Milan

Luca Maria Patella, Le vol entier de Vénus (The Entire Flight of Venus), 1989, wooden tabernacles, Venus statuette, dimensions variable.

Luca Maria Patella, Le vol entier de Vénus (The Entire Flight of Venus), 1989, wooden tabernacles, Venus statuette, dimensions variable.

Luca Maria Patella

Galleria Milano

Luca Maria Patella, Le vol entier de Vénus (The Entire Flight of Venus), 1989, wooden tabernacles, Venus statuette, dimensions variable.

The multifaceted artist Luca Maria Patella was born in Rome in 1934. Over the course of his long career, he has worked in various media, from film, sculpture, photography, and performance to object-related installation, not to mention writing, where his continual wordplay injects a strong measure of irony. Curated by Alberto Fiz, this small survey of Patella’s work from the late 1960s to the late 1980s originated at the Galleria Il Ponte in Florence, where it also included pieces tied to that city’s history. These examples of the artist’s “contextual” work were not, however, displayed at Galleria Milano, a venerable space with more than fifty years of history behind it, which has been directed since 1965 by Carla Pellegrini.

Well versed in science, psychoanalysis, and, most evidently, art history, Patella plumbs the profound significance of images and the symbolic value of signs. The show began with a pair of “physiognomic vases,” a recurrent trope of Patella’s: marble vessels whose contours delineate a double human profile. In this case the profiles were taken from the double portrait by Piero della Francesca of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino. One of the vases was green, the other yellow—colors that, according to Jung, designate sensation and intuition, respectively. Similar profiles were on view in paintings on oval canvases from the ’80s, depicting white profiles standing out against the silhouettes of black vases. The faces were mainly those of artists and poets as diverse as Leon Battista Alberti, Francis Picabia, and Guillaume Apollinaire; but also included, for instance, was Michelangelo’s Cumaean Sibyl.

Among the most charming works was Le vol entier de Vénus (The Entire Flight of Venus), 1989, which consists of two old tabernacles in carved and gilded wood, each of which contains half of a small kitsch statue of the figure depicted in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus; one has the bust, the other the legs on the scallop shell. The title is a pun—the French phrase for “entire flight” resembles the Italian word volentieri (willingly). (It should also be noted that in many southern Italian dialects, patella means “mussel shell.”) Another work using wordplay was NON OSO/OSO NON essere, from the early ’80s, made up of four tondi arranged in a column on the wall. The capitalized titular phrase, in the top circle, is a palindrome that in English means “I do not dare/I dare not,” surmounted, in a smaller type, by the Italian for “to be.” The next circle has three arrows delineating a circle; the third has the word ψυχή, Greek for “soul,” in red on a white background. Finally, at the bottom, is a mirror, so that viewers can confront themselves with an insidious and ambiguous moment of identity.

Many of Patella’s two-dimensional works are circular, taking a form that transcends all directions. Among them is Tondi cieli (Round Skies) ca. 1980, a double photographic portrait in profile of the artist and his wife-muse, Rosa, inserted at the center of two celestial maps—one of the Southern Hemisphere, the other of the northern. Cosmo di Montefolle (Cosmos of Montefolle), 1985–86, is a wooden optical box that bears, on the front, the Magrittesque phrase CECI N'EST PAS UN CONTE (This is not a count) and contains a photograph of the artist, again with Rosa, in a quotation of Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, 1434, but in a fish-eye view that brings to mind Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Indeed, quotation and irony are two features in Patella’s complex work that immediately strike the viewer, encouraging further analysis in order to discover unexpected thematic depths.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.