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Mimmo Rotella at Charles Cowles
 
     
 
Mimmo Rotella
You and Me
1999
 
Mimmo Rotella
Quality
2000
 
What perfect timing for this show of Mimmo Rotella's large décollages centered on fashion ads. Coinciding with the Armani dress-shop installation on view at the Guggenheim Museum, Rotella's deconstructed fashion advertisements -- a number of which are based on Armani ads -- offer a welcome antidote to the ongoing and pointless merger of art and fashion. One of the first practitioners of décollage, the Italian-born artist, 82, in recent years has reduced the number of layers that he peels away in his compositions, so that a single subject or theme emerges.

A kind of wordplay is a featured element in every work on view. In these language games, words like "mira," "position," "prova" and "wild" appear in large blocky painted letters at the lower portion of the compositions, as in a caption. Sometimes the words add intensity or meaning to the piece, as in "fetish," which features a stiletto-heeled lady's shoe. At other times, their application, in uneven, blocky lettering, seems indecisive and distracting, as if the artist could not decide whether to make graffiti or to create a more industrial-looking typeface.

Nevertheless, the work is for the most part profound and affecting. In some pieces, Rotella achieves a gentle lyricism in the juxtaposition of tears, sweeping brushstrokes and wordplay. At the same time, he proposes a critique of the fashion industry without being preachy or heavy-handed.

In these days of increasingly aggressive fashion advertising, a critique of its strategies, as offered by an artist like Rotella, is more than welcome.

Mimmo Rotella, "Fashion and Flowers," Oct. 28-Dec.16, at Charles Cowles, 74 Grand Street, New York, N.Y. 10013.

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