Gianni Piacentino

Castello di Rivara

This retrospective shows Gianni Piacentino’s works moving from a mute, hermetic, artful language of monochromatic surfaces and structures toward the construction of a pedestrian identity. Piacentino’s earliest works presented here, Stero and Ma F.F., both 1965, are essentially monochromatic canvases of different shapes, sizes, and colors. The sculptural works from 1966, such as Dark Violet-Gray Three Dimensions, continue this artful language while demonstrating an attention to technique that manifests itself in the almost industrial perfection of his surfaces. With his monochromatic table-like structures, such as Metalloid Warm Red-Pink, 1967, Piacentino’s works began to leave their artful arena to become or to mimic objects. These perfectly utilitarian and vibrantly colored works are followed by Pearlescent Wings, 1969, a set of sculptural airplane wings, and Marbled Vehicle, 1969, a marble-finished high-tech go-cart, pieces that continue to identify themselves with pedestrian, if somewhat more exotic, objects. Piacentino’s use of English for most of his long descriptive titles can be seen as an attempt to identify his production with that of technicians or engineers internationally, who tend to regard English as a common language. When the name “Piacentino” appears as a sort of logo on the sides of two sculptural works, Blue-Pearlescent Black Frame Vehicle With Nickel Signed Plates, 1971, and Mono Nickel Vehicle, 1971, the artist himself simulates the nonartful role of producer or fabricator. Much of his work from this point on attempts to construct an artistic identity around this adopted or simulated position.

After the first appearance of the vehicle works, Piacentino’s paintings and wall constructions begin to resemble promotional logos or graphics for automotive and aerodynamic industry products. The initials “G.P.” or the name “Piacentino,” written and underlined in flowing script, often appear either as insignia or on their own. Of these works, the ones from 1975–1983 are illustrative of a notion of aerodynamics tied to the origins of machine-driven flight. References to the Wright brothers, or fragments from images of now-antique aircraft, executed in a clean, “graphic” style that does not deviate from the perfection of the earlier monochromatic surfaces, often appear in these works. Piacentino’s more recent works, from 1983–88, shift from a nostalgia for the Wright brothers to postwar images of dynamism and speed. Blue Record Vehicle, 1986–87, for example, calls to mind the fins of a ’50s Cadillac.

Considered individually, Piacentino’s art might lend itself to an interpretation grounded in a criticism of Modernist practices—a simulationist’s stance exploring the distinctions between furniture and sculpture, media-generated imagery and painting, and the differences between the useful and the artful. But the retrospective nature of this exhibition provides the opportunity to experience Piacentino’s paintings, sculptures, and constructions in terms of what Georg Lukács has described as “transcendental homelessness,” an estranged state in which the modern hero finds no unity in his world and travels in search of self-recognition and meaning. Piacentino seems to simulate roles or identities other than those of the artist; these include technician, artisan, even publicist. But what is being simulated here is a romanticized, apolitical, and ahistorical notion of individual identity, one in which the producer is secure and at home with his or her production. He sidesteps the condition that the contemporary artist, oppressed by Modernism’s devotion to originality, must confront.

Anthony Iannacci