice and studied under Emilio Vedova, the most prominent painter of “Arte Informale,” actually received his  degree in architecture. He also has had a successful career in advertising, and all his specialties are employed to marvelous effect in “Alphacube.” In some cases a cube within the cube would be the entire statement of a work of art,  but Lorenzo Marini is definitely not a minimalist…

There is a doorway in one of the cube’s walls that admits the viewer into the world of Marini’s favorite subject, the alphabet. Entering, you are surrounded…the 4 walls, ceiling and floors are covered in a grid of letters, not simply type, but shapes and styles of letters expressed in objects, both abstract and realistic.  Square after square of myriad colors and multiple levels of meaning, carry you as a graphic stream of consciousness, created by a master of visual enchantment.

As one who knows it so well, Lorenzo Marini’s practice is to show us our visual culture reverted to its elements and honoring its origins, in this case choosing to envelop us in it altogether. The magic of this piece is that it allows us to explore at every level — the vertiginous impact of being in the space, the graphic composition of each section of the work, and the semiotic implications of each individual letterform — all at once or one at a time. Sound completes the encompassing effect.

“Alphacube” can be said to be the culmination of Marini’s decades-long exploration of  letters — and sometimes the words they spell and the images these evoke —  in fine art. He has played with forming them on flat substrates as well as re-imagining letters as colorful Plexiglas cubes. Often his result reflects the use of letters in popular culture, echoing his understanding of how people relate to visual content. “Alphacube” literally adds another dimension, its  architectural quality bringing human interaction into the work itself, from the inside out. 

Naturally, the real alchemy of immersive art  happens when it interacts with people, and it is having a chance to do just that! “Alphacube” has had successful exhibitions in Milan, Dubai and Los Angeles. The LA Art Show provided the best showcase for the magnetism of the work. Presented in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles and as a preview of an exhibition curated by Peter Frank that will open at the IIC on April 21, as well in conjunction with a show at the Bruce Lurie Gallery, it was one the most popular, and, on social media, most widely shared, works in the entire show.

Visitors were captivated by the opportunity to escape into the world inside the cube, and there were long lines just to enter. And it’s not surprising, because part of each of us is still like a small child who likes to play inside a box, pretend it is our world for a while, and explore imaginary places filled with color, light and wonder. For a few moments, that many could not resist capturing in photos, they were able to step out of their day and simply “live” the art.

Over the centuries, the definition of art has evolved along with the changing world it has depicted and the shifting context of how humans experience visual creation. The 21st Century is an age of increased technical possibility in terms of materials and modalities, and expanding opportunities for people to participate in and share that experience. In addressing how to explore today’s options and engage its audience, “Alphacube”  demonstrates that Lorenzo Marini is up to the challenge.

— Linda DiGusta

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