The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

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MAY 2013 Issue

POIGNANCY ON VIEW Giosetta Fioroni: L’Argento

On View
The Drawing Center
April 6 – June 3, 2013
New York

Novelty consorts with nostalgia, fashioning the enchanted atmosphere that suffuses the Drawing Center’s latest exhibition, the expansive Giosetta Fioroni: L’Argento. Though L’Argento (Silver) marks Fioroni’s first solo exhibition in North America, its over 100 pieces from across six decades confer upon it the gravitas of a retrospective.

Giosetta Fioroni, "Liberty," 1965. Pencil, white and aluminum enamel on canvas. 57 1/2 x 44 13/16". Collection Jacorossi, Rome.

Fioroni’s signature silver enamel paint—whether pirouetting quicksilver or glowering gunmetal—unwinds along her canvases as if liberated from a massive skein, threading through everything from early flirtations with abstraction (1959 – 60) to the “silver period” (1963 – 1970) and the bleak but vibrant landscapes that then followed (1970 – 71). But all Fioroni’s works broker marriages between partners willfully opposed: Isolation weds companionship, mirth couples with desolation, intimacy with detachment.

Remarkably, the work that perhaps best captures Fioroni’s ability to expose these hidden partnerships and revel in their complexities is not a drawing but a story composed in childish scrawl. It unfolds a charmed tale in the precincts of a page. The fablette begins predictably, “C’era una volta..” (“Once upon a time…”), relating the tale of a girl (named Giosetta) with an “intense gaze” who, inspired by her mother’s puppet shows, would become an artist. Recounted in the passato remoto—the verb tense reserved for storytelling or unearthing the deep past—it seems our precocious storyteller is a prophetess.

But prolepsis is part performance; the narrative was crafted by Fioroni in 2000 at age 67. The autobiographical fable unsettles the boundaries of past and present, truth and fiction; though invention, it is more intimate than a dozen archival clippings. Fioroni, whose parents did stage marionette shows, studied theatre design herself. The influence of dramaturgy is noticeable: the characteristic perspective lines streaming across many of Fioroni’s compositions resemble set design drafts. For a 1968 exhibition in Rome, Fioroni replicated her bedroom, hired an actress to impersonate her and allowed visitors to peer at her doppelgänger through a spy hole—scenes from which are included in L’Argento as is “Home” (1969), a construction with multiple peepholes, ready to disclose its interior mysteries to the curious eye. Three films directed by Fioroni are screened downstairs.

It is not simply the theatre but a preoccupation with its essential duality that enables Fioroni to create works tempering intensity with melancholic fragility. Creatures of doubleness—equivocation, ambiguity, paradox—create shimmering “realms of gold” within those silver canvases. Fioroni’s silver period drawings (featured in the Center’s main gallery) unfurl like a series of canvas treatises on the poignancies that attend our perpetual attempts to penetrate the umbrous realm of human fellowships—and the desolation that awaits every failure to do so.

Sometimes, Fioroni chooses children as her subjects, their backs turned to the viewer. “Lone Child” (1968) portrays a small boy clad in overalls, standing upon a single line that sputters and fails. He seems to gaze resolutely at something forever invisible to us; though we might strain, it is enduringly beyond our ken. The composition inspires a blend of yearning and despair that is never reconciled.

Fioroni’s accidental goddesses court intimacy and detachment differently. Though their faces fill canvases, familiarity is a fiction, one that Fioroni relentlessly insists upon whether through frames—like the telescope lens (forecasting the 1968 spy-hole) that both guides and limits our intimate glimpse of actress Elsa Martinelli—or with the graphite halo in “The Girlfriend” (1967), which hovers in outline around a girl’s head, transforming her into a cut-out who has lost her magazine backdrop.

Elsewhere, Fioroni’s Venetian and Roman landscapes muster the restrained beauty of an arctic spring. Economy of lines does not compromise strength—these works signify more by intimation than representation. In “Sailing in the Lagoon” (1971), the synecdoche of a quivering silver triangle embodies a wind-worn ship more fully than any detailed rendering could.

L’Argento bills Fioroni as an Italian Pop artist. Though she cultivated an aesthetic distinct from the unashamed superficiality associated with American Warholism during the harrowing years following World War II, the works on display transcend easy categorization. By the sheer force of laudable egotism, Fioroni makes forms old and new—theater and film—into mirrors that reflect and dispel chimeras of solitude, yearning. Fioroni’s art does not just communicate isolation; it comforts us with the reminder that it can be shared. And that is appealing enough to dispel nasty existentialism, if only for an afternoon.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

All Issues