Critics’ Picks

View of “Subtile,” 2011.

Milan

Piero Fogliati

Galleria Monopoli
via Giovanni Ventura 6
September 15–October 31, 2011

Despite two appearances at the Venice Biennale (in 1978 and 1986) and his 2003 retrospective in Turin, Piero Fogliati remains a relatively unknown artist, nearly absent from the market and unfamiliar to the wider public. Thus it is surprising and pleasing to see that a new Milan gallery is presenting “Subtile,” a selection of his older works, including seven kinetic sculptures that produce sound and light effects, almost all created between 1966 and 1976. A group of drawings on view, made between 1973 and the present, make the show even more delightful.

Much early kinetic art has not aged well; its ingenuous infatuation with technology and obsolete motors makes it as current for contemporary tastes as, say, academic nineteenth-century painting. (Like the latter, it is fascinating for some only because it is so old.) Fogliati’s sculptures are an exception, because they favor immateriality, an art of light and sound, for which their austere hardware is only the support. They are the results of Fogliati’s extravagant and visionary intelligence. Glancing at his works’ titles, one could surmise as much: Macchina per produrre fantasmi (Machine for Producing Ghosts), 1965; Ambiente di scultura di vento (Wind Sculpture Environment), 1970; Edicola delle apparizioni (Kiosk of Apparitions), 1986; or, to choose from two of the works on view here: Fiore sibilante (Hissing Flower), 1966, which is a metal rod that rotates, producing a hissing sound of variable intensity, and a version of his Fleximofono, 2002, a sculpture-cum–musical instrument composed of steel springs, which he devised in 1967.

These are playful, fanciful machines, reminiscent of a particular 1922 painting that Paul Klee made when he was teaching at the Bauhaus (one of Fogliati’s important influences). Depicting four filiform birds, or automatons, perched on a crank, the painting bears the title Twittering Machine, which could easily pertain to a work by Fogliati.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.