MICHAEL STIPE – “I have lost and I have been lost but for now I’m flying high” at the Ica Foundation in Milan

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“I have lost and I have been lost but for now I’m flying high” is the title of the exhibition by Rem leader Michael Stipe which opens tomorrow, Tuesday 12 December 2023, at the Ica Foundation in Milan.

The exhibition, Stipe’s first public solo show in the world, was presented today in the presence of the artist himself, leader of REM


The exhibition, a project conceived specifically for the ICA Milan Foundation and curated by Alberto Salvadori, director of the institution, offers different artistic languages: from photography to ceramics, from sculpture to audio works. Over 120 works are presented in the spaces of the ICA Milan Foundation, including some never exhibited before and others recently produced. The resulting selection returns in detail the areas of Michael Stipe’s artistic research.


The exhibition structure revolves around the famous poem Desiderata (1927) by Max Ehrmann. In particular, the works that directly allude to the poem, Desiderata2027 and Desiderata Teleprompter, deconstruct and reconfigure the original text, generously broadening and amplifying the themes of vulnerability within it through Stipe’s personal vision, which invites a broader interpretation on the part of of the public. The project intertwines the concepts of homage and vulnerability, themes inherent in Stipe’s figurative and non-figurative representation of human beings. The title of the exhibition emerges from a conversation between the curator and the artist, in which Stipe identifies vulnerability as a driving force, radically challenging conventional considerations that negatively connote it as a responsibility to be assumed or a weakness. By contrast, in the accelerating chaos of contemporary life, Stipe identifies vulnerability as a powerful survival tool and a broader philosophical approach to charting new paths.

Vulnerability becomes a superpower… A map that describes the difficulties of our present, highlighting new opportunities and a renewed understanding of our importance, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us, for our communities, for our world. In this moment I choose to focus on the most precious possession, on the brilliance, beauty and playfulness of life. I’ve lost and I’ve lost myself, but for now I’m flying high.”

Conceiving and creating an exhibition has the same adrenaline as a concert – says Stipe -. I’ve been working on its composition for more than a week and I’m happy with how we finally managed to conceive it.

The exhibition is not a mere assemblage of works of art, but hangs together like a text. The methodology with which I designed and composed it is just like writing a song, a unitary project.

The artist’s ongoing interest in portraiture is represented in the exhibition across multiple media. Stipe began taking photographs at the age of 14, first portraying his heroes, including Freddie Mercury, the Ramones, Tom Verlaine and Patti Smith, and later also documenting the community of artists and musicians of Athens, Georgia, of which he has been a central part since the early 1980s. In these relationships, which Stipe has built and maintained over the past four decades, mentorship, friendship and collaboration intermingle intimately.


For the exhibition, the artist created works that embody and reflect the multiplicity of roles these people played in his life, from their representation as a subject to their involvement in the physical creation of the works themselves. Artists Angie Grass and Libby Hatmaker are instrumental in creating the multimedia works featuring Desiderata, while artist Michael Oliveri, Stipe’s production manager, and ceramist Caroline Wallner worked with him on the sculptures. Photographer David Belisle, Stipe’s longtime studio manager, meticulously hand-printed each photograph included in the exhibition through a series of analog processes. The photographic portraits on display reconstruct his most recent publication, which often captures very candid moments from his life in Athens Georgia, New York, the South of France and Berlin.

These works are an act of devotion to her loved ones, including her mother, two sisters and goddaughter, her fiancé, the artist Thomas Dozol, and her longtime friends, the directors Tom Gilroy and Jim McKay.

The celebration of his friends results in a series of homages to his heroes, rendered through Stipe’s idiosyncratic approach to non-figurative portraiture. These works take the form of complex sculptures composed of pageless book covers, created in collaboration with printmaker Ruth Lingen, each bearing a subject’s name as its title, using unlikely typographical and color choices as a means to channel the essence of the character of a given person.

Through vulnerability, the exhibition as a whole becomes a self-portrait in which Stipe’s personal and public life are able to exist in myriad forms that mirror the ways in which the artist moved and saw the world throughout his life. As a result, the included works stand as a testament to his understanding of the human experience: a series of meaningful collisions of seemingly diverse energies, at once found and realized, analog and digital, generative and permeable, mysterious and revelatory.


There will not be a soundtrack that will accompany the exhibition but only a sound installation where Stipe himself recites the poem that is the cornerstone of the entire exhibition.


The exhibition is accompanied by a book published by Damiani Books and created in collaboration with the ICA Milan Foundation. Titled Even the birds gave pause, it is Michael Stipe’s fourth photographic volume and includes a series of existing works that deepen the exploration of contemporary portraiture initiated by the exhibition.


The exhibition is also accompanied by a donation program designed for the occasion which integrates with the pre-existing Membership program of the ICA MILANO Foundation, the proceeds of which will go to support the activities of the ICA Milano Foundation. Among the benefits offered to donors who wish to support the cultural programming of the institution there are a numbered box signed by the artist and containing the two most recent monographs by Michael Stipe and a limited edition black and white photographic print created by the artist, signed and numbered.



Michael Stipe
I have lost and I have been lost but for now I’m flying high
12 December 2023 – 16 March 2024
Edited by Alberto Salvadori


Written by

Christopher Johnson

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