Franco Mazzucchelli, Bieca Decorazione (Pure Banal Decoration), 2007, PVC, air, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 x 5 7/8".

Franco Mazzucchelli, Bieca Decorazione (Pure Banal Decoration), 2007, PVC, air, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 x 5 7/8".

Franco Mazzucchelli

Franco Mazzucchelli, Bieca Decorazione (Pure Banal Decoration), 2007, PVC, air, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 x 5 7/8".

Air is the stuff breath is made of. It is also a prime element in the delightful sculptures and wall works of Franco Mazzucchelli, whose first solo exhibition in Germany, “Pneuma,” offers a snapshot of the Italian artist’s long career devoted to perceptively questioning our physical and financial interactions with sculpture and with the very nature of the art object.

Born in Milan in 1939, Mazzucchelli has been working with plastics, such as polyurethane, polyester resin, and inflatable PVC, since 1964, when he started to make sculptures using these synthetic materials. In the series “A. to A.,” 1964– (the title stands for “Art to Abandon”), he fills hefty tubular forms with air, places them in public spaces, and leaves them there. The sculptures become part of the surrounding environment in the way an official or sanctioned piece of public art would, but only for a brief time: They are soon moved or destroyed by the authorities or by passersby. Consequently, photographs provide the only existing evidence of many of the sculptures. Even those that survive exist in a condition between permanence and ephemerality, durable public sculpture and fleeting civic intrusion. Because of their ambiguous ontology, they can operate in a multitude of environments. Cono 1 and Cono 2, both 2013, part of the “A. to A.” series, were originally produced for an outdoor exhibition in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy, but find new life in this exhibition. The two bulky orange cones of PVC almost fill a room: One sits on the floor, extending into a second room; the other stands partially upright, comically attempting to fit in. The disruptive effect of putting the oversize sculptures into a small space is humorous but also encourages a tactile encounter and draws our attention to the physical power of sculpture, both outdoors and indoors. But these blow-up sculptures have less in common with other inflatable public works—by Jeff Koons or Paul McCarthy, for example—than one might initially think. Mazzucchelli’s sculptures use humor and theatricality to draw our attention to the immediate environment, but the fact that they are intended to be discarded clearly subverts the typical capitalist orientation of art objects. Their sociable monumentality belies the fact that they are things made to disappear, like inflatable toys left at a community pool or a seaside resort. 

Continuing to showcase Mazzucchelli’s use of PVC and air as materials, six further blow-up works from his series “Bieca decorazione” (Pure Banal Decoration), 2002–, populate the gallery’s remaining rooms. The most recent work from this series on display here, Bieca decorazione, 2017, is composed of three rows of five square “canvases” of black PVC that have abstract patterns heat-stamped onto them. The outcome is a succession of puzzling shapes embedded within a material—black PVC—that is linked more with industrial products or BDSM outfits than with art, covering the entirety of one wall. It reminded me of the padded walls of a room in a mental hospital—not the most lightsome of associations. And yet I wanted to bounce off the piece as if it were the wall of an inflatable bouncy castle.

Like the artist’s larger outdoor pieces, the generally smaller wall works provoke questions of cherishability and collectability: Are these artworks to keep and treasure? Or are they just temporary “decoration,” as the title says? The air valve for each square has been visibly placed in its lower right corner, where the artist’s signature is traditionally found. While Mazzucchelli has “signed” them by spelling out his name in embossed letters around the valve, I couldn’t help but wonder what he would think if I were to open one, deflating it—its content disappearing into thin air like some of his earlier works.

Aaron Bogart