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August 8, 2010

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An awesome East-West portal

CHINA is known for its immense gates and portals and Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro has constructed his own awesome "Great Gate of Marc Polo" for World Expo Shanghai.

The formidable bronze work, 12 meters tall and 10 meters wide, is one of the largest sculptures in the Expo and stands next to the Italy Pavilion.

The sculpture -- still a work in progress -- is a tribute to the explorer and trader Marco Polo and, more important, East-West ties. Marco Polo journeyed to China and back from 1275-92, telling the world of its culture and riches.

In 2000 Pomodoro began work on the sculpture, a vast solid panel of carving and raised sculpture, some resembling Chinese characters. The gate was half completed before the Expo started -- one side was already densely covered with carving; it was created in Italy and flown to Shanghai. The artist has been working on the other side in Italy and plans to transport it to the Expo park by the end of the fair.

Italy Pavilion officials and the sculptor hope the gate will remain after the Expo, as a symbolic gateway between East and West.

The 84-year-old artist is most famous for his grand bronze sculpture "Sphere Within Sphere" that he began in the early 1960s and completed in 1982. It can be found in various places, including the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Another of Pomodoro's works, "Forms of Myth," was unveiled at the World Expo Brisbane, Australia, in 1988 and was later purchased by the city.

In an e-mail interview with Shanghai Daily from Italy, the sculptor discussed his art and inspiration.Q: Describe the "Great Gate of Marco Polo" and your inspiration.

A: The work dedicated to Marco Polo for the Expo is a large "Door-Threshold" -- it is also a wall, a barrier where the inwardness of experience and the relationship with the external community are both called into play. Marco Polo represents the archetype of the traveler and embodies the sense of discovery as well as the quest for change. His reports gave Venice, Italy and Europe an exhaustive, realistic and vivid depiction of the East and of China.

Q: What will the other side of the gate look like?

A: The sculpture now in progress will show two faces: one dedicated to the Western world, with its many nations, the other to China, immense in its centuries-old unity. On one hand, it's a rhythmic sequence of emblematic signs, emerging from below the corrugated and broken bronze surface; on the other, a multitude of shapes (hemispheres, cubes, blades, wedges, arrows, cracks). These make up, in a play of lights and shadows, a complex narration of differences and dialogues, of exchanges and comparisons. I wanted to evoke the encounters and dynamic relations between peoples and cultures, and to construct a work that is both a threshold to be crossed and a door to be opened to explore the unknown. The idea of a large portal was conceived 20 years ago for a production of Igor Stravinsky and Jean Cocteau's opera "Oedipus Rex" directed by Luciano Alberti, to be set in front of Siena's New Cathedral. I hope this sculpture can remain in a modern and lively city like Shanghai, symbol of relations between Italy and China, between East and West.

Q: You often make grand sculpture. Why the big installations? Is size important?

A: Since the beginning, I had the problem, as an Italian, of seeing my work in a public perspective. I am aware of the Renaissance and the monumental public sculptures of the Renaissance masters. For many years, I have been preoccupied by the problem of scale. My concerns as an artist always center on the relationship between the sculpture and the space in which it is sited. A sculpture is the realization of a space of its own within the greater space in which it lives and moves. When a work transforms the place in which it is located, it becomes a true and proper witness of its times, and thus marks its context and enriches a site with additional layers of memory. Nowadays I enjoy my largest sculptures in public squares or in a park, in competition with trees. I like to see people lean their bicycles on the sculptures, to see the works humanized.

Q: Have you visited China before? Your impressions?

A: I was in Beijing for the majestic opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games, as I studied the "Italia" logo for the Italian athletes' uniforms. I only stayed a week but hope to return soon to the enticing and energetic Shanghai metropolis.

Q: How did you decide to exhibit at the Expo? Is this your first Expo exhibit?

A: I accepted the invitation of Ambassador Umberto Vattani and I appreciate his truly titanic efforts in bringing a work of such imposing size from Italy to China. I first displayed a work at an Expo in Montreal in 1966-67. The "Large Sphere (bronze, diameter 350cm)" was exhibited on the roof of the Italy Pavilion and close to Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome housing the USA Pavilion. That was my first major public commission, and it marked the passage to large-scale sculpture. I also exhibited a group of four sculptures at the Brisbane Expo in 1988.


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