Fabio Marco Pirovino, ferrari 1913 (generic solution), 2011, Venetian stucco, chalk plaster, Ferrari lacquer, gypsum, 67 x 108 1/4".

Fabio Marco Pirovino, ferrari 1913 (generic solution), 2011, Venetian stucco, chalk plaster, Ferrari lacquer, gypsum, 67 x 108 1/4".

Fabio Marco Pirovino

ABBT Projects

Fabio Marco Pirovino, ferrari 1913 (generic solution), 2011, Venetian stucco, chalk plaster, Ferrari lacquer, gypsum, 67 x 108 1/4".

Last year, one of Kunsthalle Basel’s exterior walls was given over to an abstract mural featuring a jumble of black, white, and gray planes. If the work conjured the camouflage worn in the bleached-out cities and wars of the Middle East, another reference, just as politically potent and war-saturated, also asserted itself: Picasso’s Guernica. Fabio Marco Pirovino’s mural had started as a Google reproduction of this work, which the Basel-born artist flipped around and processed through Photoshop, so that its figurative details became flat, graphic shapes. Using a fresco technique, Pirovino then handpainted the image on the wall of the kunsthalle, where its various concerns—imagemaking, war making, propaganda, figuration, abstraction, and the information and misinformation afforded by the Internet and its image-capturing technologies—fell into a kaleidoscopic whole, recognizable but eerily camouflaged.

Called Razzle Dazzle (PPG), 2010, the mural took its name from the camouflage used on warships during World War I. Pirovino’s recent solo show, tellingly titled “Abstract Feelings,” exemplified a similar tendency to process historical events into pure abstractions that brim with referents stripped of their figurative signifiers. This time, however, the history was more personal, the conflation of events weirder and more poignant. The story begins in 1913, when an impoverished woman from the Swiss canton of Ticino, a certain Signora Pirovino, née Ferrari, boarded a ship bound for New York with her four children. At Ellis Island she was refused entry—the brother who should have been waiting for her there had died—and was sent back to Switzerland. One of those children, four months old, was the artist’s grandfather.

Unfortunately, the Ferrari family into which Signora Pirovino was born would prove no relation to the famous Italian car manufacturers. Little matter—or, conversely, a huge one. Abbt Projects’ storefront windows featured two crisp baseball hats next to each other, bills overlapping, an image of competition familiar from every World Series. One of them, bright red, bore the rearing horse of the Ferrari insignia; the other was a blue-and-white Yankees cap. The contest and conflation—old world and new, wealth and poverty, speed and sport—were stylishly clear. Inside, such references became less overt. Two large and evocative abstract paintings, one leaning casually against a wall, featured organic, bulbous shapes in Ferrari-red lacquer against grounds of pale Venetian stucco familiar from the walls of Italian-American restaurants. The stylized, cartoonish forms dripped from the paintings’ corners, evoking a reduced John Wesley. The contrast of colors and textures—liquidy lacquer against pebbly stucco—and their high/low commercial connotations was compelling, funny, and strangely moving.

The gallery’s back room was studded with four groupings of seven works on paper—all lovely and diminutive—from Pirovino’s ongoing series “Modules,” 2010–. Each “Module” begins as the same Photoshop file of black horizontal and vertical bands, which Pirovino then arranges in myriad geometric patterns and prints on various papers—here a silver foil the artist sourced in New York—then handpaints or, in one case, marks with table rubbings from a paint-covered work surface. With their seriality and systemic geometry, the works carry a whiff of Concrete art, while the odd, beautifully hued handmade markings imply a more improvisational and even comic sensibility. While the “Modules” subdue the biographical tenor that was evident elsewhere in this show, they still allow Pirovino to pursue his interests in a seemingly objective form of computer-generated abstraction and image-production that simultaneously bears the very human mark of the geographies and histories that underlie their making.

Quinn Latimer