MANARA SECRET GARDENS Palazzo Arti Fumetto Friuli, Pordenone

May 6th 2021, Pordenone – Discovering the artistic journey of Milo Manara, the many worlds he has visited, the depth of his aesthetic vision and the sensitivity that has made him the world’s most influential comic artist, and not only in the field of eroticism. That is the focus of “Manara Secret Gardens”, the exhibition held at PAFF! Palazzo Arti Fumetto Friuli, Pordenone, from 7 May to 15 August.

Milo Manara possesses the magic that is shared by all great artists: he can create worlds in which we can sense the smells, the sounds, the air, the vibrations, and everything that comes with them, such as the mysteriousness, the wonder, and the serenity of seeing. And he does all this without readers noticing, without delaying them, without holding them in a fluctuating emotion, an enchantment that flows and always leads you to what follows, to the next drawing.

After the solo exhibitions of Giorgio Cavazzano, Gradimir Smudja, Milton Caniff and DC/Marvel Superheroes, PAFF! Palazzo Arti Fumetto Friuli once again offers itself as a hive of cultural activities. Starting with the most prestigious names in international comics, the programme takes in all aspects of art and culture form Italy and around the world, and speaks to everyone with the immediacy and power of images.

Manara Secret Gardens” is the first exhibition to bring to life the synergy forged just before the pandemic between the museum in Pordenone and Comicon Naples. The aim of the partnership is to create a national link between the two prestigious identities in the north and south of Italy, including through the organisation of ambitious international exhibitions. Hosted by PAFF! and curated by Claudio Curcio, Matteo Stefanelli, and alino di COMICON, with the contribution of the Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia at the Villa Galvani Gallery of Modern Art made available by the Pordenone municipal council, the exhibition celebrates the work of a great artist who has enchanted illustrious masters of the comic book like Hugo Pratt, and of cinema like Federico Fellini, and has worked with them and with other great names in entertainment and art like Alejandro Jodorowsky and Vincenzo Cerami, and great British and American comic book writers like Neil Gaiman and Chris Claremont.

The title of the exhibition is clearly inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1910 novel and is certainly allusive. At the same time it opens onto the various narrative, depictive and mental universes that the artist has explored during his long career, and underscores the aptness of the exhibition’s venue amid the greenery of Galvani Park at PAFF!

The exhibition is a first-time exploration of the Veronese artist’s eclecticism. It is centred around a dimension of his work that is both cross-cutting and subtle: an immagination towards the fantastic. This dimension has accompanied him since his first days in publishing and, not by chance, is the glue that holds together the kaleidoscope of genres, settings and stylistic registers that is his masterpiece Giuseppe Bergman (1978–2004), a condensed journey through the art of the comic book.

On display 90 originals by Manara including comic strips, drawings for advertising, illustrations, tributes, variant covers for Marvel Comics; 3 original drawings by Federico Fellini, personally donated by the director to Manara, 4 comic storyboards sketched by himself; an autograph letter and a watercolor layout for Hugo Pratt’s “El Gaucho”.

The selection also includes works rarely exhibited in the past, such as a panel from his early experimental work Alessio and three illustrations created for a special collection of Ulysse Nardin watches.

Of the original panels, some are of the wonderful Caravaggio, an impressive 2015 work in two volumes dedicated to the Baroque master and portrayed by Manara with the features of his friend and colleague Andrea Pazienza. In them he conveys all the splendour of Rome, her decadence and corruption, the dust, the bricks, the noise, the beauty, the immorality, the filth, and her magnificence. We also get a sense of the precariousness of empires, the transience of cultural models and, to some extent, the eternity of art. 

Hosted in 4 rooms, the exhibition, designed by Corde Architetti (Venice), is likely to be one of the most evocative ever organised on the famous Veronese artist, an ambition that is enhanced by the presence of several experiential installations. Visitors can interact with them thanks to projections and audio-video content (anti-Covid regulations apply). The exhibition will be accompanied by a programme of engaging and original guided tours led by Roberto Fratantonio. Anyone unable to come in person can take part in a full online tour in high definition.  

Manara manages to convey all of this with great mastery accompanied by his boundless love for the comic book genre, which he has always defended, held dear, studied and loved, even those aspects that define it as being “for the masses” and even at the most difficult times in its history. A true intellectual, Manara has always been able to explain the meaning of everything that comic books, and he with them, have achieved over the last, extraordinary, shocking, revolutionary decades of illustrated strips. An extraordinary, shocking, revolutionary story that his greatness has fed into.

We are deeply satisfied that we have been able to keep the promise made to Manara three years ago when PAFF! first opened to dedicate a prestigious solo exhibition to him”, says artistic director Giulio De Vita. “Milo brought good luck to the opening of Palazzo del Fumetto in Pordenone, an ambitious and difficult challenge. And today, with this exhibition, Milo has come back to get us off to a good start towards better times, after the oppression of the pandemic, and he does so with the lightness and elegance of his artistry, to soar beyond the tall hedges of secret gardens”.

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