View of “Cesare Pietroiusti,” 2019–20.

View of “Cesare Pietroiusti,” 2019–20.

Cesare Pietroiusti

This is a strange sort of retrospective. “Un certo numero di cose” (A Certain Number of Things) covers the whole span of Cesare Pietroiusti’s life so far, with one of the titular “things” for every year from his birth in 1955 up through 2019, when the show opened. Thus the exhibition, curated by Lorenzo Balbi with Sabrina Samorì, includes items related to the artist’s childhood and adolescence: report cards, family photographs, letters to Santa Claus, everyday objects. Pietroiusti’s intention was to include works—if that’s what they are—of indeterminate status, suspended between art and non-art, because such uncertainty has always been his field of artistic operation. Since the exhibition is not laid out chronologically, viewers are free to wander among various episodes of Pietroiusti’s consistent questioning of the social determination of the artist’s role. Thus the six pieces making up Lavori da vergonarsi (Works to Be Ashamed Of), 2015, were not exhibited until 2015, since he deemed them technically flawed or too similar to works by other artists he’d unintentionally imitated. Here, they are installed in the first room, setting the tone for authorial ambivalence to follow. It’s no accident that one of Pietroiusti’s first installations, not in the exhibition, was called Superamento dei confine dell’io (Overcoming the Limits of the Ego), 1978.

Pietroiusti studied psychiatry, and Gara di originalità (Competition of Originality), 1983, is based on a test he performed during his training: He invited the public to complete an unfinished drawing; some of their responses are now on display as a collective work. For Cento capi di vestiario (One Hundred Pieces of Clothing), 1992, he asked a hundred people in Madrid to lend him what they considered their sexiest item of clothing. The experiment was intended to reveal how people individually respond to and interpret cultural stereotypes. It seems a good example of the artist’s concept of l’oggetto qualunque: Any object (or person) whatsoever, considered as something with an irreducible uniqueness, can become a subject of study in itself. In Rome (In che cosa posso esserti utile? [In What Way Can I Be Useful to You?], 1994) and in Lecce, Italy, and New York (Progetto Lecce—New York, 1999–2000), Pietroiusti asked if he could create, for anyone who was interested, something they would find useful. He fulfilled many of the requests he received and documented them photographically.

This process is a passage from I to we. Other works take the opposite direction. The artist spent several months free-associating to produce Pensieri non funzionali (Nonfunctional Thoughts), 1997, a compendium of suggestions of things to do—e.g., “Ask a sample of 100 people to show you something that is certainly not art”; “Find the person who is most similar to yourself”—that can be realized by anyone (including himself) in any context. Pietroiusti’s version of relational aesthetics does not entail the disappearance of the artist-subject; on the contrary, thinking of himself as “any person whatsoever,” he has undertaken “nonartistic” actions that stand as proofs of psychophysical endurance: running in a track-and-field stadium in Giro di campo (o giro della morte) (A Lap Around the Field [or Death Lap]), 2002, or singing passages from Fascist hymns until he nearly loses his voice in Pensiero unico (Single Thought), 2003.

The exhibition concludes with a room devoted to the year 2019 that preserves all of the artist’s other interventions in collective form. A group of students and young artists interpreted the exhibited pieces through drawings, performances, or objects, freely reworking the artist’s originals and thereby his life history, which was also presented in its entirety in a book published in conjunction with the show. The book is not a catalogue, but the artist’s own written account of a life and an artistic practice that are both, in exemplary fashion, proudly based on the irreducible uniqueness of what- or whoever.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.