Contemporary Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn (b. 1966) is a world-renowned sculptor, particularly noted for his deft use of hands to convey authentic emotion and abstract concepts such as love and faith. ‘I wanted to sculpt what is considered the hardest and most technically challenging part of the human body’, he asserts. ‘The hand holds so much power – the power to love, to hate, to create, to destroy.’ Exhibited internationally, both his monumental public art and the smaller, more intimate pieces transmit his passion for depicting eternal values and authentic emotions. For the past three decades, a wide audience of curators, gallerists and collectors have been drawn to both the versatility and universality of Quinn’s artwork.
Quinn’s monumental sculptures have been placed at important sites in major cities across the globe. Having his art displayed in the public realm is important to the artist: ‘I want my monumental works to have even more of an effect on the public. The moment the sculpture enters the common space, it is no longer mine. My ownership ceases and it becomes the people’s.’ The public installations in Venice have a special significance to Quinn. Beyond its historical importance as a hub for international cultural exchange, Venice is also the birthplace of the artist’s mother and his wife. Venice is a city to which Quinn feels a deep connection; the major placements of his work in the floating city have become key milestones in the artist’s career.
Quinn was selected as the exhibiting artist for the Italian Pavilion at the 54th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale 2011. The powerful and provocative installation This is Not a Game was positioned across two sites, San Servolo Island and the Italian Pavilion in the Arsenale. In the first stage on the island, a pair of disembodied hands descended to play with a life-size 37 tonne T55 Russian battle tank and huge cast ‘toy’ soldiers. The scenario continued at the Italian Pavilion with a brick wall seemingly blasted by gunfire from the tank’s gun turret next to the simple, emphatically scrawled message, ‘THIS IS NOT A GAME’. As art historian Catherine McCormack describes, the sculpture is a clear example of Quinn’s ‘preoccupation with the dual nature of hands, as instruments of feeling, creativity and language, but also as a means to manipulate and destroy.’
In May 2017, Quinn unveiled the monumental piece Support, installed in front of Ca’ Sagredo in the Cannaregio district of Venice, to coincide with the 57th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Fittingly, curator Christine Macel describes how the 2017 exhibition was inspired by a ‘potential neo-humanism’, considering art’s ability to reflect on the relationship between human beings, nature and the cosmos. Within a context encapsulated by its international outlook, Quinn’s work engages with certain historical and ecological issues that confront both the city of Venice and the global environment more broadly.
Emerging surreally from the depths of the Grand Canal, the sculpture is composed of a child’s hands reaching up to support the antique façade of the palazzo. Venice is slowly sinking into the lagoon on which it was ambitiously built – albeit by a few millimetres per year – and Quinn’s sculpture is a poignant reminder of the vital need to protect our environment. These young hands also suggest the opposing human urges to create and to destroy; and they symbolise the pressing need for the present to protect the past – in this case, Venice’s irreplaceable world heritage – so that its rich history can be preserved for the future.
In October 2018, Stop Playing! was acquired by the City of Venice and installed at Forte Marghera, a military fortress on the mainland of Venice. The sculpture was inaugurated in the presence of the Mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro. Stop Playing! is composed of a giant catapult being stretched by an enormous pair of child’s hands in order to convey the seemingly haphazard consequences of human hands at play or in power. The work not only engages with the military history of Venice, but also comments on our need to conserve the world’s natural resources, an important ongoing theme in Quinn’s work.