Pino Pascali

In the medieval spaces of Castel Sant’Elmo, Pino Pascali’s familiar work became once again surprising: first of all because the scale of this Pugliese artist’s works—at times large but never monumental—so easily sustained the amplitude of the spaces that contained them; and second, because on seeing the full range of his work—some forty pieces were on display—it seemed impossible that an oeuvre of such breadth could have been produced in so brief a time. The selection ranged from early drawings, created for Carosello (the evening time slot on Italian public TV devoted to commercially sponsored prebedtime children’s entertainment, which ran from 1957 to 1977), to his most important sculptures, inspired by animals and war, which brought him fame shortly before his death in 1968 at age thirty-three.

In 1965 Pascali created a series of works based on the theme of weaponry. But this was toy weaponry, made by assembling pipes, old carburetors, and pieces of scrap. These cannons, bombs, and so forth, such as Contraerea (Antiaircraft Gun) and Cannone “Bella Ciao,” both 1966, seem anything other than menacing because they are so clearly nonfunctional; they evoke not violence but playfulness, while effacing the boundary between sculpture and installation. Set designer, sculptor, performer, Pascali dealt with a difficult subject like war by confronting it with an ironic spirit. This is why, although critics pigeonhole him within arte povera, we can recognize Pascali as an outsider. His was an extremely personal, Italian, and southern response to Pop art, Minimalism, and Conceptual art. And in novel fashion, he combined symbols of the Mediterranean (nature, earth, sea) with zoological components, including caterpillars and silkworms as well as prehistoric animals.

The shapes in Pascali’s pieces stem from architecture and from Italian design, while the immediacy of his language comes from television. He employed the ephemeral materials of set design—canvas, wood, acrylic fabrics, steel wool—rather than the heavy materials of sculpture. This can be seen in works ranging from those belonging to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome (Cornice di fieno [Frame of Hay], I mc di terra e 2 mc di terra [1 Cubic Meter of Earth and 2 Cubic Meters of Earth], both 1967; Pelo [Fur], Liane [Liana Vines], both 1968) to the spectacular plush spider, Vedova blu (Blue Widow), 1968, from the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig in Vienna, one of his so-called false sculptures.

Pascali’s intention was not to copy the world of nature. His Bachi da setola (Silkworms), 1968, Blue Window, and his giraffe necks and dolphin, reptile, and whale tails are decidedly ephemeral. They are larger than life and seem weightless, since they are hollow and made of light materials rather than, say, marble. These are works that fuse the natural and the artificial. Some use water as a constituent material while others merely simulate that element. In his manhole pieces, Botole ovvero lavori in corso (Manholes, or Works in Progress), 1967, both materials and functional characteristics are imitated: The trapdoors can be moved, opened, or closed, just like actual manhole covers—not in the spirit of representational accuracy, but of play.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.