Critics’ Picks

View of “Stephen Prina: English for Foreigners,” 2017.

View of “Stephen Prina: English for Foreigners,” 2017.


Stephen Prina

Palazzo Donnaregina, via Settembrini, 79
May 15–October 16, 2017

In 1923 Stephen Prina’s father, Pietro Prina, was seventeen years old and played the clarinet in a band in Canischio, his family’s small hometown in Piedmont. The sound of this musical instrument draws visitors across a threshold into the large room where the younger Prina’s solo show is installed. Dense and stratified, the exhibition is a visual story of a century’s worth of his family’s history. For instance, we learn how Pietro was confronted by a group of Mussolini’s Blackshirts who forced his band to play “Giovinezza” (Youth), the Fascist National Party anthem. This event provided the impetus for his emigration to the United States. A cover of the memorable tune can be heard merging with a song the artist composed—English for Foreigners. Ode to Canischio, 2016—broadcast over speakers mounted on a wooden grid, which is completely carpeted by a light-brown fabric covered in faded red writing. This motif, both visual and linguistic, is taken from the front and back covers of a book titled Second Book in English for Foreigners in Evening Schools (1917), which the artist’s father studied to learn English.

Recontextualized within a space where Pantone’s 2017 color of the year (“Greenery”) appears in lithographs, promotional materials for the exhibition, and on gallery exits, the aforementioned fabric functions as a palimpsest of memory. Texts, paintings, photographs, sculptures, and an autobiography of Prina’s family all speak to a universal story of fathers and sons, countries and cities, migrations and uprootings, public spaces and private interiors, and all that it takes to finally feel like a “citizen.”

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.