Pino Pascali (1935-1968)
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Pino Pascali (1935-1968)

Muro di pietra (Pietra pietra) Wall of stone (Stone stone)

Pino Pascali (1935-1968)
Muro di pietra (Pietra pietra) Wall of stone (Stone stone)
fabric on canvas
70 3/8 x 102 3/8in. (178.8 x 259.8cm.)
Executed in 1964
Galleria La Tartaruga, Rome.
Vittorio and Diletta Gassman Collection, Rome.
Nicolò Donà delle Rose, Rome.
Private Collection, Italy.
V. Rubiu, Pascali, Rome 1972 (illustrated, p. 39; installation view illustrated, p. 129).
Pino Pascali, exh. cat., Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, 1991 (illustrated, p. 27).
A. D'Elia (ed.), Pino Pascali, Milan 2010, no. 39 (illustrated, p. 180).
M. Tonelli, Pascali, Catalogo Generale delle Sculture dal 1964 al 1968, Rome 2011, no. 12 (illustrated, p. 118).
Rome, Galleria La Tartaruga, Pino Pascali, 1965.
Naples, Libreria/Galleria Guida, Mambor - Pascali, 1966.
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Pino Pascali, 1969, no. 8 (illustrated, unpaged).
Rome, Parcheggio di Villa Borghese, Contemporanea, 1973 (illustrated, p. 136).
Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, X Quadriennale Nazionale d'Arte, La Ricerca Estetica dal 1960 al 1970, 1973 (illustrated, p. 173).
London, Hayward Gallery and Institute of Contemporary Art, Arte Italiana 1960-1982, 1982-1983 (illustrated, p. 93).
Milan, Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, Pino Pascali (1935-1968), 1987-1988, no. 1 (illustrated, unpaged).
Rome, Studio Durante, Pino Pascali, 1990, no. 1 (illustrated, unpaged).
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Anne Elisabeth Spittler

Lot Essay

A vast 3 metre-long, 2 metre-high wall-like structure comprised of a sequence of rectangular sponge blocks each bearing the stenciled misnomer 'Pietra' (Stone), Muro di pietra (Wall of Stone) is a work that explodes the traditional boundaries between painting, sculpture, language, theatre and environment. Executed in 1964 and effectively a self-labelled stone wall that materially asserts itself as not a stone wall, but rather a more fluid and indeterminate form of artifice belonging to a new conceptual realm, it is one of a pioneering sequence of semi-theatrical 'object-sculptures' that Pascali exhibited together at his first one-man show at the Galerie La Tartaruga, in Rome in 1965.

It was this exhibition at Plinio de Martiis' well-known Roman gallery that effectively launched Pascali's brief but extraordinary career, announcing him as one of the most interesting and radical of a new generation of Italian artists. As he was to do in all his subsequent four exhibitions - the Armi at Sperone's and the Finte sculture, Elementi della natura and Riconstruzione della natura at L'Attico - Pascali transformed de Martiis' gallery space by using his work to generate an entirely new and surprising environment. In addition to Muro di pietra, the other 'object-sculptures' that Pascali exhibited in this groundbreaking show were his ruined classical landscape Ruderi su prato (Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Roma), Colosseo, his model of the Colosseum and two of his three-dimensional expanding painting-sculptures of the female body/landscape, Grande bacino di donna (Mons Veneris) (Goetz Collection Munich) and Primo piano labbra (Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Roma). Neither paintings, nor sculptures, nor objects, nor stage-sets, but bearing the hallmarks of each, all of these, predominantly white or achromatic 'object-sculptures', appeared to exist beyond the boundaries of these media and to assert a new fluid creative realm of playful invention and potential. As if to reinforce this magical sense of possibility and of his work existing in a new conceptual space outside of and beyond that of the conventional art object, Pascali, as he was to do in all of his subsequent shows, enhanced the sense of the interactive and interdisciplinary nature of his work by also staging a series of personal performance-like interactions amongst the works on view. In front of Primo piano labra, for example, Pascali had himself photographed naked in a metal cylinder wearing goggles while with Ruderi su prato he hid behind the work's broken column and under its suspended cloud - a live figure concealed amongst this overtly artificial landscape. In front of Muro di pietra Pascali appears to have staged a mock execution, staging a photograph of himself kneeling in a metal cylinder while an unknown executioner holds a cocked pistol to the back of his head.

While these light-hearted actions assert the central importance that Pascali put on a sense of the theatre and of childlike play as key components of his work, they also invoke a world of open-ended invention and creative possibility. In the popular imagination, executions by firing squad often take place against a stone wall for example. In Pascali's enacting of a mock execution in front of Muro di pietra, the artist invokes this imaginative realm, intermingling reality and fiction in a way that invests this self-demonstrably artificial or mock-stone wall with an ambiguous but intriguingly new reality and purpose.
In doing this Pascali anticipates the fluid form of thinking about objects and spaces that he would later employ to even more dramatic effect in his shows of Armi (weapons) and finte sculture (feigned sculptures) in 1965 and 1966. As with these works, the dominant tendency of each of Pascali's 'inventions' at La Tartaruga was the overt manifestation of its own artifice. This is nowhere more apparent than Muro di pietra with its sequential repetition of stone slabs each individually labeled 'pietra'(stone) even though they are clearly not made of stone. Indeed, Pascali's choice of a permeable and suggestively fluid material in the form of sponge in place of impermeable, solid, resistant stone is, in this context revealing. There are few more solid, fixed and determinate mental images than that of a brick or stone wall. Yet, here, in a move that appears to anticipate the fluid, permeable walls and gallery floors that later would allow Pascali's feigned sculptures of dolphins and whales to seemingly pass through them, Pascali has created a permeable and 'feigned' brick wall - one that, because of its repeated invocation of the word 'pietra' also appears to question the relationship between language, truth and material reality.

It is in this respect that Muro di pietra relates most closely to another object-sculpture of a wall that Pascali made around the same time, his Muro del Sonno (Wall of Sleep). This identically sized work, now in MUMOK in Vienna, is a similar wall-like structure where in place of bricks or stone slabs Pascali affixed a sequence of pillows to a wooden stretcher support. Both of these works, with their painting-type supports, emulate in one respect the self-assertive material logic and grid-like use of repetition that distinguishes Piero Manzoni's groundbreaking tabula rasas of painting; his Achromes, (especially the square-cut canvas Achromes). But they also develop this aesthetic into a subversion of itself. In Pascali's two 'Walls', the manifest materiality of these works has been deliberately undermined. Hard, solid form has been supplanted by a novel use of soft and permeable material in a way that conjures new and surprising associations far removed from the physical reality and the mental construct of a brick wall while still invoking the core idea of a wall.

These two major works also draw on what was, in the early sixties, a prevalent concern with the idea of the shaped-canvas and the canvas-object, concepts which informed strongly the work of Italian artists such as Enrico Castellani and Agostino Bonalumi at this time as well as several American and British Pop artists. With its repetitive stenciled labelling calling into question the role of language as a bearer of truth and its manipulation of material creating further ambiguity, Muro di pietra establishes a poetic realm of sensibility that in many ways reveals the closeness of Pascali's aesthetic at this time to that of his good friend Jannis Kounellis and in particular Kounellis' so-called 'alphabet paintings'. These paintings, which had themselves derived and emerged from the walls of Kounellis' studio, invoked a similarly ambiguous world beyond language to the achromatic 'painting-object-sculptures' that Pascali presented at La Tartaruga. Appearing to use the fragments of language, in the form of letters and signs, Kounellis's pictures appeared to sow the seeds of a new poetry seemingly emerging from the wall. Using a similar achromatic palette and graphic use of words. Pascali's Muro di pietra, is a work that, like all of those that followed it, invokes the same sense of poetic genesis. By establishing its identity in a space that it reveals to exist between the idea of the thing represented and the physical form of the thing itself, it is a clear forerunner of the kind of conceptual art soon to be practiced by American artists such as Bruce Nauman and Joseph Kosuth. Its demonstrative undermining of the apparent certainty of words and the validity of names to convey meaning reveals the true nature of objects, things and the world around us, to be far more open to playful and inventive interpretation than established conventions allow. The walls that Pascali created in Muro di pietra and Muro del Sonno are in fact a breaking down of walls and an opening up to a new dimension.

Robert Brown

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