In Latin, Do Ut Des means that something is given in such a way as to receive something in return, and this solo show by Omar Hassan – staged during the 57th Venice Biennale – explored this concept by investigating the dialogue between painting and sculpture and that between work and viewer. Do Ut Des was organised by the Alberto Peruzzo Foundation, in partnership with the ContiniArtUK Gallery.
Born in Milan in 1987 to an Egyptian father and an Italian mother, Omar Hassan was introduced to the underground art scene in Milan while still a youngster. His initial interest in street art was soon transformed into a passion for a wide-ranging artistic panorama, which led him to study successfully at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts. Often using his personal experience to mould his artistic method, Hassan has developed over the years various series of works, all diverse but always infused with his trademark style. While maintaining the artist’s iconic approach, Do Ut Des sees him setting his personal experience to one side and moving towards output that operates on a more fundamental level, calling into question the very functions of his work within the prestigious context of a mediaeval Venetian church.
The work shown by the Milanese artist within the space managed to link together, through the achievement of a balanced harmony, his artistic research and the beauty of the time-honoured architecture. Hassan interacted directly with the architectural structures – such as the glass in the rose window – and, in a dialogue with the paintings and marble of the church itself, elected to site within the space a number of plaster casts of Greek statues, which he then spray-painted. This pictorial gesture, at once simple and incisive, succeeded in melding urban philosophy and the language of street art with classical art, transposing it into a contemporary key.
On the main altar, Hassan placed a plaster cast of the Nike of Samothrace, painstakingly covered in spray paint. With a technique that the artist had previously deployed elsewhere, here Hassan uses a wide spectrum of colours. Directly behind the sculpture, the was a painting produced using the same technique, thus achieving an optical effect whereby the sculpture was immersed into the painting and could only be differentiated by the viewer by moving physically around the installation. This work creates a holistic combination between the classical sculpture and the painting, whereby the two works are transformed into one, embodying a highly symbolic approach.
The citation “do ut des” is, then, a refined dialogue through which the artist engages with the space by means of painting and sculpture. Moreover, last but not least, it is also his personal take on the practices of artists such as Duchamp, Pollock and Niki de Saint Phalle.