Arte Povera - Gallery 7

Explore works by Giulio Paolini, Giuseppe Penone, Luciano Fabro, and Mario Merz.

Notes for the Description of a Painting Dated 1972 (1972) by Giulio PaoliniMagazzino Italian Art

For Paolini, art is a process of revelation. In Appunti per la descrizione di un quadro datato 1972, Paolini drew a grid in pencil on canvas, which simulates a series of pages covered in notes. As suggested by the title, these notes pertain to the detailed description of a work of art— an example of ekphrasis.

The writing, however, is not meant to be legible; instead, as the viewer scans the page, a graphic rhythm emerges. It is impossible to decipher and reads instead as lyrical form. The logical connection between word and meaning is thus denied by Paolini, who invites viewers to participate in a reading of form. The work is part of a series of canvases that the artist made for his first solo show in New York at the Sonnabend Gallery in 1972.

Untitled Untitled (1982) by Mario MerzMagazzino Italian Art

Mario Merz first used the Fibonacci series in his works in 1970. The series was conceived in the 13th century by Leonardo da Pisa, who was also known as Fibonacci. Each number in the series is determined by the sum of the two numbers that precede it: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc. Merz was fascinated by the series and its association with organic and biological growth.

Merz often used the Fibonacci series as a bridge between art and life. He frequently juxtaposed progressions of numbers in the series, suggesting an opening of the work onto the infinite, with organic objects that are finite, as underscored by the taxidermy reindeer head in this work. The neon tubing in which the numbers are written represent the permanent state of nature’s energetic growth.

On Painting (1977) by Giulio PaoliniMagazzino Italian Art

De pictura refers to the Renaissance treatise on painting from which this work draws its name. In 1435, architect and humanist Leon Battista Alberti first codified the theory of linear perspective. Perspective became a major device through which artists sought to create realistic representations of spatial depth on two-dimensional surfaces. In this work, Paolini assembled nine canvases in a grid, onto which he drew the lines of an imaginary room rendered different orders of experience and ways to encounter the world.

Real nails run along the sides of two canvases and are repeated on the front, where they position the real canvas as a representation in perspective. The reversed canvas at center hides the view of the represented canvas on the opposite wall of the drawn room. Fragments of a photograph pasted at the bottom of the work were taken from a previous version of Paolini’s De pictura, reminding us of the origins of the work. According to Paolini, vision activates memory and knowledge. Through memory, we can reconstruct the whole image—or, as the work suggests, a whole world—even through one part.

To Unroll One’s Skin – Tip of the Middle Finger of My Right Hand (1971) by Giuseppe PenoneMagazzino Italian Art

For Penone, the finger is related to our sense of touch. In Svolgere la propria pelle—punta del dito medio della mano destra, Penone photographed the tip of his right middle finger and collaged it onto 238 sheets of paper arranged in a grid. At a distance, the work appears as a serial grid of abstract forms. When viewers look closely, however, they see an intimate gesture unfold before them.

The photograph records the contact of the finger pressed against a small glass plate. The work renders in visual form the reciprocal act of touching: When our fingers touch a surface, they are touched by that surface as well. The interplay between touching and being touched is central to Penone’s work.

It-aly (1971) by Luciano FabroMagazzino Italian Art

Amidst the political and social unrest surrounding May 1968 and the associated Italian “hot autumn” of 1969, Luciano Fabro began to focus on the cartographic silhouette of Italy as a leitmotif in his practice. In his Italia (Italy) series, the artist rendered the image in various materials, evoking multiple meanings; at the same time, the artist frequently used ironic titles, which underscore the many references in these works. During his production of this work, entitled It-alia, the sheet of mirrored glass broke into two parts.

The two parts speak to two halves of Italy, evoking social, cultural, and geographic divisions between the north and south of the country. Arranged casually on the floor and propped up against the wall, the irreparable division but suggested contiguity between the glass plates and halves of Italy is underscored by their arrangement in proximity to one another and by the hyphenated title of the work. The ribbons of lead that frame the work suggest an engagement with the period of sociopolitical unrest in Italy at the time, known as gli anni di piombo (the years of lead), which would continue through the early 1980s.

The Exile of the Swan The Exile of the Swan (1984) by Giulio PaoliniMagazzino Italian Art

The title of this work, L’exil du cygne, references an 1885 poem by French author Stéphane Mallarmé. The titular phrase refers to Mallarmé’s frequent play with sound and to the ambiguity of every sign, as the French word cygne (swan) has the same pronunciation as the word signe (sign). When spoken, the title means both “the exile of the swan” and “the exile of the sign.” A large canvas spans the corner of the gallery, framed by plaster casts of Corinthian columns. While the corner behind the work is out of view, the drawing on the canvas’s surface reproduces the lines of the architectural space in which the canvas is situated. The paper fragments scattered throughout the work reproduce the image of a hand holding a pen.

Excerpted from Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1751), the image illustrated the correct way to write. The process is described in Diderot’s volume in nine steps, referred to by nine scraps of paper. The white feather quills, a traditional writing tool used to inscribe written signs, refers to the swan and to the act of writing. Paolini often examined the relationship between word and image, sign and meaning, reality and representation.

Mimesis Mimesis (1976) by Giulio PaoliniMagazzino Italian Art

Artist Giulio Paolini has long been interested in vision as a way to know the world. Mimesi belongs to a series in which Paolini made plaster casts of iconic classical sculptures. In the series, the artist plays with classicism in an avant-garde way. Mimesi is composed of two plaster casts of the Greek messenger god Hermes from the classical marble sculpture, Hermes with the Infant Dionysus (350–330 BCE) by Praxiteles. Paolini’s sculptures don’t hide the fact that they are casts: the line of the mold is visible on the figures’ sides.

Reproduced from the knee up, the figures are positioned to intercept one other’s gazes. The title of this work comes from the word “mimesis,” which means mimicry. In art and philosophy, mimesis also refers to representation as naturalistic reproduction—a convincing representation of a real thing in the world. By making two casts of the same sculpture, the artist sets up a dialogue between original and reproduction. As Paolini explained, “I want to be the observer who sees the distance that divides them and therefore captures all the possibilities of relationship, or absence of relationship, between the image and us.”

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