The history of the urban world through architecture and photography
Metropoli is an exhibition that takes you on a trip through time and around the world. Almost 40 years worth of works by Italian photographer Gabriele Basilico documenting the transformation of the world’s urban contemporary landscapes are now on display at Palazzo delle Esposizioni. The internationally recognized photographer focused on the city as a product of history, and using a documentary-style approach, his photographs tell the story of the relentless process of urban stratification and the relationship between man and architecture.
Gabriele Basilico graduated with an Architecture degree from Politecnico di Milano in 1973 before setting his sights on photography. Basilico’s education in architecture would play a vital role in his future career as a professional photographer, influencing his artistic vision. His research during the ’70s was focused around the industrial city of Milan, where he was born, and it wasn’t until the mid ’80s that he accepted his first international assignment in France, participating in the “Photographique de la DATAR,” project. However, it was Basilico’s work in the early ’90s in Beirut, Lebanon, a city devastated by 15 years of civil war, that gained him significant international attention.
Gabriele Basilico’s first exhibition held in Milan, titled Milan Portraits of Factories covered three years of photography, from 1978-1980. The name for this exhibition is literal. The photographs taken are of the actual buildings and rarely incorporate people, unless featured to emphasize the large scale industrial factories. In the years following, Basilico would win countless awards, including the Osella d’Oro for his collaboration with architect Stefano Boeri surveying the Italian landscape. Additionally, Basilico’s work has been covered by more than 120 different publications worldwide.
Metropoli is divided into five sections, which include photographs of major cities in Italy, France, Lebanon, Turkey, China, North America, and South America. While little description is given for each photograph, giving the art permission to speak for itself, an entire wall in the first room of the exhibit is dedicated to a timeline laying out Gabriele Basilico’s life, work, and major accomplishments in chronological order.
The diverse histories of Basilico’s subjects and the photographs he took had one main thing in common: neither were completely black and white. One section of the exhibitions, titled Beirut, puts the photographer’s 1991 black and white campaign, and the 2011 color campaign of the city together for the first time. The first campaign documented Beirut after a 15- year war, while the second told the story of the city’s reconstruction. The strong contrast between the first photographs of tired, deteriorated buildings, and the color images taken twenty years later of reconstructed neighborhoods and streets, is an immediate representation of how urban landscapes can reflect historical events played out by man.
Cities of the World is another section of the exhibition which includes a diverse compilation of Gabriele Basilico’s photographs from various locations around the world. This section of the exhibit compares the varying architectural styles of different nations, showing how contemporary urban landscapes reflect the cultures that construct them. The last section of the exhibit is dedicated entirely to Rome, where Basilico worked up until the end of his career, before he died in 2013 at the age of 68.
Metropoli is like no other exhibit I have experienced before. The abundance of photographs on display took my breath with every turn. While an exhibit this large could easily become overwhelming, curators Giovanna Calvenzi and Filippo Maggia managed to maximize the open space at Palazzo delle Esposizioni by sectioning off the work into relevant categories and minimizing the amount of text around the photographs. The decision to utilize the entrance for showcasing narrative publications of the photographer’s work, as well as provide biography information, made it possible for the landscape photography to steal the show in all the following rooms. This exhibit is truly a must-see for anyone interested in photography, architecture, city landscapes, or the evolution of urban influence.
Till June 2
Palazzo delle Esposizioni
Via Nazionale, 194
Tue-Thurs/Sun 10am-8pm, Fri-Sat 10am-10.30pm
Entry Fee €6–12.50