Pietro Roccasalva “Il Signor Beneventano” at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles
David Kordansky Gallery is pleased to announce “Il Signor Beneventano”, an exhibition of new work by Pietro Roccasalva.
Pietro Roccasalva makes paintings, sculptures, films, and other works that constitute a single, ever-expanding artistic vision. The entirety of his practice is like an ongoing installation that takes place in different locations across many moments in time; each piece refers both to past works as well as a potential infinity of future ones. This multiplicity informs his Renaissance-like ability to employ a dizzying array of materials and modes. Yet despite the masterful technique that characterizes his approach, the interconnectivity and mystery he conjures are decidedly futuristic, reflective of a world in which more and more seems to be known but less and less is certain.
“Il Signor Beneventano” includes a monumental new sculpture, some of Roccasalva’s largest paintings to date, a new 16mm film, and a suite of Moleskine notebooks whose teeming pictorial invention is only revealed when they are taken off the wall. Together, these works constitute a mise-en-scène full of literary, cinematic, and art historical allusion in which major and minor genres collide.
The show’s title is borrowed from a short story by Herman Melville, Cock-A-Doodle-Doo! or, The Crowing of the Noble Cock Beneventano, whose fictional narrator jokingly applies the name of an opera singer, Beneventano, to the fowl at the center of the action. It also serves as the title for the short 16mm film in which a shot of a rooster from F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu is followed by a title card whose text Roccasalva has replaced with a poetic, existentialist fragment from an external source.
Carnival Night, the sculpture that provides the exhibition’s centerpiece, resembles a giant spider. Almost 12 feet tall, its steel legs arch upward from a circle of eight squat toilets installed on the floor. Instead of a spider’s body, however, the central point where the legs meet is occupied by a truncated, puppet-like form of an inverted man rendered in carved wood at full scale. He is painted so that he appears to wear the colorful garb of the Papal Swiss Guard (a recurring motif throughout the exhibition), and is hung so that he faces directly down toward the viewer, with armless hands and legless feet emerging from the sides of his torso, which in turn supports his helmet and its intense, rooster-like red plume. While the sculpture finds antecedents in the igloo works produced by Mario Merz in the late 1960s and the anthropomorphic spiders that populate Odilon Redon’s drawings and prints from the 1880s, by leading the gaze upward it becomes a metaphor for the timeless act of looking itself.
Roccasalva has long treated painting as a medium with the disconcerting power to gaze back at the viewer who gazes upon it. Once a viewer is transfixed before a painting, a perceptual loop is completed: he or she feels as if being seen, while the painting takes on an uncanny semblance of life and begins to do the seeing. Paintings included in this show are among the artist’s most sizable to date, including three whose subject is Just Married Machine, an immersive installation that was the focal point of his last exhibition at the gallery in 2012. The tableau features a man and woman dressed in nuptial attire, a boat that resembles a mandolin, a fallen hot air balloon, and a rooster dressed, once again, in the uniform of the Swiss Guard. In each painting the strangeness of the scene’s narrative implications is matched by the mesmerizing complexity of its rendering, as well as the vivid array of hues that characterize the broadened palette of these new works. Throughout, Roccasalva employs spatial experiments that draw from both medieval and Cubist approaches to figuration, hyper-realistic textures, and the kind of surreal biomorphic distortions usually associated with science fiction.
On one hand, paintings are the points from which all of Roccasalva’s expansive investigations in other media begin; on the other, they are the points to which he always returns, condensing the breadth of his philosophical reflections in pictorial form. For this reason, with works like those on view here, he increasingly takes on the scope of history painting within the context of the other genres (nature morte, portraiture, landscape, abstraction) that make up the Western tradition.
Related issues are literally seen from the other side in Rear Window, a work comprised of a series of Moleskine notebooks that provide visual and conceptual counterpoint to the paintings. Installed austerely in a row, their black covers facing mutely outward, these works at first glance appear to conceal more than they reveal. But when they are removed from the wall with the assistance of gallery staff, sketch-covered spreads on the notebooks’ pages can be seen through the Hitchcockian “rear window” of their double-sided frames. As if to highlight this play between revelation and concealment, each is open to the page where the owner is invited to inscribe his or her name with the words, “In case of loss, please return to.” Private sketches made quietly public become metaphors for self-identification. Roccasalva invests what might otherwise be considered preparatory drawings with a brooding grandeur, heightening their intimacy, and reminding us that what we cannot see often holds the key to what we can.
at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles
until 17 December 2016