The exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre is the first dedicated to Pino Pascali in the UK and focuses on works from the years in which Pascali became associated with Arte Povera between 1967 and 1968. This radical trend in Italian art where everyday materials were used in resonant combinations and in which events in art and life appeared to converge had a defining role in the question of what can be considered sculpture.
Rather like scholars who argue that much of the symbolism of the Renaissance is lost to the modern eye, there is a certain amount of investigation and prior knowledge needed to get to grips with Pascali’s work. In the beautiful first gallery several tin trays snake across the floor half filled with water – beautiful, serene and playful. In many ways they could easily grace the gardens section of your local Habitat store. However it is somehow difficult to imagine that this is art that began attacking the values of established institutions of government, industry, and culture. We are today familiar with the changing places of high value and low value goods ( a mechanism which reached its logical conclusion with Koon’s recoding of consumer goods as high art castings) but it is with Arte Povera that the battle to break down the hierarchies of "art" and common things comes into its own against the background of radical change across Europe in 1968.
The lexicon of materiality on show is rich in texture but low in cost and status as befits Arte Povera. Using materials such as steel wool, coloured fun fur, feathers and straw, Pascali created visually exciting and texturally appealing sculptures, demonstrating his complexity as a maker. His creations propose a playfully serious reconstruction of the normative position of sculpture.
Pascali presents organic forms in a dream-like universe that, like the "fake sculptures" of his earlier career, play on the relationship between illusion and reality. In this exhibition hairy mushrooms, a giant spider covered in blue fun fur, large-scale coloured acrylic brushworms and a shield pierced by eagles’ quills all take their position as if positioned in a dream-like playground. It is a shame however that Pascali’s weapon series are not also on display. Although the focus on the Arte Povera gives the exhibitions an academic and chronological rigour, the playfulness of the weapon series illustrated in the monographs of his work on display in the gallery seem to activate the playful nature of Pascali’s soft sculpture.
One has the impression that Pascali’s work is under-appreciated in its own right and has had a greater and further reaching impact through its influence on pop art, anti-form and conceptual movements of the 1970s.
-- Mike Tuck
All Images courtesy The Camden Arts Centre
Images: Installation View, 2011 Copyright Camden Arts Centre. Photo Andy Keate. Pino Pascali Untitled (Cavalletto), 1968 © photo: Giuseppe Schiavinotto Collezione GNAM di Roma.