This show by the 48-year-old Massimo Bartolini featured two sound installations—each containing a movement-sensitive photocell that activated a sound emission—and a series of three paintings. Two musical performances were staged on the opening night, one of which generated a new version of the 2006 installation Ouverture per Pietro. Starting with the explosion of a lightbulb, the experimental musician Pietro Riparbelli improvised for 20 minutes using a sampler, a computer and short-wave radio receivers as the death-metal singer Rosy Ninivaggi read verses from the sacred Hindu Avadhuta Gita. The result sounded like a mix of La Monte Young, Steve Reich and other American minimalist music. Remaining in the gallery afterward were the empty electrical socket in a transparent wall-mounted  box littered with fragments of the shattered lightbulb, the closely facing microphone (now unplugged) that had recorded the explosion, and a constantly reiterated soundtrack of the first 2 minutes and 38 seconds of the performance.

The second sound installation, Three Quarter-Tone Pieces (2009), was more complex and accomplished than the first. Its title—also the show’s title—is taken from a work that American composer Charles Ives wrote in 1923-24 for two pianos tuned one quarter tone apart. In Bartolini’s work, three common pieces of furniture (a wall-hung cabinet, a wardrobe and a chest) play a cluster of notes also one quarter tone apart. Hidden in each is a motion-activated device—a ventilator that blows air into wooden organ pipes—which generates the notes. The intense 30-second crescendo typically caught visitors by surprise and left them puzzling about the music’s source.

Also probing the relationship between the visible and the invisible, the painting series “Rugiada” (Dew), 2009, offered a sophisticated game of vedo-non vedo (peek-a-boo). While from a distance the works seem straightforward monochromes in custard yellow, ice white and milk white, upon closer examination they reveal iridescent colors that change according to the incidence of light and the viewer’s position—disclosing, for example, flashes of green and pink. These effects are due to Bartolini’s application of micalized varnish to metal, a technique used by auto-body painters. Even more striking were dense constellations of drops of the fluid used for black-and-white photography development. Dewlike in appearance, the beads disorient viewers by evoking a natural context extraneous to the gallery space. The strongest works in this heterogeneous show, the “Rugiada” paintings combine poetic, almost romantic sensitivity with ironic, car-culture glitz.

Photo: Massimo Bartolini: Three Quarter-tone Pieces, 2009, wood and electric fans; at Magazzino d’Arte Moderna