New York

Pier Paolo Calzolari

Sonnabend Gallery

Pier Paolo Calzolari does not speak English and I do not know Italian, so I was not able to ask him what he intends his work to be about. In his show at Sonnabend he uses a lot of neon and a lot of sound. I take it that he’s interested in different registers of information—visual, auditory, linguistic, tactile, and even perhaps olfactory in one piece involving tobacco leaves. The show contains such things as a row of mattresses on the floor, each of which supports a couple of words or phrases (in English) spelled out in neon, e.g., “My own hand—my free one.” Then there is a neon triangle traced on the wall with “Abstract art in your home” written in neon in the middle of it. But the flashiest and most dubious piece was a mirror hung from the wall with a narrow right-angled piece of metal attached to it so as to form a triangular space in front on the surface. Along this little shelf is written backwards in neon “I and my 5 fishes in the corner of my real, real sermon.” That sounds like it might be obscurely meaningful, but I was told that it was something that Calzolari heard a junkie mumble in the London underground; he evidently has quite a phonetic memory. Or maybe the junkie was speaking Italian, or maybe Calzolari repeated what he thought he heard to an English-speaking friend and it came across phonetically that way. In any case, you have to ask the woman minding the gallery to find out that the meaning of the neon phrase is not supposed to be given in or by the piece as a whole. Compared with, say, Bruce Nauman’s early work with neon, all of this looks pretty thin. But there is one piece which haunts me; it involves numbers, phrases, and temperature. I have to admit that I still can’t make sense of it, but I have a feeling that it may be worth wondering about. What is missing from this show, as from every other I’ve seen that deals with the technical concept of information, is some clarification of the relation between information and meaning.

Kenneth Baker