David Casini

The point of departure for this exhibition by David Casini, a Tuscan artist who lives in Geneva, was an untitled pair of portraits from 2003—one of John Calvin, the other of Guillaume Farel. Images of these two religious reformers stood out against a wall directly across from the gallery entrance. The subtle black line defining the faces of these sixteenth-century thinkers recalls prints from that era, and the carved frames that surround the two portraits are consonant with the style of the works.

Casini made a bold choice in opening the show with two historical images, light years away from our desire for the contemporary and a far cry from the yen for novelty voiced by critics, collectors, and art lovers in general. Calvin and Farel were shown next to one another, without immediately revealing the show’s interpretive key, keeping a secret that was disclosed little by little but was nevertheless clear. The figures do not wear Renaissance dress, fur hats, or antique garments embroidered by expert craftsmen. Instead they are depicted in Casini’s own parka, fitted with high-tech details, and equipped with a soft synthetic padding. But this is not all. A similar anachronism applies to the graphic technique, where fragments derived from antique parchments bring to mind illuminations, though the portraits have been printed on a transparent film, superimposed on a sheet of metallized paper, then framed by decorations scraped together from flea markets.

The first room of the gallery contained seven small works created in the same manner, and here too there was a continuation of the play of reference between old and new—modern techniques that seem ancient, quotations of the past and its traditions, and evocations of the present and its contradictions. Casini also resorts constantly to a mix between the sacred and the profane, irony and seriousness, with a preference for details that are sometimes light-hearted, sometimes macabre. In one of the small canvases, a silhouette of an axe in hand is taken from a statue in a piazza in Geneva. The printed vignette in another work is the combination of a Gothic rose window and a poya, a typical piece of Swiss folk art made of cut black paper. The entire piece is completely distorted by the image of a hanged body of a young girl, depicted in a mawkish drawing. All Casini’s works are the result of such combinations of images, suggestions, or quotations taken from very divergent realities.

In the second room in the gallery, in slight shadow, beneath the backlit image of one of the only Catholic churches in the Protestant stronghold of Geneva, was a piece of wooden furniture transformed into an organ (Consolle [Console], 2003). The atmosphere had something of the mystical about it and, even without all the requisites, recalled sacred sites, charged with spirituality. But it was also sumptuous, with opulent furnishings set within majestic architecture. Here, too, we discover the mechanism at work. The organ was created by adapting a neo-Baroque console bought from a Neapolitan cabinetmaker. And the keyboard, mounted on an imitation leather shelf, is a cheap Bontempi electric organ purchased secondhand in Geneva.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.