Van Abbemuseum

Luciano Fabro’s six-part Attaccapanni di Napoli, 1976–77, has been shown on earlier occasions, but here, in the uneven company of the “Regenboog” (Rainbow) show—Rudi Fuchs’ last event as director of the museum—it looked more magnificent than ever. The show, mounted in the ideal surroundings of the museum’s almost monastic environment, emphasized once more Fuchs’ ideas about exhibition. His dialectical concept, which he also used at Documenta 8, revolved here around the theme of color. The “rainbow” of the title referred not only to color but to the heterogeneous collection of paintings that vied, as it were, with the overwhelming color of Fabro’s centrally placed installation.

This poetic piece set the tone for a symphonic exhibition plan in which the work of 16 artists was displayed in pairs in each of the eight surrounding rooms (for example, Gerhard Richter with Jan Dibbets, Lucio Fontana with Arnulf Rainer, Constant with Georg Baselitz, and Per Kirkeby with Jean Dubuffet). The various juxtapositions were decided on the basis of the greatest potential for mutual interaction and confrontation—or, at least, that is what Fuchs hoped they would do. In fact, this was rarely the case, and hardly anywhere was there so much as a spark of the magic that Fabro’s Attaccapanni was able to evoke by itself, with no need to measure itself against works of other artists.

Attaccapanni (which means “clothes hook”) consists of six irregular bronze wall mounts on each of which is hung a “curtain” of different colors. The progression of soft harmonies of yellow, gray, green, blue, and pink filled the central room of the museum with the colors of the spectrum, and made explicit what Fabro once said about this work: that it evokes the little iron balconies in Naples on which wash is hung out to dry, catching the last light from Africa blending with light from the Alps. Fabro has created the effect of a Neapolitan sunset through a rare combination of sculptural and painterly elements in one conceptual whole.

The success of Attaccapanni stood out especially because of the weakness of many of the pairings, the dialectical structure of which was overly reliant on artificial art-historical categories. Moreover, the subtlety of Fabro’s work contrasted enormously with almost all of the others, who, with the clear exception of Richter, came across as compilers of “sign manuals” dependent on certain “gimmicks”: Fontana’s slashes, Baselitz’s inversions, Rainer’s overpaintings, etc. Surely it is also relevant that Fuchs did not include a single sculptor in his pairings and that Fabro’s work seemed to emphasize the futility of the distinction between painting and sculpture. For Attaccapanni eludes categorizing, and so appears to evade the heavy burden of art history that the other works unintentionally assumed in Fuchs’ dialectical conception. It seemed very much as if Fuchs’ dialectical framework, which had often looked sound and convincing in the past, had here become a ghost of its former self—as though his conceptions of past years were swallowed up by Fabro’s work as by a mirror that takes everything into itself and gives back nothing.

Perhaps in this respect Rainer’s over-paintings were most closely akin to the Attaccapanni. As Rainer paints his representations completely away, except for a little corner area, thus creating a mysterious image of a past that is indeed still present but no longer visible, so Fabro too plays with invisible presences. The hanging folds of artificial silk acquire added conceptual force from the euphoric power of their celestial color combinations—a force that found no countervailing force here in terms of quality and inspiration except for the paintings, reminiscent of umbrellas, of Richter.

It is disappointing that the “Rainbow” show proved an unfortunate vehicle for Fuchs’ dialectical concept, which after all did yield a great many astonishing exhibitions during his tenure here. This time, art history seemed to utterly overwhelm his approach, which had always been intended to undermine the official account of modern art history as far as possible. With the central placement of Fabro’s Attaccapanni, however, Fuchs himself must have realized that ultimately the conceptual dialectical confrontation has to be present in the work of art if it is to survive its time.

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Ernst van Haagen.