Rome

Felice Levini

Galleria Planita

Working with stereotypes within the visual arts means working not only with immediately recognizable images, but also with images, the conventional significance of which is broadly understood. The work of Felice Levini has always dealt with myth, proverb, and the image-symbol, phenomena that are different from one another but all equally related to the sense of community, to those psychological-symbolic features that cement a culture and that come from the past.

Levini relates to these icons of the past in singular fashion. His approach is “neither intimate nor nostalgic,” words we have seen included in many of his earlier pieces, and which also appeared in this exhibition of works, all dated 1991. They rested on the floor, on a bar beneath a large red, green, and black flag that hung from the ceiling. Levini seems to think that the visual stereotype of our culture is accepted not as a form of individual psychological projection, nor as a nostalgic residue of an Edenic community now lost; rather, it is understood as a material and organizational structure of the artistic image, as the true reality that, within the creative process, becomes a beginning for poetics and formal values.

Thus it is an operative concept of the ancient icon that emerges from these works, a functional concept. And this is confirmed by the fact that the pieces in this show have a consistent compositional structure: a large strip of polystyrene or of extremely thin aluminum glued directly to the wall and completely covered by a typographic film that reproduced the image of a myriad of extremely small skulls—an element that has recurred for years in Levini’s work—with a minuscule star in front. At the center of the large surface was an object or a photographic image. Thus, in Cassandra, a theatrical mask, some feathers, and a cloak are arranged in a glass case, as if collected from the distance of myth, and an explicit reference to a classical funerary urn from the Greek or Roman world. What is enclosed is equivalent to memory, and in this work the memory of the very meaning of life is identified through those objects with a mix of frivolity and tragedy, spectacle and grief, drama and farce. The reference to the past continues, but sometimes ironically, as in the large disk that reproduces the “Mouth of Truth,” a bas-relief from the Roman period that still today, according to popular belief, conveys magical propitiatory messages. The circular shape of the large mask is echoed in two 200-lire coins that take the place of the eyes. The words “In cielo, in terra” (In the sky, on earth) (which is also the title of the work), despite their aspiration to totality, clash with the fragmentary popular subject, the very one that gave life to the proverbs and to minor local mythologies.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.