On view through October 27 at Hauser & Wirth’s W. 22nd street space, The Deserted City, which spans more than three decades in the development of interdisciplinary artist Fausto Melotti, seems to hail from a different historic timeline.

Installation view, Fausto Melotti. The Deserted City, Hauser & Wirth 2018 © Fondazione Fausto Melotti, Milano Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth

A polymath, Melotti was guided more by the genius of curiosity than the sort of generic discipline imposed by specialization. It’s beautifully right, then, that The Deserted City should bring together sculptures that collectively envisage an ideal city. Modeled in part on the metaphysical landscapes of Giorgio de Chirico, the exhibition comprises works from different periods of Melotti’s career. Not only does this help demonstrate the continuity underlying his sensibility, but it showcases the progress of a profoundly original perspective regarding the imbricated relationship of dystopia and utopia.

Lamento sugli eroi morti (Lament on dead Heroes), 1961, glazed ceramic, painted terracotta, and brass, 19 5/8 x 9 7/8 x 3 1/2 in. © Fondazione Fausto Melotti, Milano Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth

Malotti’s interest in urban space was rooted in the destruction that ravaged Italian cities during the Second World War. But The Deserted City is not an exhibition focused on utopian reconstruction; it’s a lament, a kind of gesamtkunstwerk that preserves the specter of destruction even as it attempts to reconcile disfiguration with an artistic will toward creative autonomy.

Le torri della città invisibile (The Towers of the invisible City), 1976 (1980), brass, 4 elements:
94 1/2 x 28 3/4 x 20 7/8 in,
97 5/8 x 28 3/4 x 24 3/4 in,
97 1/4 x 28 3/4 x 22 in,
93 3/4 x 28 x 24 3/4 in. © Fondazione Fausto Melotti, Milano Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth

On the subject of violent disfigurations caused by war, Paul Virilio observes in The Accident of Art: “Just look at the hills in Champagne today compared to what they were before, when they had trees. So there is a disfiguration of war that will move over into art…” In light of Melotti’s penchant for mathematics, it’s unlikely the extent to which war is an engineered phenomenon was lost on him. His movement away from abstraction toward more tactile and artisanal textures—such as brass, terracotta, glass, and clay—forms the crux of the exhibition. The sculptural use of these materials speaks to a mode of construction that refuses any and all complicity with the mechanisms of war.

Buona notte, bambini (Good Night, Children), 1984, painted terracotta, glazed ceramics, painted fabric, and brass, 14 3/8 x 12 1/2 x 3 3/4 in. © Fondazione Fausto Melotti, Milano. Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth

Melotti puts to use the technologies of intimate dialogue. That seeming reticence in his work is a form of rectitude: an architectural tableaux invoking the richness of experience before it becomes intangible. These days, Melotti’s responsive attitude toward the plasticity of materials is often lost under the rubric of “craftsmanship.” But Melotti could be said to make objects rooted in the sensation of touch—the sculptural outlines of each work seeming to echo the tactile quality of the materials that compose it.

Installation view, Fausto Melotti. The Deserted City, Hauser & Wirth 2018 © Fondazione Fausto Melotti, Milano Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth

One can look at The Deserted City as a peripatetic meditation. Melotti represents sites where the perspectives carved out by our pragmatic understanding of the world are arrested by alterity. Each work—each sculpture, each window-like assemblage—is situated so as to invoke the presence of an artisanal hand, envisioning a city no longer earmarked by the machinations of war.