The City of Ravenna–Department of Culture and MAR – Art Museum of the city of Ravenna, present the exhibition entitled Oliviero Toscani. Più di 50 anni di magnifici fallimenti (Oliviero Toscani. Over 50 Years of Marvellous Failures) curated by Nicolas Ballario and organized by Arthemisia.
Running from 14 April through to 30 June 2019, the exhibition celebrates Oliviero Toscani’s career and creative power with over 100 of his most famous photographs.
With his photos, Toscani prompted the world to address issues such as racism, death penalty, AIDS, and war. Works on display include the famous Priest and Nun Kissing (1992), the Three Hearts, White/Black/Yellow (1996), No-Anorexia (2007), and many more.
The display also includes projects related to the world of fashion, an industry which Oliviero Toscani contributed to change radically, from the famous images of Donna Jordan and Monica Bellucci, to his portraits of Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, Carmelo Bene, Federico Fellini and some of the greatest protagonists of international culture since the 1970s.
Sky Arte and Rolling Stone are media partners of the exhibition.
Over 50 Years of Marvellous Failures is the title of the exhibition at MAR dedicated to Oliviero Toscani’s work. Those who know him, know that failure for Toscani is a viewpoint, an encouragement to never stop and to challenge every limit. The exhibition, including almost 150 photographs, is structured around a central selection of 100 small format photos that illustrate Toscani’s career complemented by two separate additional sections entitled Human Race Project and New York Focus.
The central section of the exhibitionprovides a summary of the many fields explored by Oliviero Toscani throughout his career. Born in Milan in 1942, he is the son of a photographer – his father Fedele was in fact the first photo-reporter of the Corriere della Sera newspaper. His father, his sister, and his brother in law Aldo Ballo (the most established photographer of Milanese design) encouraged him to study and seriously cultivate his dream of becoming a great photographer. At that time, the best school was the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, run by Johannes Itten – the Bauhaus master of colour – with courses held by some of the world’s leading graphic designers and photographers. Here Toscani familiarized himself with colour, technique and composition theories.
It was at this stage that young twenty-one-year-old Toscani took photos of Don Lorenzo Milani in his school in Barbiana
After graduating in May 1965, he was able to finally initiate what would turn out to be a brilliant career. Those were rebellious years, the years of the Beatles and of the Rolling Stones, of Mary Quant’s miniskirts, of the students’ protests. Toscani captured those moments with his camera without missing out on any of the key events of his generation.
He was at the Velodromo Vigorelli when the Beatles came to Milan during their only Italian tour. With his Gengis Khan moustache, beatnik ankle boots, and long hair, it wasn’t long before Toscani made a name for himself as one of the world’s most popular magazine photographers. In the early 1970s he decided to move to New York.
His first great scandal was in 1973: a close up of Donna Jordan’s backside clad in a pair of Jesus hot pants with the claim “Chi mi ama mi segua” (Those who love me must follow me). The poster caused a stir as no other advertising poster had ever done before. Pier Paolo Pasolini on the first page of the Corriere della Sera admonished the falsely moralistic comments about the advert underlining how that picture represented something new, an exception to the fixed slogan template, disclosing unexpected expressive possibilities. Oliviero Toscani and his photos had become internationally famous.
During the 1970s he was a driving force of some of the world’s greatest magazines and brands: Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, Elle. And then Missoni, Valentino, Armani, Esprit, Prenatal, Chanel and especially Elio Fiorucci, the true fashion innovator, with whom Toscani established a strong collaboration and cultivated a great friendship.
The year that changed the world of communication was 1982, when Toscani started signing the campaigns for Benetton, creating a series of iconic photographs. The United Colors of Benetton brand was invented – that small green rectangle appearing on the photos that would unsettle consciences around the world. Toscani revolutionised the meaning of fashion photography using the Benetton campaigns to address issues such as racism, hunger and malnutrition, AIDS, religion, war, violence, sex, and death penalty.
In those years, he was harshly criticised, accused of using serious issues as a way to advertise sweaters. It was the exact opposite: Toscani used advertising to address serious and urgent matters.
Even after his collaboration with Benetton was over, he continued working on “advert scandals”: he urged discussion on same-sex marriage, for instance, basing an important campaign on photos of two gay partners sitting on a divan displaying their affection or busy pushing a pram.
In 2007, he violently shook the fashion system presenting a campaign during the Milan fashion week with photos of a nude anorexic girl, showing the devastating effects of this illness which fashion houses exploit.
In 2018 he went back to directing FABRICA, the communication research centre he had founded with Luciano Benetton almost 30 years before. The exhibition also includes the close up portrait of the African man with eyes of two different colours, the photo Toscani used to launch his research centre. That is the image that inspired David Bowie to write his song Black Tie, White Noise.
In 2007 Toscani initiated the Human Race project taking pictures of people he met along the streets and in squares around the world, portraying them in his travelling photo set. Achille Bonito Oliva’s words might be the key to interpret the true meaning of this great project: “In Human Race, an endless gallery of portraits of a diverse and anonymous humanity, the photos are not casual or instantaneous, they are not the result of an elementary duplication, but a staging that complicates and makes ambiguous the realty they have been taken from. Human Race is after all the work of a collective subject, Oliviero Toscani’s studio, a special guest invited to the reality of homologation and globalization. With its frontal vision, this project delivers an infinite gallery of portraits that confirms the role of art and of photography: representing the importance of the coexistence of differences.”
FOCUS ON NEW YORK
In the early 1970s, Toscani decided to move to New York, and chose a very special place to live: for some time he in fact resided at the Chelsea Hotel, the very heart of the Big Apple’s underground culture. Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop and Sam Shepard, Tom Waits and Robert Mapplethorpe all lived there at different stages. And the Chelsea Hotel was also where the lifeless body of Nancy Spungen was found – a tragic event that led to Sid Vicious’ arrest for murder.
In those years, Toscani had a relationship with the model Donna Jordan and frequented Andy Warhol’s Factory. The artist was in fact a friend of Toscani’s and posed in some of his photos. Toscani was a regular at Max Kansas City and at Club 57 and captured all the protagonists of the music and art scene of the time including Mick Jagger, Joe Cocker, Alice Cooper, and Lou Reed who even chose one of Toscani’s pictures for an album released in 1974.
Toscani already had an incredible flair for spotting talent and was the first to offer magazines pictures of Patti Smith, an unknown girl who had only just moved to New York.
The exhibition also includes three videos: the No-Anorexia documentary made on the occasion of the 2008 campaign; WART, an impactful sequence of pictures describing the connection between war and art, beauty and tragedy; and the Oliviero Toscani episode from the SkyArteHD series dedicated to photographers.
Oliviero Toscani was born in Milan in 1942 and studied photography and graphic design at the Zurich Kunstgewerbeschule from 1961 to 1965. He is known internationally for having been the creative force of some of the world’s most famous magazines and brands, and as the author of unique corporate images and advertising campaigns.
His latest projects include collaborations with the Italian Red Cross, the Istituto Superiore della Sanità (the Italian National Health Institute), the UN Refugee Agency, and has recently signed a number of campaigns promoting safety on the streets, raising awareness on anorexia and denouncing violence against women.
After over five decades of editorial innovation, advertising, films and television, Oliviero Toscani is now working on creative communication applied to different media, creating editorial projects, books, TV programmes, exhibitions, displays and workshops with his studio and with Fabrica.