A tribute to gentleman photographer Giovanni Gastel

Giovanni Gastel, Exhibition installation

Giovanni Gastel, Exhibition installation © Triennale Milano, Ph Gianluca Di Ioia

In two exhibitions, The People I Like and I gioielli della fantasia, Triennale Milano celebrates and reviews the artistic output of a gentle provocateur, a photographer capable of looking into people’s souls

The Teatro della Triennale in Milan was packed with friends and colleagues, emotion flowing tangibly on stage and in the audience from the very first words. Almost a year ago, internationally-acclaimed Milanese photographer Giovanni Gastel was taken by Covid at the age of 65. Now, in two exhibitions entitled The People I Like, in partnership with MAXXI, and I gioielli della fantasia conceived with the Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea, the Triennale is paying tribute to this sophisticated world portraitist, who for over forty years dedicated himself not just to faces and bodies, but to fashion, jewellery and textiles. “Giovanni would not have wanted any kind of bombast,” said Triennale President, Stefano Boeri, as he welcomed guests to the opening evening. “His work often intertwined with the pathways the Triennale was taking, and he contributed his ideas, projects and inspiration. Now, through these two exhibitions, we pay due homage to this generous, easy-going genius that Milan and the art world lost far too young.”

Giovanni Gastel, Exhibition installation

Giovanni Gastel, Exhibition installation © Triennale Milano, Ph Gianluca Di Ioia

Curated by Uberto Frigerio in an installation by Lissoni Associati, The People I Like presents over 200 large-format portraits, mostly in black and white. The final section of the exhibition displays eighty images from Gastel’s series of black necks, portraits that verge on spirituality. “Early in his career, Giovanni was not particularly enamoured of portraits, but in later years they became a significant part of his photographic horizon,” said Giovanna Melandri, President of MAXXI in Rome. “He was so full of intelligence and laughter, it was a privilege to be his friend. Now, after hosting the exhibition at MAXXI, I am delighted that it is being staged here today. Giovanni used to say, The People I Like is the story of my world, the people who have passed something on to me, taught me, touched my soul... for me, that has nothing to do with their origin, social extraction or anything else like that. The soul is something unique and independent. As such, like the heart, it follows no predefined pattern.”

Giovanni Gastel, Exhibition installation

Giovanni Gastel, Exhibition installation © Triennale Milano, Ph Gianluca Di Ioia

Visitors to the exhibition pass through a labyrinth of faces, poses and dreams, portraying leading lights of culture, design, art, fashion, music, entertainment, and politics. Somehow, the photographer’s portraits capture the complexity of his subjects, delving into the psychological spheres of Barack Obama, Ettore Sottsass, Germano Celant, Zucchero, Tiziano Ferro, Vasco Rossi, Roberto Bolle, Bebe Vio, Bianca Balti, Luciana Littizzetto, Franca Sozzani, Miriam Leone and Monica Bellucci. The second exhibition, I gioielli della fantasia, showcases one of the first works to bring Gastel international acclaim: twenty images from a larger project commissioned by the Daniel Swarovski Corporation in 1991 for a book of the same name, alongside an exhibition of 20th-century jewellery, both curated by Deanna Farneti Cera. Here, in a dialogue between the world of objects and the human figure, irony, body and the mask, disguise and metamorphosis, we encounter the photographer’s stylistic elegance and central themes.

Giovanni Gastel, Exhibition installation

Giovanni Gastel, Exhibition installation © Triennale Milano, Ph Gianluca Di Ioia

Gastel began working as a photographer in the mid-1970s in a Milan basement. He worked for Christie’s between 1975 and 1976, and then in the early 1980s took the plunge into the fashion world, working for magazines like “Annabella”, “Vogue Italia”, “Mondo Uomo”, and “Mondo Donna”. Success took Gastel to Paris, to work for Dior, Nina Ricci, and Guerlain, and then on to the UK and Spain. In the 1980s and 1990s, as Gastel’s fashion career took off, Made in Italy underwent a boom, and he shot advertising campaigns for brands such as Versace, Missoni, Tod’s, Trussardi, Krizia, and Ferragamo. In 1997, Triennale Milano put on a personal exhibition of his work curated by Germano Celant that propelled him to the pinnacle of the world’s photographic elite, his name appearing alongside legends like Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz, and Mario Testino, as well as big beasts of Italian photography, Giampaolo Barbieri and Oliviero Toscani. Indeed, Toscani took the stage at the Triennale to regale the audience with recollections and anecdotes: “Do you realize how privileged we were to be photographers?” he asked the audience. “The chance to bear witness to our time... Giovanni and I were highly critical with one another; we were true friends, and true friends always tell each other the truth.”

Giovanni Gastel

Giovanni Gastel Ph Tommaso Gesuato

Barack Obama

Barack Obama, The People I Like by Giovanni Gastel

Franca Sozzani

Franca Sozzani, The People I Like by Giovanni Gastel

Bianca Balti

Bianca Balti, The People I Like by Giovanni Gastel

Germano Celant

Germano Celant, The People I Like by Giovanni Gastel

Monica Bellucci

Monica Bellucci, The People I Like by Giovanni Gastel

Stefano Boeri

Stefano Boeri, The People I Like by Giovanni Gastel

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The exhibition features text transcribed by Gastel’s dear friend and curator Uberto Frigerio: “Every portrait represents the meeting and synthesis of two imaginations… or, rather, as Roland Barthes wrote in his essay on photography, Camera Lucida, four: who I believe I am, who I would like to believe I am, who the photographer believes I am, and what he deploys to make his art. It’s different every time two people meet, a magical synthesis I’ve watched happen countless times, passing through seduction, empathy, and reciprocal discovery. This is the most unique aspect of Giovanni’s photographic set, which always underwent a transformation into an artistic event, before he completed the work in post-production where, above all, the creative leap, the photographer’s personal vision, took place.” Most certainly, beyond what the photographer saw in front of his camera.


Giovanni Gastel The People I Like
Curated by: Uberto Frigerio
Exhibition design: Lissoni Associates
Produced by: Image Service, in collaboration with MAXXI

I gioielli della fantasia
In partnership with the Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea

6 December 2021