Jacopo Benassi Smiles for the Camera

Jacopo Benassi, Adolf Hitler – Museo delle cere di Londra, 2000, fine art print, wood and glass frame, dimensions variable. Photo: Giorgio Perottino: Courtesy Francesca Minini, Milano

Criminal Self-Portrait at GAM, Turin gives us a glimpse of photography that hides criminal intent behind a mask of truth

Panorama di La Spezia (Panorama of La Spezia, 2022) serves as a manifesto for, or microcosm of, Jacopo Benassi’s photography. Named after the Ligurian town where the artist was born, it’s an offcut, literally, of his larger installation Matrice (2022); the structure consists of two wood-panel walls forming the corner of a room, the external edges hacksawed unevenly. On the ‘outside’, sprayed graffiti suggests the walls may have been recycled, while on the inside are hung examples of Benassi’s collaged-together, installation-style, photo-driven practice. Two crudely framed works comprise nocturnal photographs of public gardens in La Spezia, focusing on plants and shrubs. Lashed to these with tension straps are acrylic landscape paintings; reproductions, apparently, of landscapes of the Gulf of La Spezia by the Italian Agostino Fossati. On a little step in the structure’s corner are a pair of slippers; above them a glory hole. The landscape here is a fragmented place, a field of forces in tension, a hiding place, a pleasure zone; but also a scene of intimacy and obsessions, both inside and outside, private and public.

In Autoritratto truccato da femmina (Self-portrait made up as a woman, 2007) Benassi wears a fringed wig and smeared lipstick. The flash photography is cruel, shining incandescently on the synthetic hair, reflecting in the artist’s pupils. It suggests an unflattering police mugshot or, with the use of the wig to alter his appearance, a document of criminal anthropology. Benassi gives us a glimpse of photography that hides criminal intent behind a mask of truth; he reveals himself, showing his face frontally, fixing his gaze on the camera, while hiding behind the disguise. Throughout the exhibition, what is visible and what remains hidden continually flips and reverses.

Autoritratto criminale (still), 2024, video, 3 min. Courtesy Francesca Minini, Milano

At the other end of the gallery is Monumento a Cesare Lombroso (c. 1910), a plaster model of Leonardo Bistolfi’s statue dedicated to the eponymous Italian psychiatrist and anthropologist, considered the founder of criminal anthropology. The model, drawn by Benassi from GAM’s collection, is in poor condition, fragile and cracked, supported by a wooden armature. The body, whether sculpted or human, is held together by tension and effort, just like Benassi’s works. Lombroso, holding a skull in his right hand, appears shortsighted behind his plaster spectacles. The man who once mercilessly analysed the characteristics of criminals using the discredited skull-measuring pseudoscience of phrenology here seems scrutinised by Luce che illumina la luce (2024), a 250-watt headlight mounted on plasticine-covered tubes, evoking the lighting of police interrogations.

There are other images, though we take their presence on trust: a photograph of a wax statue of Adolf Hitler from London’s Madame Tussauds is apparently concealed behind multiple layers of glass. Other portraits of figures such as artist Nan Goldin, Italian stylist Alessandro Michele, Benassi’s own parents, Snow White and a cast of the artist’s foot, framed and collectively held together with straps, hang from a small crane. Only the backs of the frames are visible, their supposed content indicated by labels. The exhibition increasingly assumes the form of a secret garden, photography becoming a broken promise to freeze reality for good. It is not so different from driving through the countryside at night, where reality exists only in the moments illuminated by your headlights, solely for you and only for a fleeting moment.

Criminal Self-Portrait at GAM, Turin, through 2 June

Most recent


We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. This includes personalizing content. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, revised Privacy.