Ettore Spalletti

La Criee

The light of Rennes has the hardness and the transparency of a diamond. Nearly every day, sudden, brief showers of rain cleanse the atmospheric impurities that appear as white zones, alternately polished or padded. People move about in this light like small, utterly discrete bodies, without auras, dry with the fragile and rigid essence of insects encased in boxes. The substantial sentimentality of this picture—à ce cadre—possesses the quality that is attributed to kitsch. The province of Europe is kitsch, and kitsch is one face of a medal, a medal which is used as money; art is the other, inseparable face. One morning, while I was going down from the medieval city toward the new city, a strolling musician was making his way through a wide street, moving with ritual slowness. He was accompanied at a distance of five or six paces by two children, marked by a pale, ragged beauty. Without saying a word, the children held out a little dish for alms, and the accordion music, loud against the pure silence, accompanied this procession, which was like a small, quiet wave, inexorably advancing not toward but through its own destiny.

Meanwhile at La Criée, a space for art carved out of the interior of the old market, Ettore Spalletti exhibited his work. Clashing sharply with the aforementioned rural scene, Spaletti’s work resonated with both difference and presence. This difference, while quite marked, is never oppositional; the presence never gives way to the abstraction typical of so much Modern art, and manages to find a precise place within the real universe of experience, rather than in stereotypical poses.

La Criée is made up of two exhibition halls: the first is ample, with one door leading to the street and another leading to a large interior courtyard. You pass through a narrow space to reach a second, smaller room without openings to the outside; both rooms are smooth, clean, absolutely neutral containers. In the large space was Disegno (Design, 1988), an installation that appeared quite simple, but belied its own complexity. Along the axis that joined the two doors, but with a slight displacement that contradicted the predictable correctness of the orthogonal room, was a portion of essential landscape. In the foreground stood five “little houses,” placed near each other (what Spalletti calls “little houses,” which constitute a recurrent motif in his work, are solid, seven-faced shapes on a square base, with the two upper faces sloping like a roof); an interval; and three more “little houses,” all colored a tender, chalky green that tended to shade into a tenuous blue.

As a group, the houses conveyed the sense of an architectural fragment. On the floor behind this grouping, and corresponding to the interval, was an oval layer of black powder upon which a similarly shaped crystal had been placed, the powder overflowing into a soft, opaque frame (like the surface of a lake or a well, a dark mirror); above it spanned an arc made of metal and covered with graphite paste, long as the perfect gesture of a sure hand and shaped like a rainbow or the profile of a transparent mountain. The small, windowless room held a painting (in its solidity, really a sculpture), Maria, 1988; its watery blue color emerged from a material both dense and light, like plaster, powder, or clear honey. Facing it, across the room, was a piece of polished black marble, Gli occhi le mani (Eyes hand, 1988): sloping across the upper portion of the work was a silkscreened photograph depicting a hand grazing over a layer of light powder, an image from a previous work. Everywhere one could see indefinite references to secret forms and memories, to clear signs and to resonances that blur in time; vibrations that transcend or are absorbed by the materials from which they emanate and which, by virtue of those materials, gleam in the diaphanous or brilliant light of the present hour of their own timelessness.

When he showed us the empty space between the two doors interrupted by the work between them, Spalletti momentarily succeeded in communicating a deeply felt epiphany. Upon seeing it, I recalled how, in Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, the perfect composition of the female figure, the serene conjunction of the arms, the perfect roundness of the head, the mystery of the bust—in short, the true form—was placed before a primordial landscape, without history; before the timeless mountains of creation, the true sub- stance—a moment, a heedless glimmer.

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.