Carlo Maria Mariani

For this exhibition, entitled “Paradiso Riconquistato” (Paradise regained), Carlo Maria Mariani showed both works on paper and a thematic group of paintings, each in the same size and format. These paintings are in the well-crafted neoclassical style now synonymous with Mariani’s nostalgic production; they are works that emanate a notion of idealized perfection and combine historical quotation with a facade of greatness. By making historical quotations the subject of his art, Mariani refers to the immortality of art and its creators. Like his previous works, the paintings in this show (all from 1987–88) center on the almost-nude or toga-clad figure of a muscular male youth. Because Mariani so consciously contains these figures within the picture plane—so much so that they seem flat and one-dimensional—they appear often contorted or contrived.

In Aprile, 1988, a seated, laurel-crowned boy is surrounded by elements that make reference to art. Mariani seems to fuse the physical and historical identity of the youth with his surroundings. Like a Gulliveresque giant traveling through the history of art, the neoclassical figure is depicted balancing a miniature reproduction of an Alexander Calder sculpture between his crossed right leg and his right hand. He has a chameleonlike relationship to the yellow surfaces of the sculpture, as his hand seems to turn a similar color. At his left is a headless classical sculpture of a woman whose legs have been transformed into a pedestal. As his left arm disappears behind this sculpture, as if to embrace it, it simultaneously seems to reappear out of the sculptured drapery, seemingly changed into the material of the sculpture. Mariani’s painterly liberties create a visual confusion between the sculpted hand of the headless woman and that of the boy. At his feet lies an animated golden arm holding a golden branch. This appendage has been appropriated by Mariani from a piece by 19th-century neoclassicist Anton Raphael Mengs, whose work he has quoted extensively. Mariani depicts the youth almost as part of the art that surrounds him. He is both an object of beauty and the possessor of beauty, both art and its creator; he is a representation of a living godlike incarnation of the sublime.

Mariani’s idealized but frozen depictions are homages to the transitoriness of time, and simultaneously the recognition of an immortal status, eternity, the manifestations of the gods. His young beauties seem to gaze in mysterious triumph, as if they had achieved a great personal victory over time itself. This distances us from these godlike figures; Mariani presents them as the epitome of a narcissistic notion of beauty and thus renders them mute.

Anthony Iannacci