Exhibited for the first time in the Galleria Modern Art Agency in Naples in 1972, Madonna che ride (Laughing Madonna) by Gino De Dominicis, was a classical statue of the Madonna in the Western Catholic tradition, a celestial, pure and pale figure, dressed in white with a pale blue mantle. Perfectly in line with the canon, apart from that smile that parted and illuminated her face. In fact, it was a minor deformity, not even that immoral, but it stung, disturbed: meanings appeared to be upset by it.
That same year, Gino De Dominicis participated in the Venice Biennale and exhibited Seconda soluzione di immortalità: l’universo è immobile (Second solution to immortality: the universe is immobile). He filled the room with three works of art that had already been exhibited previously: Cubo invisibile (Invisible Cube) from 1967, four white lines on the ground that outline the perimeter of an evanescent cube; Palla di gomma (caduta da 2 metri) nell’attimo immediatamente precedente il rimbalzo (Rubber ball (which has fallen from a height of 2 metres) just before it bounces) from 1968; Attesa di un casuale movimento molecolare generale in una sola direzione, tale da generare un movimento spontaneo della pietra (Wait for a random general molecular movement in one direction, so as to generate a spontaneous movement in the stone); and Paolo Rosa, a young Venetian man, who was sitting in a corner in front of these three objects.
Paolo Rosa was a young man who had Down syndrome. Within a few hours, it had become a scandal: the Carabinieri intervened and the room was sealed off. The artist and his assistant, Simone Carella, were removed from the premises and charged with “abduction of an incapacitated person”. As Eugenio Montale stated: “ … it was a very disgusting topic, but why not? Art can justify everything. However, as they approached, they realised that it was not a portrait, but the unfortunate in the flesh. The experiment was later discontinued by the military, but from a strictly theoretical point of view, it was fully justified.” (December 1975)
Gino De Dominicis had already stated his thoughts on Down syndrome: conceiving of it not as an illness, but a different way of being, in which spatial dimension and temporal conception work differently, like that of the visible and invisible. Paolo Rosa was supposed to be conceived of as an alien, a creature capable of interacting with reality from a different point of view, through an approach that is part of another dimension, different from what we consider normal. This work of art put the young observer forward as performer, an integral part of De Dominicis’ operation. The youth became the incarnation of a possible solution for immortality.
“Acquitted because no crime has been committed” was the verdict.
The work of De Dominicis often rotated around the themes of death and immortality, the suspension of time and its perpetuity. Immortality understood as a different dimension, where space and time are immobile, and in this absence, death does not exist either. Through Paolo Rosa, like through the Laughing Madonna, Gino De Dominicis disoriented the viewer. Thanks to imagery that goes beyond traditional education and iconography, there is a reversal of values. What is different is an opportunity, is recognised, and its marginalisation is not contemplated.