Florence/Prato, Italy

Giuseppe Chiari, Metodo per suonare: la sedia (Method for Playing: The Chair), 1969, gelatin silver print, 6 7/8 x 9 1/2".

Giuseppe Chiari, Metodo per suonare: la sedia (Method for Playing: The Chair), 1969, gelatin silver print, 6 7/8 x 9 1/2".

Giuseppe Chiari

various venues

Giuseppe Chiari, Metodo per suonare: la sedia (Method for Playing: The Chair), 1969, gelatin silver print, 6 7/8 x 9 1/2".

This show of more than one hundred works, distributed over five venues in Florence and Prato, Italy, documented the extraordinarily multi-faceted interdisciplinary activity of Giuseppe Chiari. In the early 1960s, he was active in various fields, among them music, the visual arts, writing, and performance. The exhibition’s title, “PentaChiari,” in addition to referring to the five galleries involved, picks up on Chiari’s background in music with a nod to the five lines of the musical staff, overlooking that his intention as a composer was to completely dismantle any conventional approach to composition or to the execution of sound. As early as 1962, fascinated by jazz improvisation and the aleatory compositions of John Cage, he began composing scores made up of signs and words more than sequences of notes. This upending of methodology, coinciding with his early support for the Fluxus movement, led him to translate music into gesture, color, and image in painted and collaged scores that are visual compositions to be looked at and imagined rather than performed or listened to. He also produced books, photographs, films, and objects for use in what he called “action music,” in which sounds emerged from the interaction of his body with the world. Even when using traditional instruments—primarily the piano—he incorporated chance elements (the sounds of water, dry leaves, stones) into his compositions.

Curated by Bruno Corà on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Chiari’s death, the exhibition unfolded through five galleries that have long shared a commitment to the artist’s work. Frittelli Arte Contemporanea in Florence hosted the opening event, where cellist Deborah Walker played one of Chiari’s most celebrated multimedia compositions, Per Arco (For Bow), 1963, made famous by Charlotte Moorman; an initial segment of recordings of bombings during World War II is followed by the cellist reacting to the sounds of war by striking her instrument and making other violent movements. The works at Armanda Gori Arte in Prato and Galleria Santo Ficara and Tornabuoni Arte in Florence took into consideration the more gestural aspects of Chiari’s work, featuring scores and installations traversed by traces of chromatic gestures, while words and phrases opened up unexpected, imaginative trajectories. The focus at Galleria Il Ponte in Florence was particularly interesting: Chiari’s relationship with photography. Here, some of his most distinctly Conceptual works were on display, such as his appropriations of photographic shots of his performances by signing them, seen in the series “Gesti sul piano” (Gestures on Piano), 1975,  and “Metodo per suonare: la sedia” (Method for Playing: The Chair), 1969. From these works we came to understand Chiari’s project as a metalinguistic reflection on communicative codes, as also suggested by pieces such as Untitled, 1979, in which a still from a videotape is printed on photographic paper in each of the primary colors in turn. Chiari moved freely and completely between music, language, gesture, concept, and image. He passed through the world with a reverberating presence, as in 1969 when, on the occasion of a large-scale performance festival in Como, Italy, he attempted, literally (as the title of the composition he performed there, Suonare la città, would have it) to play the city, using the urban fabric itself to make music.

Francesca Pola

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.