‘I pretend to make sculptures, but they don’t become those sculptures that they pretend to be; I want them to become something light, that they are what they are, that’s how it went. Being what they are, they are stretched canvas on a ribbed structure, which is oddly similar to sculpture, or some image inside us’ (PINO PASCALI)
‘Pascali’s “toys” as they have so often been called….do not in my opinion comprise a “closed world” but a “place of language”, which is not separate from the environment that nurtures it. A “place” where shark fins can rise up from the floor, or where dolphins tails can jut out from the walls and where the bottom of the sea is the floor of the gallery’ (BRUNO CORA)
‘Pino loved: Pollock – the sea (underwater fishing) – games (toys) – Rauschenberg – Jasper Johns – weapons – tools – Oldenburg – Scarpitta – the America of every fantasy – of childhood – of the possibility of living – of some films… - and girls’ (JANNIS KOUNELLIS)
‘I love the sea, underwater fishing, those sort of futile occupations...I love the reefs surrounded by the sea. I was born by the sea, played there as a child. I love animals because I see them as intruders, things that don’t belong to our species but which move about….For me an animal is an altogether foreign reality…but what is sure is that I feel very close to animals’ (PINO PASCALI)
Appearing to swim through the solid, white walls of the gallery space, transforming its rational, rectangular rigidity into an open, fluid and even magical arena of possibility, Coda di delfino (Dolphin’s tail) is a work that encapsulates, in one, simple and irresistibly seductive image, the essence of Pino Pascali. Evocative of the sea, of playfulness and intelligence, as well of exploration and adventure, the dolphin - especially a black dolphin - is a perfect metaphor for both Pascali the man and his art. This is because Pascali, who was born in Bari and who grew up immersed in a Southern Italian landscape dominated by the all-pervasive presence of the sea, was an artist, (often dressed solely in black), whose work is infused by a profound sense of the sea. It is infused by a deep understanding of the sea as a vast open realm of fluid possibility and adventure and also by an equally profound belief in art as a creatively intelligent and playful way of exploring, navigating and investigating this great, unknown and unexplored realm. It is most likely that it is for these reasons that the Fondazione Pino Pascali, now founded in Pascali’s home-town of Polignano a Mare, have adopted the simple but highly evocative form of Coda di delfino as their symbol.
Comprised solely of a black painted canvas stretched over a wooden frame in the elegant shape of a dolphin’s tail, Coda di delfino is one of the series of so-called finte sculture (‘fake’ or ‘feigned’ sculptures) that Pascali made for his first solo show at Fabio Sargentini’s L’Attico Gallery in Rome in 1966. This landmark exhibition, which further expanded the entire idea of what an art exhibition could be, was an almost theatrical installation of hand-made and deliberately artificial-looking elements which completely transformed the L’Attico gallery space into a fantastical realm of mythical and mysterious creatures. As Sargentini said, when he visited Pascali’s studio shortly before the show to see what Pascali was preparing, ‘I was flabbergasted. It was… full of white three-dimensional forms, giraffes, dinosaurs, rhinoceroses, hunting trophies, tails of whales, and finally a sea of curved waves that spread across the floor. The space looked like nothing so much as Noah’s ark.’ (Fabio Sargentini quoted in Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-72 exh. cat. Tate Modern, London, 2001, p. 48.) At the centre of the L’Attico gallery Pascali set his white sculpture of the sea (Il Mare) being struck by a near cartoon-looking black stick of lightning. Now in the City Art Museum Osaka, Il Mare comprised of a rectangular series of white canvas squares undulating in the form of waves. Marking a playful nod to and also a rejection of the rigidity and rationality of contemporary American Minimalism, this whimsical, grid-like construction of the sea introduced a strong element of make-believe into Pascali’s L’Attico show as well as anticipating the artist’s later ‘approximate’ sculpture of the sea comprised of square metal pans filled with real water, his 32mq circa di mare now in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome.
At the L’Attico exhibition of finte sculture, (which Pascali was also later to install in a second version held at the Alexandre Iolas Gallery in Milan and Paris in 1967 and 1968), Coda di delfino was hung on the wall next to Pascali’s black-and-white, killer-whale-type Delfino, where it seemed to be exiting the scene as the other one arrived, and, in so doing, turning the walls of the gallery into as fluid and undulating a surface as the make-believe sea that covered the gallery floor. Appearing to lie halfway between the figurative and the abstract, the finte sculture that comprised this show were a further extension - now into the realm of nature - of the ideas which had underpinned Pascali two previous exhibitions. These were his show of stage-set-like monuments at the Tartaruga Gallery in 1965 and the fake/feigned weapons show he had held at the Sperone Gallery in Turin 1966; each of which had attempted to employ the notion of play and of artificiality as a way of exploding the conceptual conventions that man sets up for himself in order to explain the world.
Perceiving that our understanding of the world is merely an outward projection of our inner imagination and ever eager to draw a parallel between the world of childhood imaginings and the conventional structures of the adult world, Pascali had recognised an innate ‘fakeness’ underlying all phenomena. He saw that, ultimately, the uniqueness of any given object lies not in the object itself but in our idea of it; in the ‘image’ of it that we construct in our mind. All his finte sculture were, therefore, in part, a serious and conscious attempt to explore and expose this universal artificiality in a whimsical, playful and tangibly material way. Deeply conscious also, like so many Italian artists, of the imposing weight of their cultural heritage, Pascali saw that our experience of the world is made up of a whole ‘heritage of images’ and that ‘just to prevail over these images we must look at them coldly and really physically for what they are and verify what potential they have to continue existing.’ ‘If this possibility is make-believe,’ he continued, ‘then you can accept it as make-believe, if they’re just old, obsolete things, they no longer belong to our history, you can’t take them seriously any more, you see, and believe the problems surrounding Mediterranean civilization, etc. Me, in order to feel like a sculptor I practically have to make fake/feigned sculptures.’ (Pino Pascali, ‘Interview with Carla Lonzi’ 1967, quoted in Arte Povera ed. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, London, 1999, p. 264- 266) These sculptures, Pascali asserted were ‘fake/feigned’ because they only pretend to be the thing that they represented. ‘I want them to be something light,’ he said, ‘I want them to be what they are, something that doesn’t’ explain anything, this is how I made them, and that’s what happened. Since they are what they are, they are made of cloth stretched over wooden ribs and they look strangely like sculptures, like the images we have in us.’ (Pino Pascali, ‘Interview with Carla Lonzi’ in Pino Pascali exh. cat. Otterlo, 1991, p. 17)
Pascali’s works are therefore, sculptures that assert their own artificiality, their own ‘fakeness’, their pretence at being what they purport to represent. In this, what they actually assert, therefore, is their own playful nature and, either their redundancy as an idea (as in the case of his dinosaurs for example) or the creativity of thought that has been involved in the way in which they have come into being. As Bruno Cora has written of Pascali’s finte sculture (feigned sculptures) in this respect, ‘Pascali’s “toys” as they have so often been called….do not in my opinion comprise a “closed world” but a “place of language”, which is not separate from the environment that nurtures it. A “place” where shark fins can rise up from the floor, or where dolphins tails can jut out from the walls and where the bottom of the sea is the floor of the gallery: where waterfalls are plastically modulated models, propped up against the wall immobilised in the act of letting their water fall, a piece of “sculpture” that is squashed in between the wall and the floor. … These forms in a way try to escape from their environment: as “feigned sculptures” they fit perfectly in the “feigned space” both that of language and that of the art gallery, while they certainly do not
of material from that mass. ...What interests Pascali is obviously the appearance, the simulacrum whose function and effectiveness he extols.’ (Bruno Cora ‘Pino Pascali: the reconstruction of self in the lost garden’ in Pino Pascali exh. cat. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, 1991, p. 85)
As Pascali himself said, the important thing about finte sculture such as Coda di Delfino is that these works are approximations. They are works that ‘look like sculptures, it isn’t the inside that interests me nor the surface aspect alone…(but)…the slight thickness that forms around them. It is fiction that automatically decides that one identifies with a certain image, a certain word in the dictionary, cannon, sculpture, Brancusi. In Lichtenstein’s works this is particularly true. Basically this is what he does: he repaints a picture by Picasso using the method of comic strips. I pretend to make sculptures, but they do not become the sculptures they pretend (feign) to be.’ (Pino Pascali, ‘Interview with Carla Lonzi’ in Pino Pascali exh. cat. Otterlo, 1991, p. 17)
Coda di delfino, for example, encapsulates the essence of what we understand as a dolphin, while at the same time clearly demonstrating itself as a simple canvas and wood structure hanging on the wall. In his making of these works by stretching canvas over a wooden frame, Pascali’s simplistic approach to sculpture approximates, not only the simple technique of boat-building in his nature Puglia, it also gently mocks what was, in the early 1960s, a current fixation with the shaped or volumetric canvas by painters from Bonalumi and Castellani in Italy to Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland in the U.S. For Pascali, as he was always to do in his work, the form of these works was defined by the simplest, most direct, most primitive way of making them. ‘I take the material which is the simplest to use and I stretch canvas over the wooden ribs. I don’t use canvas to resemble skin. What I create is an exterior appearance, not an interior content.’ (Pino Pascali, ‘Interview with Carla Lonzi cited in Pino Pascali exh. cat. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, 1991, p.14)
In Coda di delfino the elegant form of the dolphin’s tail has been made from a simple canvas stretched over a wooden cut-out frame and painted black. Along with the lightning bolt of Il Mare, the shark fins of Pinne di pescane (now in the Collezione Prada in Milan), the whale’s tail Coda di Cetaceo (in the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Spoleto), Scoglio (in the Colezzione Intesa Sanpaolo, Milan) and the aforementioned black-and-white Delfino, Coda di delfino is one of only five finte sculture that Pascali painted black. All of the other many creatures and forms that he made, he preferred to present in a deliberately anodyne, monochrome, white. Perhaps this was because, in white, they resembled more the concept or idea of what they represented than when coloured. Certainly, in black, the silhoutette of the animal’s form is sharper and more pronounced – something which lends itself well to the surprisingly invasive presence of the shark fins and whale tails puncturing the walls and floors of the traditional white cube. In this respect, too, these strong, black, invasive, marine forms echo also one of Pascali’s early masterpieces: his totemic black Venus rising through rippling waves marked out on the floor in his Torso di negra al bagno of 1965.
Unlike the two other two-part dolphin sculptures that Pascali created for his L’Attico show, however, Coda di delfino, as its name suggests, comprises solely of one part - the tail. This enables the work to be exhibited, as indeed it has been, in two different ways: either swimming through a wall or, like the Coda di cetaceo in Spoleto, for example, diving through the floor. This iconic, and fragmentary quality of Coda di delfino - the fact that it is clearly only a part, albeit a defining one, of a whole dolphin - also relates to several other finte sculture in which Pascali attempted to explore the defining quality of an image, and also the concept of its absence, through the process he defined as ‘decapitation’.
Foreshadowing fellow Italian Giovanni Anslemo’s interest in using the finite visible world to invoke and indeed illustrate the imaginary, infinite, invisible world of space that exists all around us, Pascali explored the decapitated image in a number of his finte sculptures from this period. ‘I like animals,’ Pascali said, ‘but that does not mean that I want to reproduce animals; it’s a subject, it’s an image, it’s an outline that has already been used, it’s a printed word that still manages to fascinate me...I have an image in mind. My retina imposes certain limitations so I cut the image. This is not determined by a focal point in the strict sense - it’s a structural focal point. The sculptures are cut where the structure suggests to me that they should be cut. Anyone can then come with their psychological and psychoanalytical explanations and produce a whole pile of arguments, right or wrong, and no doubt interesting… The act of cutting could be called a form of sadism for all I know! But in fact, where there is a cut there are two clear sections, that’s all. These sections are nothing else but forms that occur where the sculpture stops, that is, the sculpture takes this or that form because I saw it as structurally speaking the least intentional, this cut and that shape were so natural, that they did not give rise to any formal problem or any design problem, for me the sculpture finished there, it had been made. But obviously if you decapitate an animal, it’s more amusing to talk of ‘Decapitazione del rinoceronte’ (Decapitation of the rhinoceros)! It’s not a question of decapitation but of a rhinoceros which has been decapitated - that’s something quite different. It’s a decapitated rhinoceros, a trophy, just like the dinosaurs. When somebody hangs a stag’s head - complete with horns – on their wall at home they might just as well put a sculpture there instead!’ (Pino Pascale, Interview with Carla Lonzi, in Pino Pascali exh. cat. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, 1991, pp. 16 and 20)
While not one of Pascali’s ‘decapitated sculptures,’ the form of Coda di delfino has been cut in half at the precise point in which to best articulate the character of a dolphin using only the simplest of forms and means. In this way, the sculpture also comes to hang on the wall in the manner of a decapitated hunting trophy - though one in reverse - a trophy that looks as if it exists, here just for a moment and will be gone, disappeared into the wall, in the next. Like Pascali himself therefore, Coda di delfino asserts itself as a stylish, amusing, playful, intelligent and unforgettable presence that, for a brief, precious and memorable moment, has penetrated our world but will soon move on.
‘It is through fictions of this sort,’ Pascali said, ‘that I succeed in proving to myself that I exist, precisely because I believe in them myself...I am so sure that as I make this work I really am succeeding in existing, I am able to look at myself in the mirror…[but] ...what I really believe is that all around there is nothing. For the moment I can’t formulate precisely what I mean, but I do know that there is a void all around. We stand at the centre of a demarcated space and there are things on the periphery. Somebody finds themselves put in one place, he can’t lay claim to any other; even if one goes elsewhere, one always comes from a determined place! Yes, but then you will say; if all around is a void, what a peculiar place! A place in a void and one stays in that place even when one goes elsewhere? Thus, I live in Italy, I am Italian; if I were to live in America it would be impossible to renounce the fact that I am Italian. Even better, I’m not really in Italy because Italy doesn’t exist! If I go to America I’m nobody! Yet in the place where I am there is a multitude of soap bubbles which burst from time to time and others are created. Obviously these bubbles are empty, but it’s I who have created them and they help to hide me. At the end of the day it’s only a soap bubble, but then…I knew that from the beginning, you see?’ (Pino Pascali quoted in Pino Pascali exh. cat. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, 1991, p. 17)