Rome

Vettor Pisani

Galleria Pieroni

Art is a privileged approach to symbols; the materials it employs transcend their simple physical presence. Vettor Pisani makes the symbolic the primary obsession of his work. For more than twenty years he has undertaken a voyage through the symbolic, which has given his work a strongly individual and coherent itinerary, a complexity, and a multi-valence rarely found today.

This show had three interrelated works, all referring to the figure of the Virgin, a key motif in Pisani’s work. A working refrigerator, Signorina Frigidaire, 1991, contained some small devotional objects: a map of the world, a compass, a sleigh bell, three rock crystals, some rouge and other makeup articles, which were all covered with a light dusting of frost. The “Frigidaire” refers to the supposed “frigidity” of the Virgin, object but not subject of desire, a mathematically unmeasurable desire. If the three crystals—three is the number representing perfection, and Pisani bases many of his works on it—refer to the purity of the Virgin, the rouges allude to the image of desire, just as the sleigh bell alludes to the Dionysian and erotic spirit of music.

In Il Teatro della Vergine (The theater of the Virgin, 1991), beneath the eyeless glance of a large wall clock that beats out real time, some sheets of glass, fastened to each other with clamps, blocked the visitor’s passage, thus creating a sort of proscenium stage. The “stage,” kept at a distance, was composed essentially of a metal tripod with casters, one leg of which was clamped to a color photograph of a young girl, her head down, covering her genitals with one hand. It is as if she were flying, freed from the weight of gravity, demonstrating the relativity of the conventions that govern our perceptual world. In La Piramide di Memphis (The pyramid of Memphis, 1991), an overturned pyramid—like the image of the Virgin—was filled with red pigment and hung by a hook to a metal cable. In the mythical dimension, the overturned pyramid symbolizes initiation, just as the Virgin herself is the prelude to an initiatory rite.

The key to Pisani’s work lies on its symbolic level, through metaphorical correspondences among images, objects, and meanings. The symbolic material is hermetic as well as open to other meanings. All the pieces have some sort of presence of red—red objects, pigment, the lights of illuminated beacons—and therefore exude a vital energy, which flickers like an electrical charge. But there is also the reference to art history, a constant in Pisani’s work, and particularly to the language of the avant-garde, to Marcel Duchamp, to Joseph Beuys, and Yves Klein, with whom Pisani establishes a deliberate dialogue. There emerges a concept of art as a modality of knowledge, according to Gnostic tradition, as critical practice, as the laical and Enlightenment version of the Masonic legacy, as a philosophical and erudite work where East and West can come together. Still, the symbolic value of the materials does not detract from the works’ duality, nor from its greater cultural content. These pieces contain levers, clamps, hooks, and cables that evoke a masochistic dimension, they also surely refer to Duchampian themes (the body mutilation in Étant donnés and the machines in the Large Glass). At the same time, those hooks and clamps also have an autonomous esthetic existence that is by no means exhausted by their symbolic deployment, evoking a harmonic perfection and the tradition of the beautiful. Pisani’s work seems to embody a practical hermeneutics, which entails careful attention to tradition and opening up the interpretive dimension of existence.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.