Luciano Fabro

Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen

Luciano Fabro is a highly original artist who makes no compromises and whose work stands apart from anything else happening in art. If he is a sculptor, he is like no other contemporary sculptor; pieces like “Italy”, “Feet”, “Hatstands”, and “Gems” constitute isolated worlds that are like no other work, and even dissimilar to each other. Fabro is no avant-garde artist; even if his work involves a reorientation of modern sculpture, his whole being is grounded in the history of art. His thought reflects the classical tradition continually, and the spatial concepts of Giotto and Correggio—the perception-oriented Italian mode which he opposes to the French style of Poussin and Marcel Duchamp. The latter, he feels, is deadened by rationalization.

“If the senses renew themselves in art, then art renews nature,” writes Fabro in this show’s catalogue. But how is this achieved? Can one detect in Attaccapanni (Hatstands) any attainment of this goal? The piece consists of a colorful row of painted cloths hanging from borders of bronze leaves. The cloths fall in folds; on them, by carefully nuanced color, Fabro articulates imaginary shadows and lights as a commentary on Plato’s image of the cave. Where Plato saw a sharp contrast between light and shadow, comparable to that between clear, rational thought and the momentary quality of sensory perceptions, Fabro recognizes only a difference of degree, not of kind. In other words, Fabro, in Attaccapanni, denies Plato’s distinction between the intellect and the senses. But can one not just as well see here a commentary on Duchamp? Where Duchamp used banal objects to create a shock effect, Fabro takes the banal—the idea of the hatstand—and makes it something completely other.

Thus is Duchamp refuted. But it could be that Fabro’s hatred of Duchamp is based on a bad conscience. However much one admires Fabro, one must not forget that he does not in fact execute his own work. A self-taught artist, he leaves much of the realization of his idea to trained artisans. There must be moments when he feels like an outsider who knows no technique. “If I had to do my own work, I would have to learn everything, even the most elementary things. And then I would be busy with how I make something, instead of what I make. But if I let others do the work I cannot do myself, then it is my greatest concern to make the work so simple and understandable that it can be well executed even by outsiders,” Fabro argues, again in the catalogue. Fabro is an example of the artist as a developer of ideas rather than as an artisan—a concept inconceivable, ironically, before Duchamp.

Even Fabro’s most beautiful work, sadly not on view here, was made in collaboration. Lo Spirito (The Deceased) is a marble sculpture of a man lying beneath a sheet. Under the folds of the sheet one can distinguish feet, legs, and torso—but about where the head should be, the folds of the sheet give way imperceptibly to a pillow on which a head has rested but no longer does so. This is an impressive example of what Fabro describes as “what exists between full and empty, a subject that never existed, not real, not unreal, and also no story.”

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Michael Latcham.