Fabio Mauri

Studio Bocchi

Fabio Mauri’s development began in the late ’50s, at a time when many artists—both in Europe and in the United States—were looking for ideas to counter those of art informel and from action painting. Mauri’s solution (which he shared to a limited degree with Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni) was to reduce painting to “ground zero,” to its minimal conditions, so that the paintings become simple supports—empty, monochrome screens. This emptiness allows the imagination free reign; thus, film fragments, words such as “The End,” and later the profile of Frank Sinatra appear on surfaces that are almost always white or black. This theatrical trait is evident throughout Mauri’s entire oeuvre. He projected the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini and of Miklós Jancsó onto the bodies of these respective directors, and the “white” sequences of Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, 1938, upon 50 liters of milk. Through works and installations based essentially on the photographic process, he also dealt with anti-Semitism and the “degenerate art” of the Third Reich, while his performances evoked “grand Futurist theater.”

Mauri’s artistic path unfolded throughout the ’70s and the ’80s; he took into consideration the problematic role of the artist as well as that of the museum or gallery as conventional artistic institutions. For example, Macchina per forare acquerelli (Machine for puncturing watercolors, 1990), a gigantic 19th-century pantograph—an extremely beautiful, shiny tool, made of wood and metal—supports and at the same time pierces two black monochrome watercolors. Mauri invokes tradition as the point of departure. The watercolor is a classical artistic medium with a long history, and the pantograph is a tool used by sculptors and architects during the design phase to enlarge or reduce forms, while respecting their proportions and internal symmetries. The artist applied a 100-lire coin to both of the pantograph’s two points: one normal size, the other reduced. The two watercolors are also different in size, in a 1-to-1½ relationship—the same proportion that exists between the two coins. The pantograph verifies the similarities between objects and therefore places them in a metaphorical relationship to one another. It is the work and at the same time the tool for making the work. Thus, there is a possibility for doubling, and, in fact, a few meters from the gigantic pantograph, Mauri set up another, reduced-scale model of it. Difference and repetition, otherness and identity are interwoven reciprocally, each remaining in a circular movement that has a static air. The points of the pantograph—equipped with watercolors and coins—turn resolutely toward the ceiling, as if they might puncture it and then slowly pierce all the floors of the 16th-century building where the gallery is located, finally emerging in the sky.

Through this tool of comparison, Mauri strives to demonstrate that something always eludes these too-human operations, which are intended to level differences. The coins, while different in size, have the same monetary value, just as the two watercolors—one larger, the other smaller—possess the same intrinsic artistic value. Value eludes appraisal, and cannot be subjected to comparison. This does not mean, however, that value lies beyond the world that we know and live in; on the contrary, value is the same thing (that coin, that watercolor) that lies before us, in all its unique simplicity. It is itself and nothing more. For Mauri, this simple thing is art, it is poetry: a prototype, an invention that resembles only itself.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.