Pino Pascali

Galleria Fabio Sargentini

Retrospectives always run the risk of burying the vitality of a body of work in favor of a posthumous interpretation that, while perhaps shrewd and well thought out, inevitably resembles an archaeological examination. Fortunately, “Ponti sull’acqua” (Bridges over water), an exhibition in homage to Pino Pascali 20 years after his death, avoided this approach. It is difficult to say whether the credit should go to the original installation or to the innate quality of Pascali’s work which still manages to preserve its original freshness and sense of amazement. It is a small miracle, held in a delicate balance between intelligence and a sense of play. There is a mix, perhaps unique, of a great awareness of craft and an instinctive sense of material, space, and symbol. Pascali’s work shows an understanding of the artistic gesture, of the generosity, magic, and simplicity that make a work universal and immediately comprehensible—in the words of Kandinsky, “both daughter of its own time and mother of our sensibility.”

In a sense, Pascali was a great artist in the Renaissance sense of the term, combining the humility of the artisan and the cleverness of the inventor. Yet he thought of set design in baroque terms, as something that implicates the entire mind, the entire space, an entire city. Much has been written about Pascali’s use of space. What has been discussed perhaps too little is how Pascali managed to appropriate time. And it is precisely his capacity to resist time that became evident in this show, where, instead of simply being represented, the works were re-installed according to new criteria. Here, the pools he so often used became rivers that crossed the entire gallery, following its structure and, in room after room, delineating a circular path. The visitor was forced to remain at the edges; the river could not be crossed, but only followed, and one eventually came upon two bridges reflected in the surfaces of the pools. The water, laden with meanings, thus marked a path of life and at the same time celebrated the death of the artist. The bridges of steel wool appeared unexpectedly and imposingly, to mark pauses along the path, silent monuments, immobile yet irreverent, playful in the exhibition of their domestic and vaguely clumsy material.

The installation was extremely intriguing and its emotional impact was great, but from a critical standpoint, it brought up certain inevitable questions. Up to what point is it legitimate to re-install, re-invent, and appropriate Pascali’s work? Is it right that the pools were not the original ones, that the paths wound according to criteria that were not the artist’s but the gallery owner’s? The answer is not simple. But perhaps it is Pascali’s work itself that asks to be played with one more time, to be manipulated again like modelling clay, to arouse in each of us the most authentic and primitive capacity to create. For today, more than ever, Pascali’s work seems like primitive matter in which one can locate all the witnesses of an epoch, the ’60s, when the poverty of materials, the appropriation of space, the use of minimal, infinitely combinable elements were accompanied by a surreal as well as instinctive sense of play. Then the risk of betraying the works’ original intentions seems rather less than the risk of enclosing the work in a fetishistic and musty commemorative celebration.

Alessandra Mammì

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.