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Pino Pascali (b. 1935-1968)
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Pino Pascali (b. 1935-1968)


Pino Pascali (b. 1935-1968)
painted steel, water and aniline dye, in twenty-two parts
each: 2¾ x 44 x 44in. (7 x 111.8 x 111.8cm.)
overall: installation dimensions variable
Executed in 1967 (22)
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner circa 1969.
Repubblica di San Marino, Palazzo dei Congressi Biennale di San Marino, Nuove tecniche d'immagine, July-September 1967.
Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Young Italians, January-March 1968, no. 30 (illustrated, unpaged). This exhibition later travelled to New York, The Jewish Museum, May-September 1968.
Rome, Galleria L'Attico, Ponte sull'acqua, October 1988.
Rome, Galleria L'Attico, Les liaisons dangereuses, January-February 1992.
New York, P. S. 1, Minimalia: An Italian Vision in Twentieth Century Art, October 1999-January 2000 (illustrated in colour, p. 207).
Rome, Galleria L'Attico, Pascali Geometrico, February-March 2000.
Barcelona, Palau de la Virreina, Del futurismo al laser: la aventura italiana del material, November 2000-January 2001.
Naples, Castel Sant'Elmo, Pino Pascali, May-July 2004 (illustrated in colour, p. 185).
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Please note that the correct medium for this work is painted steel, water and aniline dye, in twenty two parts, and not as stated in the catalogue.

Lot Essay

'The next things I want to make will be things made of water. Perhaps I will never make them, but at this moment I certainly want to do so. Water fascinates me a great deal, it is sort of like a mirror, water has so many qualities, I want to make puddles. We'll have to see at what point which one of us exploits the other. If water takes me over, then the whole thing is done for.' (Pino Pascali in conversation with Carla Lonzi. 1967, cited in Carla Lonzi. Autoritratto, Bari, 1969.')

During his brief but glittering career, Pino Pascali created an extraordinary body of work that transcended the aesthetics of Pop art and established the basis of the late 1960s art movement in Italy that came to be known as arte povera. But, more than this, Pascali's oeuvre was one that, like that of his friend and colleague Jannis Kounellis, established an entirely new material aesthetic and introduced a strangely subtle and unique poetry into the visual language of form. Pascali's work, lyrical, elegant and often humorous, articulates and expresses a powerful and persuasive vision of the world as a bizarre, fascinating and playful construct of the human mind. It is a unique vision that has not seemed to age over the last forty years but which continues to resonate establishing Pascali as still one of the most exciting and enduring artists of his generation.

Pascali's oeuvre consists essentially of four extraordinary and very different series of works made in close succession between 1965 and 1968. These are: the Armi of 1965, (Pascali's mock-up military weapons used to transform the Gallery Sperone into an fake armoury); the finte sculture of 1966, (feigned or fake hollow sculptures of animals and mythological creatures used to permeate and disrupt the walls and floor of the gallery space); the Elementi della natura of 1967-68 (vast geometric conceptualised representations of nature using the 'real' elements of earth, water and straw) and the Ricostruzione della natura of 1968 (fantasy reconstructions of an adventurous and imaginary Nature - the series that remained unfinished at the time of the artist's death).

One of Pascali's most important creations, Confluenze (Confluences) is major work from his third series, the Elementi della natura that the artist made in 1967. This series, which followed on from the finte sculture or feigned sculptures was in many ways an extension of the strange imaginary conceptual atmosphere generated by the artifice and emptiness of these earlier works into the realm of the supposedly real, tangible and elemental world of Nature. The Elementi della natura consist of earth works in which real earth is used as a covering over a hollow armature outlining a conceptual and material unit of one square metre and two square metres of earth or more elaborately as a corrugated and rectangular simulation of a ploughed field. The series also includes an artificial sequence of fake holes (Botole), a frame and a bail made of straw and four large floor-based water works containing real water; the 9 square metres of Puddles (Pinacoteca Provinciale, Bari), the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome's 32 Square metres of Sea and Canali di irrigazione (Irrigation canals) and the present work, known as Confluenze.

These water works - real material extensions of his earlier finte sculture of the sea Il Mare, a canvas stage-set-like reproduction of ocean waves complete with a wooden lightning bolt - consist of a series of rectangular basins filled with colour-dyed water used to represent the element of water a space on the gallery floor. The 9 square metres of Puddles was the first of this series to be made and it was the novelty and surprising tautology of using the 'real' element of water to signify the concept or idea of water itself that initially had the most impact when this work was first exhibited at Fabio Sargentini's Galleria l'Attico in June 1967. There, critics were fascinated by the self-manifesting simplicity of this work, seeing in it what Maurizio Calvesi described as 'the draft of a new poetics that occupied a place somewhere between myth and anthropology.' (Calvesi, 'Pascali's Eros', in Pino Pascali exh. cat. Otterlo röller-Müller Museum, 1991, p. 34)

As Sargentini himself has recalled, 'this piece was something totally new: we realized that it could be the beginning of a new trend, if only we could find another artist who was also working in the same direction. Who else but Kounellis, who had already exhibited his live birds?...In June we launched the group show at Galleria l'Attico, 'Fuoco Immagine Acqua Terra', in which Pascali with his 'Puddles' and Kounellis with his 'daisy of fire' had the lion's share. In the opinion of us Romans, the Arte Povera movement was born there and then.' ( Sargentini 'From September to September', Pino Pascali exh. cat., Otterlo, Kröller-Müller Museum, 1991, pp. 60, 61). It was indeed, not long afterwards that Germano Celant, taking his cue from Jerzy Grotowsky's concept of the 'poor theatre', referred, for the first time, to Pascali and Kounellis, along with Alighiero Boetti, Luciano Fabro, Emilio Prini and Giulio Paolini as populating the 'real terrain of Arte Povera'.

The novelty and significance of Pascali's Elementi della natura series is more than mere tautology however. In developing the ideogram-like logic of his finte sculture into the realm of Nature in these works, Pascali was further exploring his concept of reality being a kind of symbiotic reflection of the human imagination and extending it into the dimensions of real space and material. In the finte sculture it was the idea or concept of the animal that he had sought to express and to expose an interesting but essentially hollow entity - a soap bubble-like object - that once seen for the fiction it is, bursts and reveals itself to be nothing. These fictive sculptures had subsequently been used in installation, to dismantle the apparently solid conceptual space of the gallery walls by imbuing the entire gallery space with a similar sense of fantasy and timeless wonder. In the Elementi della natura, Pascali moved away from the specific forms of the natural world of animals into the realm of the deeper understanding of Nature as being itself a mere idea rooted in the notion of an indivisible elemental material existence. 'Nature, it's a frightening word', he told Carla Lonzi. 'What would I like most? To be as natural as possible, but not natural in a particular way...I can't begin to explain what I mean by natural'. (Interview with Lonzi cited in ibid p.11)

It is the perhaps mistaken notion that we understand what we mean by the term 'Nature', and the assumption that Nature is itself a consistent, real and indivisible entity, that Pascali playfully undermines with the spatial paradoxes and material fictions of his Elementi della natura. This is especially the case in Confluenze which, with its paradoxically contained but yet still fluid units of form, creates a continuous, but segmented reflective surface that, like Pistoletto's mirrors, begins to question the borderlines between reality and imagination. Illusionistically deep, with the dark blue fake colouring of its dyed water, the shallow rectangular units of fluid reflective surfaces stretch out in a linear progression across the floor in a way that recalls, but which has little to do with the rigid geometry of Minimalism. Pascali's geometry, as in his hollow square metres of earth, is set deliberately at odds with the essentially unquantifiable but manifestly real nature of the materials these works purport to represent and this blatant paradox achieves the opposite of the self-manifesting logic of such works as Donald Judd's 'specific objects' for example. It is in fact, the ultimate failure of the possibility of achieving any precise or meaningful definition that Pascali's deliberately open-ended, contradictory but nonetheless manifestly 'real' works both express and, to a degree, celebrate.

It was, as a drawing published in the magazine 'Bit' in July 1967 and wittily signed 'P. Pascali, hydraulic engineer', reveals, the open paradox of his transformation of the fluid element of water into a 'plastic' material of sculpture that so appealed to him. On this drawing, in which he outlined his plans for the 32 Square metres of Sea Pascali also outlined how he intended to use 'the colour of the sea treated as a plastic liquid element'.

Existing solely as a surface of water, 32 Square metres of Sea like Confluenze is nevertheless, a defined and limited sculptural space. It is in fact limited completely to its dimensions of six by six trays. Confluenze, on the other hand, which consists of twenty-two trays of coloured water, can exist in a smaller number of trays if the dimensions of the room require, but its form is ultimately determined by its title. It is a work in which its two separate 'streams' of water must be seen to converge together. The only other water sculpture from the series, Canali di irrigazione remains a more open work. Highly dependent on the location into which they are to be placed, these canals can be laid out in different ways and in new incarnations such as the Acque stanganti (Stagnant Pools) or the Fiume con foce tripla (River with three mouths).

This demonstrative sense of the openness and fluidity in the structure of the work is turned into another deliberate paradox in Confluenze with its limited demarcated space, but fluid material substance. It is a paradox that runs throughout almost every physical aspect of the work in an endlessly repeating pattern of openness and deliberate ambiguity. Space is occupied by the work and yet the work itself seems to have no space or dimension and remains open to and ultimately merely reflective of the space into which it is set. Its solid metal forms implying density and mass in fact contain the shallow fluid and light-reflective material of water which despite its own shallowness also implies, through its artificial deep blue-dye colouring a profundity, depth and mystery that isn't there. Divided into two rows of separate units the form of the work, as its title indicates, suggests a flow towards a convergence, but the segmented nature of the work and its division denies the possibility of all flow and ultimately of all real confluence. Its two columns of segmented water paradoxically quantified into a sequence of rectangular units remain forever separate, mirroring one another and only really reflective of the reality into which they have been placed.

This overriding sense of ambiguity established by this work with its mysterious, regimented and mirroring water surface reflecting and giving new form to the space around it, lyrically establishes and reflects that precise sense of fascinating vertigo with which Pascali viewed the world. It is that sense of vertigo that he described when, talking about the genesis of the Elementi della natura series he said, 'water fascinates me a great deal, it is sort of like a mirror...We'll have to see at what point which one of us exploits the other. If water takes me over, then the whole thing is done for.'

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