Luca Beatrice

In This Must Be The Place, the latest, beautiful film by Paolo Sorrentino, Cheyenne, the old rockstar played by Sean
Penn, has stopped playing long ago. A young boy who asks him to sing This Must Be The Place by Arcade Fire
persuades him to pick up the guitar again. He corrects him - “the song is by Talking Heads” - but the youngster
doesn’t even know who they are, because he only knows the cover version of the song by the famous Canadian band.
This apparently has its finger on the pulse of our relationship with the past. For a very long time we have foregone
that role that in the 20th century, from the historical avant-garde to at least the 1980s, was fulfilled by a need for
the new and original. To us, currently, it is no longer important to formulate an aesthetic hypothesis that places
itself at the summit of an evolutionist, Darwinian process, of a time that contains all previous experiences and
transcends them in the object in question. We look more back than around, not so much in search of something
that does not belong to us and to which history has attributed value, but as though unbalanced and disorientated
by the lack of a strong anchorage, of a safe landing. Of course, we find it difficult to locate the reasons in the
present: we lack the certainties, the points of reference, even the enemies to be fought.
For example, immediately after the Second World War, the history of Italian art knew the episode of the fierce
dispute between realistic painting (considered traditional) and abstract painting (understood as the new). A fact
of that kind would be impossible today. Now everything is permissible, nothing is adverse, and even the outof-
fashion possesses a certain vintage charm. It is no longer a matter of style, nor of language, and perhaps not
even of things to be said. Judgements on art have been completely delegated to the so-called theory of context.
It is the places, their prestige, that give value to an aesthetic experience: the museums, the galleries, the exhibitions,
the auctioneers’ gavel, the curators’ attention. If we have the absurd habit of talking about everything except
art proper, it is unlikely that works will be analysed for what they would strive to say. Perhaps we are truly no
longer capable of taking a painting (or any other artistic expression) and attempting to give the written words
to its voice, to its urgent need to communicate. It is more comfortable for us to affirm that a rigorously twodimensional
painting has more links with the past than a work that uses a form that is less direct and more
difficult to grasp. If, then, the expression passes through an image (and not a metaphor or a simulacrum), this
is a further obstacle to full citizenship in the present. That is why the episode of the cover is useful to us here:
ours is a time when the remake sounds newer than the new, so bombarded are we with the need for the conventions
of the past and their comfortable haven.
This premise serves to explain that the new path of Luca Pignatelli’s work is, in my view, one of the fullest and
bravest proposals I have encountered in recent times. Knowing him well and visiting his studio with a certain
regularity, I consider Luca to be the exact opposite of the artist who moves in terms of stereotypes and conventions.
For him every exhibition represents a challenge, the stimulus and the anxiety to write off any tested
formula, any target already reached. It is a thinking and rethinking of what, in the abundance of a production
under way, to be considered complete only at the moment when it leaves his Milanese studio in Via Verbano,
will be chosen because it is considered truly ideal and indispensable to represent that very thought and not any
other. It is an option, for the most part, that is totally intuitive, played out at the last moment, not without the
umpteenth rethink and, perhaps, a hint of dissatisfaction.
At the exhibition prepared in February 2009 at the MAMAC in Nice, Pignatelli presented a gigantic cosmogony
composed of hundreds of pieces of paper installed and contaminated by the signs of painting, an attempt to
understand the world through a map suspended in time and in space, which the artist has entitled Atlantis, making
reference both to his previous work, Places and Memories, exhibited in New York in 2003, and to the mysterious
continent that disappeared, engulfed by the sea. The sliding into nothingness, the absence of any real memory,
including documents, is what has guaranteed the island of Atlantis an eternal presence in legend. In the
present, on the other hand - as Pignatelli affirms with his works - we are forced to find something new, to resort
to that gigantic mnemonic and iconographic archive that comes to us through years of collecting and conserving
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materials sought after or encountered by chance (also the recent Analogie belong to this family of works). We,
concrete, flesh and bone, anchored to the everyday, come to grips with the uncertain destiny of a confused
identity to which only memory can give some respite.
The Atlantis “enterprise” marked a profound detachment from the usual subjects of his painting, which,
furthermore, are much loved by the public; a kind of watershed towards new experiences that prompted him,
a few months later, to tackle participation at the Italy Pavilion at the Venice Biennale with his marvellous triptych
associated with the history of Venice the Serenissima in the age of Maritime Republics, inspired by the architectural
attractions of the old military Arsenal.
Pignatelli returned in November 2010 with a new solo show at the Galleria Poggiali & Forconi in Florence, and
his work underwent an even clearer transformation. The chosen medium was paper instead of the more usual
hemp canvas, with the consequent drying of warm, earthy colour tones. This cooling can also be deduced from
the profound iconic change, supported by further iconographic research among pre-existing images, cut-out,
once again, from the archive of memory: the Classical Greek statuary dating back to the 4th century BC, the age
of Pericles, or at least what remains of it, as a chilly mise-en-scène of a residual, castaway poetics, the last to resist
the stormy weather of contemporary signs. Pignatelli has the intelligence to understand that working on figures
from the past is akin to moving dangerously perched on the edge of a precipice over which we easily fall when
we favour a Classical-style, nostalgic reading. I do not know of any artist less Neoclassical than him: the
Winckelmannian echoes of the “beautiful in art” of which most figurative painting is full, in a sometimes conceited
way, are entirely extraneous to him. He speaks, rather, of reality shattered, interrupted, recomposed by our gaze,
so accustomed to queuing outside the museums of ancient art and ill-prepared to consider that our challenge
is called “contemporary”, “future”. The ruse, if we can call it this, is that life transpires from the archaeology
of our being, while in the present we find ourselves mummified due to the ambiguous relationship we always
have with tradition. Pignatelli thus disrupts the desire for an eternal, immovable icon, in his operation of
fragmentation of history that paradoxically questions the here and now.
On the subject of icons, by choosing “Icons Unplugged” this very Pop, media-oriented title for his new
exhibition project, which is showing in Rome at the headquarters of the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica,
that historic Palazzo Poli beside the Fountain of Trevi, Luca Pignatelli fulfils an action of total upheaval of the
current meaning of the term. We are accustomed, in fact, to considering something iconic to be a strong, frontal
image, to which to attribute a symbolic meaning and a paradigmatic value, driven both by the religious
interpretation formed over centuries of sacred painting, and by that secular fundamentalism that identifies
the message with the medium. In this sense Pignatelli’s position is resoundingly antithetical, since it rejects the
convention whereby icons supposedly identify those vestiges that a weak, decadent society uses to pass off as
a force it no longer possess but of which it is forced to maintain the façade so as not to sink. Once these were
images of heroes, divine or human, solemn architectures, chariots pulled by horses, warriors in battle. Today
(from Pop Art onwards), they are the glossy little figures of television, politicians, heads of state, rock singers,
movie stars. Faces and bodies to which the system clings in order to postpone the process of inevitable undoing
of corruptible uses and customs, which are unfit to bear the changes. Pignatelli’s analysis is cold, lucid, at times
pitiless: we find ourselves faced with fragments (and his way of working on the materials is also fragmentary,
with stitching, tears, holes, using everything useful to show the incompleteness of the gesture, the unfinished
plot or the residue of a unity lost in time) that show absence more than presence; lack, to the detriment of the
definitive action.
The age in which we live, so uncertain and difficult yet - who knows? - heralding great opportunities for the future,
could even prompt us to indulge in a sociological interpretation. 476, the year of the rise to power of Germanic
King Odoacer, has been taken as the symbol of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Without wishing to dwell
on historical parallels between past and present, rises and falls have always been part of history. It is the artist’s
job to capture their energy. No decadentism, therefore, but an expressive force and a poetic power that confirm,
should there be any need to, that Luca Pignatelli is a key artist in our new tormented and fascinating millennium.

Beatrice, Fokidis,Fusco, Renzitti, Veca, Icons Unplugged, Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica,Roma,Allemandi Editore,2011
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