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Mario Schifano (1934-1998)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Mario Schifano (1934-1998)


Mario Schifano (1934-1998)
signed, titled and dated 'schifano 1962 "PROPAGANDA"' (on the reverse)
enamel and pencil on paper collage laid down on canvas
59 1/8 x 47¼in. (150 x 120cm.)
Executed in 1962
Galleria La Salita, Rome.
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
Post Lot Text
This work is registered in the Archivio Mario Schifano, Rome, under no. 01615091212.

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Anne Elisabeth Spittler
Anne Elisabeth Spittler

Lot Essay

Appropriating one of the most instantly recognizable logos from the world of advertising and commerce - in the form of a fragment of the Coca-Cola sign housed in a television-shaped white monochrome rectangle - Mario Schifano's Propaganda is a work that both expounds and challenges the romantic ideals of painting in the midst of a new era of mass media. Executed in 1962, it is one of the first of a dramatic series of near monochromatic paintings making use of the Coca Cola and Esso logos that appear to analyse and expose the semiotics of the signs and systems so often taken for granted in everyday life.
In the early 1960s at precisely the same time that Warhol and Lichtenstein were first engaging with the graphic language of advertising and popular culture in the U.S., Schifano, in Rome, began to integrate similarly common American symbols from the modern urban Italian landscape into his work. A logical development in many respects of his earlier monochromatic paintings in household enamels which had drawn on elements of real life in a fundamentally abstract way, for Schifano, the adoption of the semi-abstracted logo was another way of uniting the reality of contemporary life with the rarefied world of fine art. Fragmenting the logos of the American-owned corporations Coca-Cola and Esso, paintings such as Propaganda created bold ideograms that examine the conveyance of meaning through language and symbols while also clearly commenting politically on the global spread of U.S. marketeering.
This ubiquity of the American presence in modern European life is also reinforced in the deliberately fragmented way in which Schifano renders his 'propaganda' image. The viewer is impeded from reading the iconic cursive text of the famous logo, to the point that no letter is represented completely, but on account of its pervasive presence in our lives, the sign remains instantly recognisable. Rendered in deliberately loose painterly swirls of enamel paint on tactile layers of paper, Schifano has made no attempt to imitate the slick mechanical execution of the original but instead emphasizes its handcrafted nature. Such logos were often still hand-painted on walls and buildings at this time and here Schifano has taken this fusion of modern advertising and the artisanal tradition to an extreme. His almost gestural expressive brush marks and the abstracted nature of the segmented typography combine here create a deceptive camouflage for an emblem that signifies the power of repetitive advertising, while the worldwide familiarity of the graphic swirls stubbornly refuse to be taken at face value.

Schifano's gesture is also to some extent a political one, as a European artist appropriating an emblem described in the 1950s as the 'sublimated essence of all America stands for' (W.A. White quoted in 'The Sun Never Sets on Cacoola', Time, 15 May 1950), Propaganda takes on a different significance from U.S Pop art's replicating of similar commercial imagery. Whilst much post-war advertising promoted the idea that commercialism was equitable with egalitarian values, the history of international capitalist ventures held a very different significance in Europe. During World War II, Coca-Cola's popularity had spread with the invading U.S. armies in its mission to be 'always within an arm's length of desire' (R. Woodruff cited ibid). After the war, the impoverished and ruined cities of Europe saw a rise in Communist party politics that resisted any victory for U.S. enterprise and reviled Coke as one of the leading symbols of capitalist colonisation. In Rome, the Communist-line newspaper Il Paese portrayed the soft drink's widespread presence as a threat, describing the company as a 'red-uniformed army which today has an outpost . . . even in the remotest parts of our countryside' (cited in 'Italian Invasion', Time, Aug. 27 1949, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,800637,00.html). Despite these protests from the extreme left wing, the push to stabilize world economies through free trade prevailed, leading into a period of unprecedented industrial growth in Italy and the rapid rise of consumer culture during the fifties and sixties. Placing Schifano's work in this historical context, the calculated choice of the Coca-Cola logo signals his greater purpose in exploring the company's typographic aesthetics, deliberately involving the painting in the debate surrounding the influence of American culture and politics in Europe during the 20th century.

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