Gianni Dessì was born in Rome in 1955. He went to art school in Rome and then to the Academy of Fine Arts where in 1976 he graduated under Toti Scialoja. From 1975 to 1977 he collaborated with Giorgio Barberio Corsetti, whom he had met at the academy, and with “La Gaia Scienza” theatre group which Corsetti had founded in the same period with Marco Solari and Alessandra Vanzi. Dessì realized a series of interventions for several shows: La Gaia Scienza in 1975, La rivolta degli oggetti da V. Maiakovskij in 1976, and Cronache marziane in 1977.
In 1977 for the first time he publicly showed a work of his as part of the theatrical season Le iniziative di ii, organized by the “Beat 72” cultural association. For this exhibition he created an itinerary along the tunnel of the San Pietro station in Rome where the visitor was invited to make out various brief texts following a route marked out by rays of blue light.
The next year he exhibited for the first time in the Galleria Ugo Ferranti in Rome: a group show together with Bruno Ceccobelli, Giuseppe Gallo, Angelo Ségneri, and Francesca Woodman. For this event Dessì presented a work called Penetrazioni (I quattro sensi) which also underlined the artist’s deep interest for the space. In fact the work consisted of four fragments of paper placed on the wall in such a way as to indicate four possible yet different directions (up, down, right, left) through marks of different media: pencil or shapes made from iron wires. In 1979, the same year that he held his first solo show organized by Ugo Ferranti at the Bologna art fair, he also realized a work in a country house in Bistrica ob Sotli, Slovenia. With the use of different materials and techniques he intervened inside one of the rooms of the building in order to change normal perception and to guide the viewer’s eye along an itinerary shifting in and out of the room. In 1980 he held three solo shows, one in the Galleria Ugo Ferranti’s in Rome and the other two abroad: in the Galerie Swart, Amsterdam, at the beginning of the year, and in the Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris, in autumn. In the same period Dessì moved from his studio in Vicolo della Renella, Trastevere, – which, during his time at the academy, he had shared with Bruno Ceccobelli, Domenico Bianchi and, later on, Roberto Pace – and took over a new one in the abandoned Cerere pasta factory in the Roman San Lorenzo neighbourhood; this soon to became a lively cultural centre both in the city and at the international level. Here, in 1984, Achille Bonito Oliva curated the show Ateliers, for this event Domenico Bianchi, Bruno Ceccobelli, Giuseppe Gallo, Nunzio, Pizzi Cannella, Tirelli, and Dessì opened their studios to the public.
In the meanwhile he was holding more exhibitions in both Europe and the United States. He had solo shows in the Galerie Swart, Amsterdam in 1981; the Galleria Ugo Ferranti, Rome, in 1982; the Galerie Folker Skulima, Berlin, in 1982, 1985, and in 1987; Salvatore Ala , Milano, New York in 1983 and 1984, Gian Enzo Sperone, Rome, in 1985, 1986, and 1989, and in the New York venue of the same gallery, the Sperone Westwater, in 1985, 1987, and 1991; the Galerie Triebold,Basel, in 1989; and the L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice (California), in 1989.
Among group shows he attended should be mentioned: Italiana. Nuova immagine, curated by Achille Bonito Oliva and held in Ravenna in 1980, as well as Artemisia held in the Galleria Ugo Ferranti in the same year; the 1981 show devoted to the work of Bianchi, Ceccobelli, Dessì, Gallo in the Groninger Museum, Groningen, and the XVI Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil; the XIIe Biennale de Paris, in 1982; An International Survey of Recent Painting, MoMA, New York, in 1984; L’Italie aujourd’hui in the Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Nice, in 1985; Nuove trame dell’arte at Castello Colonna, Genazzano; and Anniottanta in Bologna, Imola, Ravenna, and Rimini; Bianchi, Ceccobelli, Dessì, Gallo in Riverside Studios, London, in 1986; and, in 1988 the exhibitions Trait d’union, Villa Medici, Rome, and Dal ritorno all’ordine al richiamo della pittura in the Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo. He also participated in the 1984 and 1988 Venice Biennales, and in the 1986 Rome Quadrennial.
For his solo shows at the beginning of the ’80s Dessì created large-scale works on canvas painted in a sober range of colours, with just a few variations of black and white, but with a wide variety of interventions on the canvas. With their lacerations, incisions (Pictor pinxit, 1984), the superimposition of planes, the insertion of material (Elegia, 1983), all the works display a complex use of gestures and materials that, in different forms, were to remain constant elements. Another constant was the presence in each image of a central nucleus which acted as an ideal vanishing point, the meeting point of the author’s viewpoint and that of the spectator and which often had a form similar to that of a real eye (Quadro ovale, 1986).
From the end of the decade, while his exhibitions were taking place at an accelerating rate, his painting was enlivened by a new relationship with colour which brightened and exploded into the yellows of such works as Punto a capo, 1987, and Campione, 1988. In 1991 he created for Edicola Notte in Rome his first Camera picta, a small room (a metre wide and seven metres long) which could only be seen from outside and in which the colour covered the walls to become a genuine sensorial experience as well as a visual one. The image formed by the colour on the walls and by a three-dimensional element at the centre of the space (a small picture on a pedestal) offered an unitary and two-dimensional vision when viewed from a particular point, a vision which fragmented into its constituent elements every time the viewer moved. During the ’90s he held solo shows in the Galleria Alessandro Bagnai, Siena, in 1990, 1995, and 2000; the Galerie Volker Dieh, Berlin, in 1991; the Galleria Gian Ferrari, Milan, in 1992; and in the Otto Gallery, Bologna, in 1996. In Paris, in 1994, he held a solo show shared between the Hôtel de Galliffet, the premises of the Italian Institute of Culture, and the Galerie Di Meo.
He created a large-scale work for the outside wall of the Italian Institute similar in concept to his work cre- ated in 1996 for the XII Rome Art Quadrennial held in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. In 1995 Danilo Eccher curated a wide-ranging show of his works in the Galleria Civica d’Arte Contemporanea, Trento. Among the various group shows that he participated in the same period, mention should be made of Roma interna in the Museum Moderner Kunst – Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna, in 1991-92; Concordantiae in the Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse, in 1992; Una generazione a Roma in the Rocca Paolina, Perugia, and in the Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea, Umbertine, in 1992; Italia-America. L’astrazione ridefinita alla Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, San Marino, in 1993; Arte italiana 1945-1995. Il visibile e l’invisibile in the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Nagoya, in 1997; and Arte italiana. Ultimi quarant’anni. Pittura aniconica in the Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bologna, in 1998.
From the end of the ’90s Dessì increasingly planned his works and shows as real itineraries which were organized – for the individual works – through different elements to establish a particular relationship to each other, and – for the exhibition spaces – through the relationships and cross-references that the artist created between the works in the various rooms they occupied. In 1999, in the “Volume!” cultural association in Rome, the artist scattered his painted works throughout the whole exhibition space, starting with the glass doors at the entrance. For his solo show in the Galleria Alessandro Bagnai in Siena, titled Del dire del fare, he created ten works of the same size, symbolizing ideal points of entry into painting, which were traced both on canvas and directly onto the gallery walls. Similarly, the canvases realized for Legenda, his solo show in the Galleria dello Scudo, Verona, in winter 2001- 2002, were all elements of a single series specifically created for the space.
In the last decade, besides those mentioned above, Dessì held solo shows in the Galerie Di Meo, Paris, in 1999 and 2005; the Galleria Ronchini in Terni and the Galerie Triebold in Rheinfelden, in 2000; the Italian Institute of Culture, Edinburgh, in 2002; the Galleria del- l’Oca, Rome, in 2003; the Galleria Alessandro Bagnai, Florence, in 2004 and 2008; the Otto Gallery, Bologna, in 2005; and the Galleria Salvatore+Caroline Ala, Milan, in 2006. In 2003, in the Galleria dell’Oca, Rome, he exhibited some sculptures for the first time: this was the start of a new direction in which his interest for the space and the setting was seen in a new intense dialogue between painting and sculpture; this was even more noticeable in the large solo show which Danilo Eccher curated for him in the Macro museum of contemporary art in Rome in 2006 and in the group of sculptures that the artist realized specifically for the space of the Galleria dello Scudo, collected in December 2009 in the solo exhibition Tutto in un fiato curated by Lóránd Hegyi. All around a big sculpture depicting the portrait of Ezra Pound the artist has collected some of his recent paintings at the Antonella Cattani Contemporary Art in Bolzano in may 2010 and always a sculpture was in the center of the solo show hosted in the courtyard of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza in Rome in March 2011. For this space the artist has specifically created Qui ora, a sculpture six metres high depicting an hand hanging a yellow house/lamp: in this work the built of the sculpture changed the awareness of the environment, with a similar and opposite process used by the artist in the camerae pictae, where the color occupied the space, changing the appearance of his structure.
In May 2011 Dessì held a new solo show in Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Étienne Métropole. The exhibition, curated by Lóránd Hegyi, included paintings and sculptures realized from 1999 to 2011. Between May and June 2012 he had two more exhibitions: the first one, Vis-à-Vis, curated by Lucilla Meloni, was displayed in the rooms of Palazzo Binelli and Palazzo Cybo Malaspina in Carrara; the second one was set up in Milano, at the Spazio Borgogno. In October 2012 Dessì held his last solo show at the Museum Biedermann of Donaueschingen in Germany with a selection of works made in the last twenty years.
Among his numerous recent group shows it should be mentioned two important exhibitions themed on the experience of the abandoned Cerere pasta factory in San Lorenzo. The first was held in 2006 in the French Academy, Rome, and was curated by Graziella Lonardi Buontempo, and the second in 2009 in MART, the Rovereto and Trento museum of modern art: this was curated by Daniela Lancioni, and in it Dessì was seen side by side with Ceccobelli, Gallo, Nunzio, Pizzi Cannella, and Tirelli. With the sculpture Confini 1, realized in 2009, he was invited in October 2010 at the exhibition La scultura italiana del XXI secolo, hosted at the Fondazione Arnaldo Pomodoro in Milan.
Since his earliest collaborations with important the- atrical groups, Dessì has kept up his contacts with the world of theatre. In 2002 he was asked to design the scenery for Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, directed by Peter Stein and conducted by Claudio Abbado at the Salzburg Festival. In 2004 he designed the scenes for Il Cordovano. Opera in un atto with music by Goffredo Petrassi, conducted by Marcello Panni and directed by Stefano Vizioli at the Rome opera house. In 2006, together with Stefano Scodanibbio and Giorgio Agamben, he undertook the dramaturgy of Scodanibbio’s opera Il cielo sulla terra which was staged in Stockholm. For this production he realized the scenery, lighting, and costumes. Lastly, in 2008, he designed the sets for Bela Bartók’s opera The Castle of Duke Bluebeard, performed at the Scala, Milan, directed by Peter Stein and conducted by Daniel Harding. The spectacle was re-staged in March 2010 at the Het Muziektheater of Amsterdam conducted by Adam Fischer.