BY Mike Watson in Reviews | 01 JUN 12
Featured in
Issue 148

Vettor Pisani

BY Mike Watson in Reviews | 01 JUN 12

Lo Scorrevole (The Slide), 1970, performance with Mimma Pisani, 1971

‘Omaggio a Vettor Pisani’ (Tribute to Vettor Pisani) presents an overview of the first ten years of Pisani’s production, starting in 1970. The exhibition – curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi and Stefano Chiodi – appraises an accomplished artist who engaged in a worthwhile investigation into the nature of creativity in the late Modernist period.

The works on display in MACRO’s project room include Camera dell’Eroe (Venere di Cioccolato) (Room of Heroes [Chocolate Venus], 1970), an installation inspired by art historian Arturo Schwarz. He wrote about Marcel Duchamp’s work in relation to the Jungian notion of a quest for harmony between the male and female aspects of the psyche, which the psychoanalyst represented as an incestuous union between brother and sister. The work features a large black metal memorial plaque made by Pisani for Duchamp and his sister, Suzanne, which bears the inscription: ‘Inceste ou passion de famille à coups trop tirés’ (Incest or family passion, with too many drawn blows), a line taken from Duchamp’s film Anémic Cinéma (1926). A chocolate head of Venus placed on the floor nearby draws upon the status of chocolate as the darkest of the elements in alchemy, associated with melancholia; a barbell hanging perilously above it communicates the fragility of the creative mind, which descends into darkness in order to find a creative light. Pisani himself suffered from depression: he took his own life in August last year, aged 73. Although he had been successful early on in his career, he died in relative obscurity.

In 1970, Pisani collaborated with Michelangelo Pistoletto, following the drawing up of a fake marriage contract between the two artists that was witnessed by the Italian critic Achille Bonito Oliva. The contract stated that the artists were at liberty to plagiarize one another’s work; this resulted in a series titled ‘Plagio’ (I Plagiarize), which they produced between 1971 and 1976. One of the works from the series featured at MACRO is a small light box consisting of two colour transparencies – a portrait of each artist – overlapping and forming a unified portrait (Plagio, 1971).

Also on display is Pisani’s Lo Scorrevole (The Slide, 1972), a framed piece of Perspex featuring a collaged image of Pistoletto’s wife, Maria Pioppi, photographed by Meret Oppenheim, hanging naked from a rope and industrial pulley. It echoes the image featured in the top half of Duchamp’s The Large Glass (1915–23). The photograph in Lo Scorrevole was taken at a performance of the same name that had been enacted three times that year (the other two times with Pisani’s sister, Luciana, at documenta 5, and with the actress Monica Strebel). The image of Pioppi was copied and appended to a large mirror by Pistoletto (in keeping with his well-known working method) as Maria Pioppi alla maniera di Meret Oppenheim (Maria Pioppi in the Manner of Meret Oppenheim, 1962–72) and is also on show.

The exhibition includes other two-dimensional and sculptural works by Pisani, and makes good use of the room’s archive drawers and limited wall space; a selection of photographs of the artist’s life and circle by Claudio Abate and Elisabetta Catalano; and a converted 8mm film made by Mimma Pisani – the artist’s wife – during her pregnancy, of a simple outdoor meal at which many artists were present. The film, entitled Oedipus: La nascita di un capo (Oedipus: The Birth of a Leader, 1971), along with the show itself, will undoubtedly renew interest in the life and work of an artist worthy of further attention.

Mike Watson (PhD Goldsmiths College) is a media theorist, art critic and curator. Watson has curated at the 55th and 56th Venice Biennale, as well as at Manifesta12 in Palermo. His next book, The Memeing of Mark Fisher, comes out with Zero Books in September 2021.