Luciano Fabro

Galleria Christian Stein

The overwhelming feeling, upon entering the room that Luciano Fabro has constructed, is of having ended up in a pit: there are hidden openings; Fabro makes apparent the relativity of one’s viewpoint within the space by emphasizing a dimension of architectural equilibrium and by limiting as much as possible the expressiveness of any visual elements. Fabro has maintained the conceptual character of his past work; but this room is even more abstract because the source of the image is external. In this piece Fabro has constructed the theorem of the polemic now being debated in Italy about the visual arts’ return to representation, to sentimental memory, to expressionism, to a revival of pre-industrial themes. But perhaps in this case the polemics overwhelm the freedom of the image. It is disquieting, for example, that a description of this battle is presented in such a rarefied atmosphere: the conditions of war are hidden here beneath the guise of formalism, which is used as a mask and as a weapon at the same time: inside Fabro’s room we are not in a climate of passion, but of cunning. It remains to be seen whether this wisdom protects endangered treasures or is a middle-of-the-road posture.

On the whole, Fabro’s work deals with space as a metaphor in art practice today. It is noteworthy that this problem is posed by an artist like Fabro, who developed within the Italian context of Arte Povera. During those years (and obviously today as well), artists were concerned with taking risks: with living lives that could also be understood as poetic forms (in other words, the incarnation of myths), and attempting to bring together art, political practice and daily life. Today Fabro uses the space of the Stein Gallery (which was often the site of Arte Povera installations) to create three environments that, placed one after another, without separations, give a long perspectival view, and at the same time relate a political parable. Constructing a wall in the middle, he blocks one’s vision of, and entrance into, the last space, which previously was accessible. And so his room emerges as the product of a prohibition. The dialectic between the visible and the unseen, which is fundamental to Fabro’s work, is not in this case a discourse on illusion, but rather a discourse on the obstacle which impedes free passage to the overall space. The metaphor builds: anyone who is unaware of the artist’s previous works in this space will see the wall as a natural horizontal, but for those who remember, the previous space continues to exist; the forbidden space holds the traces of past events and becomes a secret place that gives expectant form to the new event.

Fabro’s work has, however, a second element, contrary to the first, which seems to resolve the metaphor of the space in terms of illusion. A perfect cornice [Italian cornice, meaning both “cornice” and “frame”] has been drawn by Fabro around the opening through which people enter into the room, and likewise the line of an ornamental cornice has been drawn inside, on the walls around the room, both high up and near the floor. Thus every action inside the room is of necessity carried out through, mediated by, the cornice frame, and one finds oneself both inside an architectural space and inside a drawing. This is, in fact, an interrogative situation: where is one walking when one walks inside a drawing? But inside a framed space, one can only encounter convention, and so desire falls back on itself.

This seems to be Fabro’s second solution; he shows the trompe l’oeil as a point of departure for a space that doesn’t exist. In fact, the two series of drawn images repeated on sheets of paper are trompe l’oeil. (They are also framed like the doors of the room.) Fabro has arranged them symmetrically around the room: at ceiling level there is a series of landscapes, drawn and colored in a schematic and childlike manner; at floor level there is a series of green vertical lines which, both as wall and as drawing, form the horizon for the viewer wandering around the gallery. The material (the wall) and the illusion itself are both an obstacle or barrier to be overcome and a goal to be attained. Having blocked the original perspective of the gallery, Fabro has transformed the horizon line into a name, a concept. In doing this Fabro goes against the latest tendencies in Italian painting, which reach back to tradition, and in which landscape is revived as a vehicle for either innocent memory or projections of fantasy. Fabro, on the other hand, radically throws off balance the sense of perspective by serializing the vanishing point. The confines of his “landscape” (both in the drawings and in the room) are in continuous flux, even while they seem frozen in their symmetry. Room, frame and drawing seem to outline a story which one cannot see. Fabro’s discourse on the metaphor of “space” condemns itself, therefore, to a double meaning.

Luciana Rogozinski