Angelo Musco (visual artist)
Angelo Musco (born 3 February 1973) is an Italian contemporary artist, best known for photographic surreal landscapes built by thousands of nude bodies, where the natural architectures and visionary landscapes are filled with the haunting mysticism of his own origins.
Musco was born in Naples, Italy, but has lived and worked in New York City and has since 1997. The youngest of five children, Angelo weighed in at 6.5 kilos (approximately 14.3 lbs.) when he was born after spending 11 months in the womb. A home birth to a child of this size was complicated; Angelo became stuck and turned blue, and the midwife panicked. Her determined extraction caused serious damage to both mother and baby. The newborn was rushed to the hospital, being in a critical state, and was stripped of his baby clothes. Musco's aunt, uncle, and father returned to the household with the soiled clothes, upon seeing which, Angelo's mother fell into a state of shock, thinking the child had died. The extreme stress spoilt her breast milk. Both mother and son survived, but young Musco was paralyzed on his right side for the first years of his life.
Musco's birth injury is called Erb's Palsy, a tearing of the neck, arm and shoulder nerves. It causes permanent damage and diminishes the function of the affected side of the body. An operation to fix the damage was scheduled, but when an illness impeded Angelo's participation on the scheduled day, his superstitious mother translated the sickness as an omen not to have the risky procedure. Instead, Angelo spent the first ten years of his life in physical therapy, to strengthen and restore the injured side of his body.
His early years were spent in school or at his father’s grocery store helping deliver the daily orders in the neighborhood Barra, just east of Naples. His parents sent him to a private Catholic school because they felt Angelo would need special attention. The school was situated on the water, and he was often entertained by high-speed boat chases as the police hunted down smugglers with black-market contraband. He would draw the boats not realizing how emblematic it was of the dangerous environment of living in Naples in the 1970s. He started university at the Academia Di Belle Arti in Naples and took a small apartment in the historic part of the city, which was very dangerous at that time. This new home was located next to the Napoli Sotteranea, a subterranean second city. The mysticism, history and legends of this old city destroyed by Mount Vesuvius were an ongoing fascination for the young artist.
For two semesters Musco lived in Granada, Spain as an exchange student. The school was well funded with wonderful labs and equipment for students to use. Musco was not well funded and work serving tea at night in an old Arab teteria to make money to survive since his family could only afford to cover his rent. Because purchasing materials for painting was also expensive, he started experimenting with installations and different materials such as fire, stones and the bodies of his colleagues. This was the first approach towards using the human body to create artistic forms. Musco visited New York City a few times for artistic research, and moved to the U.S. December 8, 1997. This date holds symbolic significance because it is the Catholic Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a public holiday in Italy.
Recurring themes relate to his difficult birth, such as confinement, subterranan worlds, and natural architecture. The human body has taken more and more space in his work, often weaving and connecting masses of nude bodies in mosaics creating constructions that are literal or symbolic representations of eggs, nests, amniotic fluid and other inspirations from the miracle of procreation.
Since arriving in the States, Musco has held photo shoots in private and public spaces and are increasingly more complicated (Production Video). A photo shoot can become an event onto itself, involving volunteers, models, businesses and government institutions.
His work and research has evolved over the years. Musco’s investigation into the power of aggregations found in nature such as sperm during egg fertilization, an ant colony, beehive or a school of fish has fueled his most recent works. His visionary translation of such aggregation on a massive scale is not only visible in his work but is also palpable during his photo shoots.
While researching ideas of pre-birth in 2005, Musco realized New York and Naples were on the same latitude. Wanting to explore this coincidence he conceived of an installation of short videos with a recurring script happening in eleven different cities around the world all on the 41st parallel. The number eleven relates to the number of months his mother carried him in the womb. An exhaustive trip was mapped out from NYC to Viseu, Portugal; Madrid, Spain; Naples, Italy; Istanbul, Turkey; Baku, Azerbaijan; Beijing, China; Aomori, Japan; Redwood National Park, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; and Lincoln, NE. Unique experiences included filming in the Forbidden City, the threat of a religious commission at the Blue Mosque, and seeing firsthand the shocking existence of families living in the oilfields of Baku. The video debuted as a VIP collateral event at the Spring 2012 Armory Show in New York City.
In 2010, Musco presented his first solo show in the United States at the Carrie Secrist Gallery in Chicago. A short video documentary was made showing the complicated installation. The title piece, Tehom–an underwater world populated with tens of thousands of nude bodies, is made up of 22 individual panels measuring a total of 12' x 48'. “The dialogue between classic forms of art and contemporary expression is only one aspect of Musco’s work that speaks to me,” said Carrie Secrist, “and using mosaic type panels or photo pieces will allow the artist to make the entire gallery a unique underwater world experience.” Etymologically, tehom is derived from Hebrew, meaning “deep” or “abyss,” a reference to the biblical primordial waters of creation found in the opening verses of the Book of Genesis. Musco’s Tehom incorporates deep heavenly waters bursting with life and dark spirals of humanity propelled together with grace and tension–some floating and others fighting to make contact and engage the viewer. Two years in production, the show includes Musco’s photo installation Hadal (which was shown at the 53rd Annual Venice Biennale in 2009, presented by the Moscow Museum of Modern Art), a swirling vortex of two thousand bodies reminiscent of a floating nest or a school of fish, each a recurring theme of his work; Avernus, which explores human forms in natural constructions and depicts not the vast open sea but rather an inland lake, one supposed by the Romans to be the entrance to Hades; Progeny, an 8’ x 8’ bundle of limbs and torsos floating like a giant human egg; and Sibille, a triptych of eleven women breaking the surface of the water with an otherworldly attitude that directly references not only Greek mythology, but Musco’s numerological reference to his time in the womb. Since its debut, Tehom has been internationally exhibited and admired, and its first edition is now part of the permanent collection of Maison Particulière Art Centre in Brussels, Belgium.
Production began in the summer of 2010 for Xylem, an intricate and nearly obsessively woven forest composed entirely of human bodies. Xylem may stand in stark contrast from Tehom, which was inspired by the utter depths of water, the abyss, but Xylem is a natural evolution from the former–the underworld is projecting itself up, organically. The life-water of Tehom is being drawn into the structures that are Xylem. The word xylem itself is derivative from the Greek xylon, meaning wood, and references the vessels that transport water and soluble mineral nutrients from the roots throughout the plant. It is a vast arboreal vascular system that nurtures the tree.
Trees symbolize numerous aspects of life: Strength, fertility, interconnection, community, genealogy, etc., all of which is derivative of a tree’s actual form–the roots, firmly planted, draw up nutrients; the canopy draws energy from above; the trunk, a weathered body, provides material strength for the whole–and all parts are interconnected. These elements offer us a symbolism of feelings we seek in our individual landscapes, a sense of belonging, striving towards community. A tree’s roots symbolize an ongoing relationship with surroundings, as does our concept of ‘roots.’ Xylem draws from this symbolism.
- Operaprena (Charta 2003)
- Instant Book: Italian Artists New York (Charta 2009)
- Unconditional Love (Buro 17, 2009)
- Huffington Post, 2012
- My Modern Met, 2012
- Frameweb, 2012
- Mail Online, 2012
- Don't Panic, 2012
- i-italy, 2012
- Chicago Tribune July 2, 2010
- Huffington Post 2010
- Chicago Now, 2010
- http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/chicago-gallery-news/2010/05/angelo-muscos-tehom-carrie-secrist-gallery.html Now
- New City Art, 2010