Francesco Gennari, Mausoleo per un verme (Mausoleum for a Worm), 2006, tulip-tree wood, sugar, worm, 24 × 19 1⁄2 × 19 1⁄2"

Francesco Gennari, Mausoleo per un verme (Mausoleum for a Worm), 2006, tulip-tree wood, sugar, worm, 24 × 19 1⁄2 × 19 1⁄2"

Simone Fattal and Francesco Gennari

Galerie Hubert Winter

Francesco Gennari, Mausoleo per un verme (Mausoleum for a Worm), 2006, tulip-tree wood, sugar, worm, 24 × 19 1⁄2 × 19 1⁄2"

“Only a very small part of architecture belongs to art: the tomb and the monument,” Adolf Loos famously wrote. “Everything else that fulfills a function is to be excluded from the domain of art.” His call for architects to focus on function rather than aesthetics also sheds light on the connection between representation and death—and thus on all the important themes of this two-person exhibition: mortality, monuments, art, and memory.

Curated by Lorenzo Giusti, the exhibition was divided into two parts, “Simone Fattal: Border Landscapes,” and “Francesco Gennari: Mausoleum for a worm.” Fattal’s ceramic sculptures are of modest size; the largest piece in her show was just under four feet tall. Yet they have a commanding presence with their rough and intentionally loose facture. Visitors were greeted by The Lion, 2008. This unglazed, chunky figure of a crouching beast with two holes for eyes is irresistibly charming, yet somewhat forlorn, playful but slightly menacing. The animal seemed to be guarding the exhibition. Other unglazed pieces, such as Warrior and Warrior 1, both 2011—ominous figures with two legs and a pathetic stump for their upper bodies—also resembled artifacts excavated from an ancient burial ground, their details erased by the passage of time. The colorful glazes of House, 2018; House in the Desert 1 and 2, 2015–16; and Mirage, 2015–16, were runny, cheerful, and almost but not quite garish. While the artist has said that these pieces originate from memories of houses in the desert seen from afar, they also evoke the ceramic houses used in Han dynasty China as burial objects. For this reason, and because they are all uninhabited, these sculptures are haunting despite their cheery colors. 

The piece that lent its title to Gennari’s presentation makes a more direct reference to death. Mausoleo per un verme, 2006, is a carefully crafted cubic wooden structure that contains a dead worm. The piece is completely sealed, so a viewer can only imagine that the tiny corpse indeed lies within the cube, presumably preserved in the sugar that is listed as one of the materials of the piece. The work was accompanied by four recent drawings, all Untitled and made between 2016 and 2018, in purpose-built wooden frames. Though we were told that the idea for the mausoleum, like the artist’s urge more generally to produce works that are at once sculpture and architecture, originated in the impression the Capuchin Crypt in Vienna made on him as a boy, the piece is much closer formally to a more recent architectural example, Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery (1971) in Modena, Italy—especially its central, red cubic structure. In this icon of Italian postwar architecture, Rossi used the same design typology as in his residential buildings, thereby collapsing the distinction between death and everyday life. A similar blurring is at work in Gennari’s piece. He dedicates an elaborate monument to an animal whose name is a byword for all that is weak and lowly, thus treating every form of death as equal and bringing mortality into the gallery, a site of commerce.

Fattal shares with Gennari a commitment to the language of applied art. It is telling that such serious engagements with craft become reflections on mortality. Could it be that, as Loos claimed for architecture, when techniques for creating utilitarian objects are divorced from function, they inevitably lead to thoughts of death and its commemoration? It is a morbid idea, but one that these two artists manifest beautifully.