Ernesto Tatafiore

Galerie Stampa

This carefully organized exhibition of Ernesto Tatafiore’s drawings brought together works from the last ten years in a very free arrangement which playfully avoided chronological ordering and programmatic grouping. The show’s format skillfully moved the theme of the exhibition—the figure of French revolutionary-leader Maximilien François Isidore de Robespierre—to the center of attention, while also making clear that the theme was not the object of a stylistic evolution.

Regardless of its compositional completeness, each work is only a facet of the larger metaphorical construction that constitutes the theme. Each piece (all the works are undated) is a fragment that, on the one hand, gives an approximate idea of the whole; but on the other hand, by virtue of its own unique nuances, each work can simultaneously throw the whole into opalescent uncertainty. The fragmentary character of these works functions not on the thematic level alone but also in the sphere of visual formulation: the delicate, often torn, and superimposed or serially mounted papers awaken the impression of a vulnerable, chance constellation—especially when they are pinned to the naked wall without the protection of a frame. But these delicate grounds also signify a kind of preciousness which blends most harmoniously with the elegance of the drawings. The multivalent meaning of the physical form of these drawings is just as complex as the historical figure of Robespierre, around whom the thematic structure of the pieces centers.

Tatafiore doesn’t initiate a historical discourse in the true sense, but rather treats Robespierre as a fiction of reality, as an occasion for a concretizing visualization. Robespierre, who declared the absolute value of reason and virtue, but defended and implemented them through terror; who wished to realize the revolutionary utopia by means of the guillotine; who for the sake of pure freedom swept away true freedom, the freedom of the individual, in a river of blood—this purist hero of history is reduced to human dimensions and addressed as a contemporary. The ambivalence of this artificially constructed figure is mirrored in the ambivalence of the concepts and order of the nearly antithetical images surrounding the figure. The image of Historia appears not only as a mother generating an endless stream of “history” and stories, but also as a seductive strumpet, a bounteous whore who pleasures each according to his whims and even grants a lucky few all they have ever wished for. And like the allegorical Historia, Vertu is also a woman whose “virtue” is founded not on a rigid ideal but on natural sensuality.

In contrast to these seductive women, the male figures, Robespierre in the lead, appear to be strangely lost creatures, heads on bodies that can barely find foothold on the earth; theirs is an order that is literally a phantasm of the mind, lacking all rootedness in the substance of the body Robespierre’s virtue knows no pain; herein lies the root of the excess of reason and the fanatical imposition of virtue. The fearfulness, coldness, and paralysis that the principled Robespierre embodies appear at first to be handled by Tatafiore with a truly amazing frivolity Yet it soon becomes evident that this frivolity is just as filled with love as the lasciviousness of the female figures. Tatafiore forges his way into a sphere of poetry within which he can confront Robespierre’s postulate of an absolute utopia—and where Robespierre, finally, reveals himself as a latent paradigm for the mechanisms of the art market. The playful handling of the beauty of form or idea unfolds here with the greatest delicacy, yet Tatafiore always makes clear that this delicacy dances on the razor’s edge, or more aptly, under the blade of the guillotine.

This double-edged quality of the Robespierre theme is reflected and summed up in two newer works which leave the narrower theme behind. These are the two seven-part series of drawings that opened and closed the show. Over the course of one series’ seven drawings, the blue boxing gloves of an athletically dancing boxer gradually form themselves into an abstract composition of balls. The blue gloves, however, also connect in dreamlike fashion to the other series, in which a woman’s blue eyes, blue lips, blue breast-blossoms, and blue sex spread seductively over seven more drawings. The imagined union of the woman and the boxer conjures up a heavenly vision.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.