Paolo Ventura was born in Milan in 1968, where he continues to have a studio, although he resides mainly in a small village in Tuscany with his family. Ventura graduated in 1991 from the renowned Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan (founded in 1776), where he was immersed in Italian history, techniques, and one of the most respected collections of Italian Renaissance paintings at the Pinacoteca di Brera. There, Ventura trained in the fine technical skills and rich visual language of the Italian Masters and also studied fresco painting, a medium that artists used to develop complex visual narratives and experiment with depth and spatial relationships. Ventura’s deep familiarity with these classical artistic techniques has helped him cultivate a unique manner of storytelling that is rooted both in historical references as well as a personal, contemporary style.
Twentieth-century Italian history and narrative techniques complement Ventura’s classical knowledge. Much of his work revisits the World War II era; his grandmother lived through both World Wars and raised Ventura on stories about the time period. Italian authors writing in the war’s aftermath—such as Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish writer who survived the Holocaust, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, a writer and filmmaker who is credited as the director of Italy’s last neorealist film—further fueled his desire to tell stories related to the war.
Finally, Ventura blends these influences with his own personal history. Growing up with a twin brother, he was used to seeing a version of himself as if “through a mirror.” In many of his works, Ventura dresses up, or asks his brother to, as a means to further toy with the idea of seeing himself from the outside. Meanwhile, the more playful elements of his painterly techniques recall illustrations of his father’s books, which were popular children’s stories in Italy.
Ventura’s work has been exhibited internationally, including solo exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art, Rome; Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Charleston, South Carolina; Forma International Center for Photography, Milan; Museum of Contemporary Art of Roma (MACRO); The Hague Museum of Photography; the Italian Academy at Columbia University, New York; and Les Rencontres de la Photographie en Arles. He has been the subject of several monographs including: War Souvenir (2006 Contrasto, 2006); Winter Stories (Aperture and Contrasto, 2009); The Automaton (Peliti Asociati, 2011); Lo Zuavo Scomparso (Punctum Press, 2012); The Invented World (Danilo Montanari Editore, 2013); L’archivio Ritrovato di V.P. (APM Edizioni, 2014); Short Stories (Aperture, 2016); and Behind the Walls (Danilo Montanari Editore and Aperture, 2017). His work is included in public collections worldwide including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Lowe Art Museum, Miami, FL; the MACRO Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome; the Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto, Italy. BBC’s comprehensive documentary “The Genius of Photography” includes Ventura’s photographs, and the artist is also the subject of The Prix Italia 2016 Best Movie in the TV Performing Arts category, “Paolo Ventura: The Vanishing Man.”
In 2011, Ventura was commissioned to make a new series for the Italian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennial. More recently, he has been commissioned to design major opera sets, including Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carouselin 2015 and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacciin 2017.