Rome

Bruno Ceccobelli

Sala 1

It’s difficult to say if this show of Bruno Ceccobelli’s work was an installation, a set design, or a happening. It consisted of a single room-size environmental piece, entitled Natività (Nativity, 1987), made up of several dozen sculptures of various kinds laid out like a Neapolitan Christmas crèche. Although none of the traditional elements were actually represented (i.e., the Madonna, Christ child, or manger), it was obviously modeled after a typical Nativity scene; the show was even timed to coincide with the holidays, from Christmas eve to Epiphany. But instead of a crowd of puppets paying homage to the infant Jesus, Ceccobelli’s crèche was an extraordinary “staging” of the art of this century, constructed out of an assortment of found objects, paint, wood, and nails in a setting of marble fragments—remnants of Roman capitals, pediments, and other artifacts from classical ruins. In the middle of this elaborate set, he had laid a simulacrum of Kasimir Malevich’s black square on top of a marble plinth (his equivalent of the Christ figure in the manger) and surrounded it with miniature versions of many of the most famous works of 20th-century art—as if to say that an awareness of history is what supports every true avant-garde and, conversely, that modern art owes much to classical thought.

Through the metaphor of the crèche, Ceccobelli evoked the practice of an ancient ritual, consolidated from a tradition that is now submerged in memory. In transforming the crèche into an art-historical shrine and presenting it as a sort of miniature catalogue raisonné of the 20th century, he has created his own three-dimensional book of revelations, discovering personal allegorical meanings in each work: for example, to him, Malevich’s black square is a symbol of redemption from the sins of narrative art; Marcel Duchamp’s bicycle wheel is an instrument of revelation, like a comet; Alberto Giacometti’s figures are images of the condition of solitude in which artists must work; the patches of Yves Klein blue that dot the fragments of stone are like angels; and the sea of Pino Pascali, at the entrance to the structure, is the sea of creative fecundity. The crèche is animated with the beautiful form of one of Henry Moore’s female nudes; Paul Klee’s tightrope walker represents eternal childhood and thus the innocence of art; Alberto Burri’s small cracks and a Lucio Fontana cut canvas are examples of sublime radicality. Close to the Malevich square, Ceccobelli placed his most sincere prophets: Joseph Beuys, who was given the Word in the form of social art, and Constantin Brancusi, who points toward the sun, pure as life itself. These are all arranged according to their geographical origins, divided broadly into two categories: South (generous oases of creativity that accommodate Fausto Melotti and Jannis Kounellis, African masks, fantastic animal sculptures, and brightly colored interpretations of Balinese fish) and North (where Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns symbolize the power of chaos and the lucidity of order). The installation also included music composed by Pier Luigi Castellano, which, in a minimalist style, reprised some of the cardinal points of the history of music: Gregorian chant, Monteverdi, the grand opera of Verdi. Nothing was entrusted to chance. Everything was worked out to fit into and enhance the overall concept.

Ceccobelli’s work has always been deeply marked by spiritual intensity, by the search for the most profound meanings of symbols, by the redemption of even the most chthonic aspects of pictorial matter. But that symbology, until now translated in the depth of the blacks and browns, in areas of burned canvas, in the wax melted onto the surface of a work, here unexpectedly explodes in space and through time, aspiring to historical truth. For the work of Ceccobelli, this crèche may also represent a point of no return: the passage from a hermetic symbology to explicit allegory that, like an evangelical message, tends toward universal spirituality.

Alessandra Mammì

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.