contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the month / March 2019

Door, NY, 1986
Betty Zanelli

Graphite, oil pastels, acrylic and newspaper on sketching paper
25 cm x 19 cm

The collage “Door, NY, 1986” by Betty Zanelli shows a door ajar. In contrast to the background, which presents the bare paper and the sketched spatial environment with black pastels, the front of the door is shaped by newspaper clippings, white and grey colour and black pastel. This gives the whole composition a great three-dimensionality. It seems that the door is swinging into the room. The crosshatched side of the door panel and the dark space behind the door underlines this effect. Interestingly, there is an oblong triangle on the upper right of the panel. It repeats the black of the background. Nevertheless, there are no edges to suggest a three-dimensionality, so that it is unclear, if the triangle indicates an opening or if it is a plane on the surface.

“Door, NY, 1986” is a preparatory sketch for a door leaf, which the artist intended to decorate. At the time before leaving Italy and also after her arrival in New York in the middle of the 1980s, Betty added supplements like painting and collages on doors she found. Often the objects recovered in Italy had ancient latches or locks with old bolts. Others were simpler and had traces of usage. Therein, they resembled the doors found in the decrepit streets of Alphabet City, at this time an impoverished quarter in the East Village of New York. All these doors had their story to recount. Deprived of their original function, they were witnesses of a passed time. To bring them into dialogue with the present, the artist added her elements.

These doors were exhibited in shows in Italy and the US. However, they were no longer in their former context. There were no doorframes; neither hinges to allow an opening or closing, only the pure door leafs. They became artworks with an interchange between history and contemporaneity. In contrast, the sketch shows the door still in its function, since Betty integrated it into an imaginary room. Therefore, the preparatory study could be seen as an independent artwork.

The sketch shows the door leaf without handle and look. At the modelled surface, nothing refers to the origin. Imagined without the suggested environment, the executed oeuvre could be simply a collage on a wooden panel. Though the partly readable newspaper clippings, perhaps indicate a story. With a closer look, one could identify words like “job”, “attrition”, “time”, which remind a little bit the provenance of the panel as a functional element. Nonetheless, the text fades away under the pasty applied colour, as the past disappears in the mist of time. Only the black triangle permits a clear outlook, but it ends in a dark nowhere. In the centre of the plane, as upper layer there is a figure by black pastel. It might be an asemic writing, indecipherable like the present sometimes is, without a broader perspective to history.


Betty Zanelli

Born in Bologna, Italy, Betty currently works as visual artist and professor for fashion design in her hometown. After her painting studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts) in Bologna, she moved to New York in the 1980s, where she lived for eight years. Here she investigated in various media starting from painting through photography to installations. She often included found objects in her works.

Despite all the new influences in a different environment, Betty continued with her project of doors she found, started already in Italy. In 1985, she had the exhibition “Apparenze/Appearances” at the “Studio Mascarella” in Bologna, where she presented ancient doors, with artistic supplements like paintings and collages. A few months later, in January 1986, new old doors were on view at the P.S. 122 Art Gallery, East Village, New York. Even afterwards, she continued with the subject. An example is the preparatory sketch “Door, NY, 1986” made in summer 1986. This oeuvre is our artwork of the month / March 2019.

In the first half of the 1990s, Betty participated in the Project Studio Space Program, offered by her first American exhibitor, the P.S. 122 Art Gallery. During this time, she presented her works in several personal and group exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles. Returning to her home country, she continued her artistic researches and placed her works regularly in artistic shows in Italy and abroad, mainly in Berlin, London, Rome and Bologna.

Starting in 2000, Betty approached digital photography and digital print. Here she focused on popular iconography and pop culture, with a special attention on childhood. In 2011, during a period of research in Berlin, the artist discovered the Spreepark, the former DDR Kulturpark (the only permanent amusement park of the GDR). Deserted after several initiatives of revitalization, at the time there were still some of the old structures, struggling against the decay and the re-conquest by the nature. During two artist residencies in 2014 and 2015 at the Berlin based “Institut für Alles Mögliche”, she could deepen her research on inconsistent aspects in urban spaces and her particular interest on abandoned spaces of entertainment like amusement parks. Here she completed her shoots of the Spreepark series, from which our Artwork of the Month / April 2016 is taken.

Since 2017, Betty works on her Transboundary-Project, at first glance a documentation about migratory movements of birds of passage. Nevertheless, it is also about human migration and visible and invisible borders. Varying installations of the project were displayed at the Büro für Bestimmte Dinge, Berlin (2017), at the Biennale Disegno di Rimini (2018) and at the Cobalto Lab (2019).