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report from italy
by Gianni Romano  

Dan Flavin at the Red Church in Milan

Flavin at the Red Church

Mimmo Rotella does Amarcord

Rotella's La Dolce Vita


Andre Breton by Lucca Pancrazzi
   The Red Church (Chiesa Rossa) is a red brick building built in Milan by Giovanni Muzio in 1932. It's a relatively new building not too far from where I live, near the Navigli, Milan's ancient canals -- but it's not exactly the kind of church tourists like to visit. Don Giulio Greco, the priest of the Red Church, happened to see some works by Dan Flavin a couple of years ago. Since the church had been recently restored, Don Giulio thought that an installation by a contemporary artist like Flavin would help put the church in a new light.

The letter he wrote to Flavin in May 1996 reads as follows: "I'd be delighted if someone like you could help us to find an ambiance in our church. By 'ambiance,' I mean a living space, a place inhabited by the Word."

Flavin answered with a request for detailed photographs of the church building, and decided to accomplish this unusual commission with a site-specific work in green, blue, pink, gold and ultraviolet lights. He completed the work only two days before his death in November 1996. Only recently has the installation has been opened to the public, with the assistance of the Dia Center for the Arts in New York and the sponsorship of the Fondazione Prada.

As Michael Govan has written in a leaflet published by the Prada Foundation (a book has been announced but nobody has yet seen it): "It is no subtle irony that Flavin's career of light art began with 'icons' and ended with a design for the interior of a church, when the artist never allowed symbolic or spiritual interpretation of his work."

Dan Flavin's project has received a huge response. It was amazing to see the opening with the church packed with gallery-goers as well as worshipers. Unfortunately, the exhibition installed at the official space of Prada Foundation -- the series of "European Couples" and "Monuments for V. Tatlin" -- couldn't produce the same intense, magic and emotive effect people received at the Red Church.

Rotella in Rimini
The feeling of nostalgia was overwhelming during the opening of Mimmo Rotella's latest exhibition at the Galleria Fabjbasaglia in Rimini. The master of Nouveaux Réalisme is by far the oldest living Italian avant-gardist (he recently turned 81), and he's also one of the most active! (Currently on view at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice is a survey of his "décollages," Rotella's trademark collages of ads and torn posters from billboards and walls.)

In Rimini he showed a specialized selection of these works, which he has been making since the 1950s -- posters of movies by Federico Fellini. Original street posters of Amarcord, La dolce vita, La strada, Roma and Casanova have been materially manipulated by Rotella and remounted on canvas. Both Fellini and Rotella have their symbolical beginnings in the street. Fellini first won fame with La Strada, starring Anthony Queen and Giulietta Masina; and Rotella with his actions in the streets of Paris. Fellini is a Rimini native, and people here consider him local son made good in the international world. The exhibition was a great success, then, in part due to this kind of sentiment.

Pancrazzi in Turin
Luca Pancrazzi is one of the most important Italian painters from the 1960s generation. After his participation at the last Biennale di Venezia and a solo show in New York at D'Amelio Terras on October 1997 (his first in the US), Pancrazzi mounted a new exhibition at the Galleria In Arco in Turin. Called "Ninety-nine A4" ("A4" is the standard format of a sheet of paper in Europe), the show consisted of just that -- a long array of paper sheets xerox-copied by inverting the tones of the printer.

The choice of the subjects -- a series of portraits of Dada artists, Surrealists, Picabia & Co. -- has to be understood as a little homage to the masters. Pancrazzi's obsession with time and the archive is also relevant here. Time is for Pancrazzi a fleeting reality that is continuously changing, a site of constant transaction between facts and fictions. His interest in time underlines his interest in reality which the artists denotes as "a container in which the transformation of the future into the past takes place, the site in which to enact and verify the reliability of measurement and of organization." A beautiful publication, designed by the artist himself and including all 99 copies, was been published for the occasion.

GIANNI ROMANO is an art critic living in Milan.