Rome

4 Scultori

Galleria Fabio Sargentini

This show presented the work of Leoncillo, Pino Pascali, Hidetoshi Nagasawa, and Nunzio, ideal representatives of the ’50s, the ’60s, the 70s, and the ’80s in Italian sculpture. The work of Leoncillo exemplifies Italian sculpture of the postwar period. During the ’50s, art informel introduced a new way of confronting the problem of three-dimensionality. The artistic investigations of Leoncillo and other artists centered on the new potentials of their materials, the hidden layers of which were brought to the surface through lacerations, tears, and scratches. The existential sense of this process is inextricably linked to the wounds that these survivors of the war carried within themselves. Leoncillo’s way of working with ceramic is subversive; in his hands it is a material with the color of skin and blood, from which toxic lumps of rough material protrude—black coagulations, organic excesses that emerge from the clay at the threshold of the glazed surface.

The next generation, in the ’60s, carried away by social and cultural changes, turned its attention to the external world, with a new will to get a grip on concrete facts. Sculptors turned to new materials, drawn from the everyday world. Pascali chose artificial materials like cement and steel wool, organic materials like earth and straw, and natural materials like water for his work. Ponte (Bridge, 1968), for instance, is made of steel wool. It also exemplifies the second innovative element of the sculpture of that decade—the complete appropriation of space on the part of the object. This piece is suspended between two walls, like a hypothetical footbridge thrown between the irreconcilable opposites of the functional and the visionary. Pascali seems to opt for an intermediary state, a vision of the world in which both naturalism and conceptual intuition find a place. His work asserts itself through the force of allusion, with a playful nod to childhood toys and an ironic nod to functionalism.

In the ideological atmosphere of the ’70s, sculpture explored the meaning of “making’ and became the means through which the artist could make conceptual journeys and touch down squarely in the territory of materiality, while knowingly avoiding the trap of handicraft Beginning in those years, in an attempt to unite the modem present with the past, Nagasawa’s investigations pushed toward the renewal of his origins, enriched by the double cultures of Japan and Europe. He has continued to use ancient techniques and primitive gestures; his organization of forms follows simplified modes and often achieves points of pure beauty, as in the case of Era, 1986–87. This work consists of a sort of “tent” made from segments of brass interwoven by hand, which enclose two closely placed poles of linden wood. It is a ritual enclosure of a gilded and brilliant transparency, a place of initiation within which, however, no mystery is performed; inside, there is only the apparition of the naked natural element, the wood stripped of its bark.

The work of Nunzio, the youngest sculptor in the group, also refers to a “cultivated” naturalness. In his most recent work, Oceano (Ocean, 1986–87), a large space is occupied by a floor of lead on wood, and an ovoid form hangs from the wall. This is Nunzio’s first environmental work, and with it he achieves results of great evocative power. A long fin, like a whale’s back, rises up from the flat horizon of the gray floor, while the ovoid object, similar to a giant cuttlefish bone, projects from the wall. A sense of proportion and symmetry governs this work and a suspended silence hangs over it, without any emotionality. While this new work indicates a return to operational methods typical of the ’60s, particularly to those of arte povera, one should not forget that Nunzio was among the first in the new Italian generation to stake out his work entirely within the realm of “sculpture.” There is a creative tension in his work, deriving from the recomposition of a structural vocabulary that exploits material possibilities in a critical dialogue with irrational impulses. Along these lines Nunzio is ideally placed in the wake of the ’50s generation, but, having developed out of the experiences of Conceptual art, he can rigorously control his relationship with nature. Nunzio’s case demonstrates how one can trace a strong, coherent thread, without abrupt breaks, that runs through sculpture of recent decades. This show probably didn’t intend to resolve the fundamental problems of contemporary sculpture, but it presented and analyzed them clearly through the work of four exemplary artists.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.