Prato

“Inside Out”

Centro Pecci, Prato

This first exhibition organized by Ida Panicelli—the new director—was based on an unwillingness to celebrate this “new beginning” with a gigantic, uselessly spectacular show, and from a desire for reappraisal. The show was composed of three sections: the first, “Museo” (Museum), contained works by Karen Knorr and Giulio Paolini; the second, “Città” (City), consisted of installations by Barbara Kruger and by the Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata; and the third section, “Eventi” (Events), was comprised of a concert and four performances.

Knorr’s and Paolini’s work plays with the idea of the museum itself. Knorr’s large color photographs reveal the silent spaces of old English private and public-art collections. Sometimes the images depict a surreal and weirdly disjointed situation; at other times they portray picturesque scenes that confirm the “high” cultural status of the site. The titles of the photographs make it clear that the artist is taking an ironic look at these benchmarks of classical aristocratic esthetics, an irony doubled by the fact that formally they derive from these canons. Paolini’s installation Teatro dell’opera (Theater of the work, 1993), shown here for the first time, consisted of a concentric grouping of director’s chairs, upon which sheets of Plexiglas were placed; in turn, these supported one more chair. Still higher up, suspended in the air and supported by two intersecting metal beams, a sheet of drawing paper perforated by a pencil dominated the entire scene. Paolini’s other pieces also explored the enigmas and ambiguities of “visual thought” through images that shatter and then recompose along geometries of forms and bodies dislocated by the natural space.

Outside, Kruger’s piece—text on a red background with a central image of a large, open eye—recalled 1920s Russian avant-garde posters, offering a subliminal message on the fragility of human life to those driving on the highway below. Kawamata installed wood scaffolding in the small streets of the city. It was a work that was perfectly camouflaged within the urban center, but which led the anonymous passerby to question its origins and its nature, a work that hovered between the quotidian and the inventive.

Joji Hirota and Guo Yue gave a concert for percussion and bamboo flute perfectly balanced between musical research and auditory pleasure. Fabio Mauri presented four performance pieces: “Che cosa è il fascismo” (What is fascism, 1971/1993), “Ideologia e natura” (Ideology and nature, 1971/1993), “L’espressionista” (The expressionist, 1980), and “Che cosa è la filosofia? Heidegger e la questione tedesca. Concerto da tavolo” (What is philosophy. Heidegger and the German question. Table concert, 1990). The first was an extremely precise reconstruction of the rhetorical and triumphal celebrations held in Italy during the twenty-year reign of fascism: texts, costumes, and music were taken from that era, and the performance concluded with a terrifying, truly unforgettable blaring of air-raid sirens. In the last piece, Mauri reconstructed the atmosphere of a German bar from the Weimar era; the public was served sauerkraut, sausage, and beer, while, in a sort of ring furnished with period pieces, actors dressed in perfect Neue Sachlichkeit style gave troubled recitations of verses by German poets, and the philosopher Giacomo Marramao read excerpts from Heidegger. The overall impression was that of a critical interrogation of the tragedy of ideology and of the approval granted dictatorships in Western Europe between the two wars. But Mauri seemed to be saying that Europe’s true identity—in a philosophical, cultural, and political sense—remains a mystery.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.