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Flavio Favelli, Sandokan (Garage), 2011, enamel on iron garage door, 98 x 76".

Flavio Favelli, Sandokan (Garage), 2011, enamel on iron garage door, 98 x 76".

Flavio Favelli

Flavio Favelli, Sandokan (Garage), 2011, enamel on iron garage door, 98 x 76".

Entering the gallery, one came across a series of three-dimensional collages, assemblages of found furniture, dismantled and reassembled lamps, old majolica, glassware, and memorabilia of the recent past, including gadgets and posters. Flavio Favelli drew upon an extensive range of materials for this solo show, but most common were home furnishings identifiable as belonging to a style widespread in Italy from the latter half of the 1920s to the late ’40s and still present in the homes of Italian grandmothers at least through the 1970s. The style is known as Novecento—twentieth century—because the designers and artists who conceived it thought of themselves as interpreters of the century’s spirit, which they believed demanded a return to order, formal purity, and compositional harmony; the style has a lot in common with Art Deco and its volumetrically aerodynamic, turgid, and opulent forms. Favelli seems to have a preference for the kitsch mannerisms of Novecento, as evident in the image of luxury he presents: one that is false but imbued with memories, ready to be activated by the complicitous viewer. He proceeds through an accumulation of objects, which he then sorts and reassembles according to a method that is emotional rather than philological, as he reconstructs past visual experiences that were almost always shared by his contemporaries (he was born in 1967) or by anyone who experienced Italy in the 1960s and ’70s.

From a visual standpoint, Italy, during this period, was host to a mix of eras and styles that managed to coexist in tension. As this was the era of Favelli’s childhood, it is no accident that his compositions bring together rationalist furniture with orientalizing friezes and modernist fonts; the show even included a family-size glass bottle of Fanta orange soda—a Futurist if not futuristic design. There was a neon crown, an elliptical table, and internally illuminated furniture, all immersed in an atmosphere resembling that of the lobby of an old theater or an abandoned cinema, reopened after years of neglect. At times one felt as if a performance were taking place or a film being projected, but this was not the case; there was the odor of a closed-in space, and the enormous, eggplant-colored velvet curtains looked worn and sun-bleached. Luci Rosse (Blue) (Red Lights [Blue]), 2011, is a sculpture made from dismantled and reassembled bedside tables; its interior, painted a bright-red enamel, holds pieces of white and China-blue ceramics and neon lights. Sandokan (Garage), 2011, as one can infer from the title, consists of the name “Sandokan” inscribed on a garage door in characters that evoke the popular TV series about a fictional pirate that debuted in 1976. As the artist explains in an interview published in the small catalogue that accompanied the show, Sandokan “is a paper hero, a myth like Maradona,” referring to the great Argentinean soccer player. This continuous oscillation between myth and squalor is perhaps all too familiar in Italy. “If you are in Palermo,” Favelli has said, “and you ask about Sandokan surely somebody will point out a man who, holding a plastic sword, stands next to an ice-cream shop singing the Sandokan theme without remembering the exact words.” The very title of the exhibition, “Manatthan Club,” is an oneiric reference to the misspelled sign of a club along one of the bleakest roads in Italy, between Licata and Gela, in southern Sicily. Broadway it ain’t.

Marco Tagliafierro

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.