Claudio Parmiggiani

Christian Stein

The title of this show, “Iconostasi” (Iconostases), evokes the idea of the screen between the nave and the bema or presbytery that in Christian basilicas contains holy images. Likewise, this installation of work by Claudio Parmiggiani was limited to a single small space chosen from among the gallery’s numerous rooms. The 12 small-scale works shown constitute as many fragments of the artist’s life. These are all painted sculptures, almost always incorporating a plaster cast—usually a classical reproduction of the head of Apollo or Athena, or an ear or hand. Each object represents a different idea. A relationship with nature is elucidated in a head within which a green branch grows, like some cerebral humus. The idea of landscape is addressed in a small wall-mounted sculpture—a house pressed up against a papier-mâchè mountain by a flattened perspective.

Parmiggiani also enjoys dealing in a more ironical manner with the theme of art. Here, he displayed on a wooden table, painted black, a container filled with yellow pigment, a reference to his past as a conceptual artist, yet one whose “phrases” were arranged in a perfect balance of contrasting color. In Vaso (Vase, 1985) a plaster head of Apollo, accentuated by tears of color that drip across the perfect white of the face, is used as a container for old brushes, a sobering reflection upon the status of contemporary painting. Verso Bisanzio (Toward Byzantium, 1985), a cast of a female head with the exposed interior revealing rolled-up geographical maps in the place of a brain, implies another favorite theme of the artist—the voyage, the exploration of unknown seas, lands, countries, and cities, places equally fascinating whether real or mythical.

In Parmiggiani’s work, neither the observer nor the work of other artists is assaulted. His use of materials is not inspired by the art of the past, his use of classical sculpture and, on occasion, Surrealist techniques of assemblage notwithstanding; he prefers to show his works as private and everyday situations. The objects in his sculptures are put together with a technique analogous to that a writer might use to structure a story. There is an underlying “tale,’ meant as a schematic base for the narrative, which is the artist’s point of departure; then there is a “plot,” a second level of development, reflection, and description, through which Parmiggiani adds and layers colors and objects. The means of his craft are displayed like words and syntax: paper, brushes, and plaster casts that do not constitute a tie with the past, but, rather, are presented as any other instrument of work, like a sculptural armature or a blank canvas, which are then used to try out various gradations of light and color, from the smooth white of Verso Bisanzio to the red drips of Vaso to the total blackness of Giardino notturno (Nocturnal garden, 1986).

Parmiggiani’s use of scraps of sculpture produces an intellectual distance between the artist and the work and allows one to ignore the manual process that went into the pieces’ making, the skillful manipulations of earth, wax, wood, and fragments of glass. It is as though there were another filter, beyond light, color, and space, between the spectator and the artist’s narrative. “Iconostasi,” above all else, is a place of silence.

Barbara Maestri

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.