Arpiani Pagliarini at AC Project Room, Jan. 25-Mar. 3, 2001, 453 West 17th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
Visitors to AC Project Room last month were greeted by a rather perplexing installation by a pair of young Italian artists, Raffaella Arpiani and Federico Pagliarini. The two artists, who collaborate professionally -- exhibiting here under the name Arpiani Pagliarini -- were both born in 1971 in Parma, Italy. They apparently are a couple in the romantic sense as well.
Hung from the ceiling in one corner of the room was a television monitor, showing a tape of Arpiani and Pagliarini on a kind of "People's Court," Italian-style. Rafaella is pressing her complaint against Federico -- she should share credit for their collaborative art-making, she should have her name attached to his in their exhibitions. Explaining herself, she says, "I've been making contemporary art with my boyfriend for the past eight years."
The judge interrupts her with, "Wait, wait a minute, you have been making contemporary art with your boyfriend. So am I to assume that you been making some other kind of art alone?" Even though the collaboration began with Arpiani as Pagliarini's assistant, the television verdict commands equal billing.
In an earlier television appearance, on an "Oprah"-type show that deals with affairs of the heart, Arpiani voiced her jealousy of Pagliarini's relationship with his dealer, Emi Fontana. The audience was quick to voice its opinion on the melodrama, and Fontana herself even played along via a telephone call.
On the north wall was a grid of popular magazines, open to the letter pages -- which include published letters by Arpiani Pagliarini seeking advice on matters of the garden, astrology and fashion alike. By the gallery office was a large photo of a red Ferrari, which has had the artist-team's resume printed on its door.
On a pedestal in the center of the room was a large wheel of Parmesan cheese, stamped with the names of the artists, as if it were the product of their own manufacture or affineur. The block of cheese celebrates their newly found joint identity.
On the south wall were mounted two large trophy heads of the torpedo fish, a kind of catfish, each with a bottle lodged in its mouth. The bottles contain messages, of course, fragments of printed tabloid headlines. The torpedo fish is a foreign interloper in Italian waters, not only ugly but destructive to the local ecology. It comes from the East, like Albanians and other Slav immigrants whose presence in Italy have occasioned much press comment.
The work of Arpiani Pagliarini, then, partakes of an Italian "metaphysical" sculptural tradition, in which everyday objects (like a cheese) are given a metaphorical portentousness. Precedents range from de Chirico's towers and trains to Mario Merz' spirals and igloos -- though perhaps the most successful contemporary artist who dealt in this type of public symbolism was the German Joseph Beuys.
But like the Conceptual art of the 1970s, much of Arpiani and Pagliarini's work leaves the studio and enters the "media," i.e., the letters to magazines and the appearances on TV. Their intervention in the public sphere is of uncertain authenticity. While it seems that they use these public forums to air their own personal and public conflicts -- as a kind of inverse "art therapy," as it were -- they have claimed that they also seek to introduce the issue of contemporary art into the world of television.
Along the south wall of the gallery were four small drawings, very finely done, of the remains of a building. Arpiani and Pagliarini grew up in the 1970s, the heyday of the Red Brigades. In dealing with their rather hazy memories of this period, they have done a series of drawings as if they were archeologists coming upon the imaginary ruins of the building where the conservative politician, Aldo Mori, was held hostage in 1978. The artists have not recorded what they have seen, but rather what they imagine they might see and what might be recorded by some traditional artist in the distant future.
APRIL ELIZABETH LAMM is an American art writer living in Berlin.