A showing of works by Italian artist Giosetta Fioroni comes to the Drawing Center in a blaze of silver.
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In 1959, Giosetta Fioroni began using aluminum paint as an expression of a sort of non-color. Fioroni, who aside from briefly living in Paris in the late ’50s spent the majority of her life in Rome (where she still lives today, at the age of 82), had become inspired by Yves Klein’s pervasive use of his now signature blue at a 1960 exhibition at Iris Clent Gallery in Paris. The choice to experiment with this metallic silver-colored paint led to a distinct series of work, the majority of which was made between 1963 and 1970 and depicted glamour shots of women—taken from newspaper clippings, fashion magazines, or Fioroni’s own drawings or photographs—in seemingly suspended shots as if caught in motion in an empty plane. “The presence of the silver paint recalls a photographic quality for me,” says Claire Gilman, the curator of “L’Argento,” an exhibition at the Drawing Center in New York, Fioroni’s first retrospective in North America (through June 2). “With the presence of the graphite lines, which are almost tremulous in a way, you can see how her hand was moving.”
The graphite pencil lines, creating very sparse borders, frames and details around the women’s faces, give the quality of a faraway scene, as if a photo editor had shot an image and was adding commentary to it. This is not to say that these images ever seem like drafts; in fact, instead, they seem to be putting forth a multi-layered illusion of perception and representation, in which the artist’s imagery seems to fade into the distance while at the same time confronting the viewer.
The Italian art historian and curator Gillo Dorfles, in his 1965 exhibition of Fioroni’s work, noted, “The fragile and barely traced drawing—nearly monochrome—in pale and evanescent colors, often in typographical ink, stands out against the canvas with the persuasiveness of film images that are alive despite being ‘celluloid’ but without running the risk of becoming either naturalist or clumsily symbolic. The repetition—at times insistent—of the same figure, of a silhouette, sometimes magnified or shrunken, sometimes overlapping, then like a cinematographic fade-out, feeding on nothing, truly has the effect of an ectoplasmic apparition in which we perceive an impalpable presence while recognizing in it improbability of danger.”
Dorfles’ analysis uses the vernacular of film criticism, which is almost the only language available for describing Fioroni’s work. Creating so soon after the fall of Fascism in Italy, Fioroni and her contemporaries, as well as the filmmakers of the era, were beginning to step back and use their critical abilities as artists to show the viewer the intricate details of life, which are so easily missed. In the catalogue for the exhibition, Gilman quotes Italo Calvino, who in The New York Review of Books in 1983 wrote, “The screen became a magnifying lens posed on the everyday world outside that we were obliged to fix on the thing in which our naked eye tended to glide without stopping.”
“Everyday imagery” seemed to be a pervasive theme for Fioroni, who prior to this series was making gestural abstractions, inspired in part by the work of Cy Twombly, and then a series of slightly pared-down ink and pastel drawings with various symbols—hearts, text, arrows, etc.—strewn throughout. Fioroni describes these as “a montage of symbols, almost geometric, that pertain to everyday life—the relentless, hysterical experience we have of the intermittent images that the city, the street, the trip, the cinema, the crowd, etc., constantly offer us.”
As her canvases became even more bare, their likeness to American Abstract Expressionism abates, and they seem more and more to enter into the realm of Pop. Italian Pop differed from that of the United States, mostly in terms of its awareness of subject. Gilman’s essay quotes Fioroni acknowledging this, saying that “1960 was a strange point of passage…A new scene was emerging in Rome involving a group of artists who were interested in pictorial reality after the Informal [the European variant on Abstract Expressionism]. There was undoubtedly the influence of American Pop but it was more distant than one might imagine…[the Roman scene] always preserved, due to [Rome’s] different historical background, a different relationship with the act of ‘making.’” Unlike the factory-made productions of Andy Warhol, whose art referencing mass-market items was quite literally made like mass-market items, Fioroni and her contemporaries wanted to draw attention to production by acknowledging it and then taking a step away from it. Again describing Fioroni’s pencil marks, Gilman notes, “She’s trying to show that everything is made, not just received.”
Fioroni, who met Plinio De Martiis, the owner of Galleria La Tartaruga around 1957 and had a long relationship with his gallery, was a member of the “School of the Piazza del Popolo.” Though Fioroni was the only female artist working among the intimate group of her peers, Gilman insists that her message was not necessarily feminist. “She was not trying to put forth some female sexuality, but instead, by wanting people to be careful and cognizant of the world, she acknowledged that these female faces were objects of desire, and she was forcing the viewer to look again and consider that further.”
The exhibition will also feature 20 of the silver landscape drawings made by Fioroni in the ’70s, drawings and her illustrations for books—which became her focus later in her career—and related ephemera. The three films she directed in 1967 will be screened in The Lab.