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IL PASSAGGIO DI ENEA

A project by Casa Tesori
Curated by Davide Dall’Ombra, Luca Fiore, Giuseppe Frangi e Francesca Radaelli
Meeting di Rimini
20-26 August 2017

AENEAS PASSES ON
Davide Dall’Ombra

«You say you don’t want to tell me how to live my life. So what do you think you’ve been doing? You tell me what rights I’ve got or haven’t got, and what I owe to you for what you’ve done for me. Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing! If you carried that bag a million miles, you did what you’re supposed to do! Because you brought me into this world. And from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another. But you don’t own me! You can’t tell me when or where I’m out of line, or try to get me to live my life according to your rules. You don’t even know what I am, Dad, you don’t know who I am. You don’t know how I feel, what I think. And if I tried to explain it the rest of your life you will never understand. You are 30 years older than I am. You and your whole lousy generation believes the way it was for you is the way it’s got to be. And not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs! You understand, you’ve got to get off my back!» 

This is the famous speech that the Afro-American doctor John (Sidney Poitier) addresses to his father, who is guilty of opposing his wish to marry a white girl. This central passage from Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, a film by Stanley Kramer with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (1967), gives a name and a face to the dramatic aspect inherent in our relations with our own fathers. It displays the reluctance, on the one side, to take a step back, and the need, on the other side, to strike up our own direction, to weigh up and regain the heart of whatever teaching has been received. 

The friction with those who came before us, in any case, is one of the effects of the exhortation to be found in J.W. von Goethe’s Faust: «What you inherit from your father must first be earned before it’s yours». In art, as in life, a clash with our own father will certainly come at a cost and to break with the past is, for an artist, in some way an expressive necessity. It is beyond question that the act of “regaining” condenses within itself the three processes of evaluation, rejection and reconquering our masters. It is common to every age and to every latitude. It comes at unexpected times and in unexpected ways during our lives, and it is never completed once and for all. 
In a superficial reading, indeed, contemporary art may seem intent on systematically rejecting all received teaching, as if it were a burden to be thrust aside, something to get off our backs in fact. In reality, the relationship with our father is a real relationship and, as such, it cannot be caged within preset formulas, reduced to the commonplace. It cannot escape rules and customs. It is a link that is, for artists, far deeper that anyone might imagine at first sight. It is often all the more genuine, in proportion as it is the fruit of an unconscious link or even the result of a spoken, or formal, rejection that proves in reality to be acceptance and deep understanding of the past. 

«Hey, I’m talking to you!»
«What?…».
«Tell me what Aeneas is like again». «Aeneas is a modern type, because when he fights he goes all soft, really badly. Every so often he’s sad and thoughtful, he’s got doubts, he has…»
«Listen, sit up straight and try to express yourself like a human being, if you don’t mind».
«The new concept is that of … pietas, isn’t it? What does it mean? »
«In practice, it means he’s good. Even when he beats his enemies, in fact, he doesn’t crow over them».
«There’s more to it than that. It’s a new feeling, it really is. There’s no precedent for it in ancient culture…»
«And what did I say? »
… And it even precedes the Christian concept of mercy. Didn’t Virgil write…?»
«In church».
«In the first century before Christ! Get those feet off the table! And pietas means a lot of other things, too. A sense of duty, devotion towards religion, towards your country, towards your family. Do you know what the image-symbol of Aeneas is?»
«No».
«It’s this. Him escaping from burning Troy carrying his father on his shoulder». 
«Ascanius…» 
«Anchises! That’s the perfect picture of filial love. A son who has so much love, so much compassion, for his old father that he carries him on his shoulders. Do you get that? Compassion, respect! But not in the way you mean it, respect for others!» 
«All right, let’s get on to Latin, for god’s sake».
«No».
«Where are you going? Sit there and don’t move». 
«I’m pissed off, I’ve had enough». 

The voices to be imagined, this time, are those of Fabrizio Bentivoglio and Filippo Scicchitano, in the 2011 film directed by Francesco Bruni: Scialla! (stai sereno) [Easy!]. It is the dialogue that opens the introductory video to the exhibition, curated by Mario Brioschi and conceived by Luca Fiore, who chose the four cardinal extracts of which it is comprised. Here, the agitated exchange between father and son appears almost as a pendant to Poitier’s speech, in a retrieval of the father’s authority that proves, in reality, only apparent. The inability of the generations to communicate with each other is the same, in fact, but the image of Aeneas introduced by Bentivoglio provides a key to the interpretation of this relationship that is open to many implications. It helps us to consider the complexity of the attempt by contemporary art to come to terms with the past. Thus was born the title of this exhibition, a slight variation on that of a collection of poetry by Giorgio Caproni, Il passaggio d’Enea (1956), in a happy short circuit between literature and art that will return in the exhibition itinerary. 
«Then I saw in Aeneas, not the usual Virgilian figure, I saw in truth the condition of contemporary man, of my own generation. Alone in war, with a past on his shoulders that is collapsing on every side, a past he must hold up. Yet he has in his hand a future that his legs are not yet able to carry. I saw man alone, widowed, abandoned there… with neither hope nor tradition. I had seen the symbol, indeed, of my generation». 

Caproni himself, in any case, spoke on several occasions – including that of the third extract on the video – of the contemporary relevance of Aeneas carrying his father Anchises on his shoulder and holding his son Ascanius by the hand. An image that, for the poet, was immortalized, not by Raph- ael in the Vatican Rooms, as in Scialla, or in Bernini’s celebrated statue in the Galleria Borghese of Rome, but in the less famous statue by Francesco Baratta (1726), in Caproni’s own Genoa. This is located at the centre of Piazza Bandiera, which had been completely destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. Aeneas, for Caproni, is the symbol of a path that can be followed among the ruins, of a necessary passage, with a burning city to escape from, Troy, and a new city to be founded, Rome. The artist, too, is not afraid of destruction, he knows how to come to terms with a past that is collapsing. He knows how to draw sustenance from it, to take its burden upon himself, to hold his own work in his hand. He is a witness called to make himself a resource for the future. In short, contemporary works of art do not evade the crucial nature of this passage. 

I am a force of the Past. / My love lies only in tradition. / I come from the ruins, the churches, / The altarpieces, the villages Abandoned in the Apennines or foothills / Of the Alps where my brothers once lived. / I wander like a madman down the Tuscolana, / Down the Appia like a dog without a master. / Or I see the twilight, the mornings / Over Rome, the Ciociaria, the world, / As the first acts of Post-history/ To which I bear witness, for the privilege / Of recording them from the outer edge / Of some buried age. Monstrous is the man / Born of a dead woman’s womb. / And I, a foetus now grown, roam about / More modern than any modern man, / In search of brothers no longer alive. 

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s poem became famous a year previous to its publication in the collection Poesia in forma di Rosa (1964), when it was declaimed by the dubbed voice of Orson Welles, in the role of the bored Marxist film director of La Ricotta, the fourth episode in the portmanteau film RoGoPaG (1963). Pasolini’s vision is equal to the vertiginous heights evoked by Caproni. The poet does not need to make concessions to a past that is collapsing, he accepts a contradictory origin, which may be dead but is never mute, a past that remains an ineluctable source, if shared by the drama of the precarious and fully lived present. Thus we come to the fourth segment of the theme proposed by the introductory video, where Pasolini’s poem, read by himself, comments a lyrical montage of the tableaux vivants of La Ricotta and of the two altarpieces that are being put on display: the Depositions painted in the 1520s by Rosso Fiorentino and by Pontormo, conserved in the Museum of Volterra and in the Florentine Church of Santa Felicita. Surprisingly technicolour juxtapositions, in absolute mannerist harmony, in which one of the great intellectuals of the 20th century draws upon art, as he often did, in order to give voice to the present. 

Once visitors have finished seeing the closing titles of the video, they must immediately come to terms with the first of the ten works exhibited, one that is directly linked to the theme under examination and one that is able to draw upon the Virgilian metaphor. This is Julia Krahn’s 2010 diptych, Mutter und Tochter (Mother and Daughter), in which the artist is depicted with her mother in two images that complete each other in a heartrending pendant. Krahn has for several years been using photography as a means for knowing herself and her closest family members. These two photos show the beginning of this process, and the first step – after a number of works on herself, on her own ego and on her desire for maternity – could only concentrate on her mother. This diptych is a path of knowledge but also one of acceptance, the fruit of hard labour, of a struggle engaged by her affections with her mother, gathered like her own Anchises on her shoulder, in the first photo, and in a pacifying embrace in the second. The artist plays all her stakes and asks the principal and primal affection of her life to do the same. Her total nudity is the necessary expression of her acceptance of this challenge. What we see is not the fruit of a process prepared at the drawing board, but a conquest achieved actually during the pose. The fusion between art and life is total and art becomes the place in which to amass a natural process of accepting her own being as a daughter and the mortality of her mother. The actual execution of the work of art, its technical process – made of poses, timer shots, changes of film, repositioning, physical tiredness, impatience, embarrassment – produces two images that are unexpected and perfectly complimentary, destined to certify a turning point, something essential, in their relationship. It is an iconic, perfectly achieved testimony to the process of evaluation, rejection and conquest of our parents. And the fact that this Virgilian metaphor is interpreted by a woman with her mother is not a simple gender substitution, it is an important indication of how contemporary art registers the changing times and the rediscovered centrality of the female figure. It is by no chance that the exhibition itinerary necessarily passes between these two images, these Columns of Hercules that plunge us, as if from a precipice, away from metaphor and into life. They increase, by no small degree, our expectations as we approach the other works on display. These nine “cases” are in some way exemplary. They have been chosen out of many other possible ones, not least thanks to the pertinent suggestions of Francesca Radaelli. They make no claim to codify the categories to which they belong, or to synthesise the variety of imaginable approaches. The intention has been to leave the work of art, not only to relate one of the possible ways of relating with our parents, but to demonstrate the drama, breadth and inexhaustible wealth of this relationship, especially for the self.
But the seven living artists, each presented in their own custom-made space, are to some extent introduced by two masters of the 20th century: Andy Warhol and Michelangelo Antonioni. These are present as a result of the numerous perceptions of Giuseppe Frangi which have marked out the progress of this exhibition. Two giants of today engaged in two homages to two giants of the past: Leonardo and Michelangelo.

The first work is The Last Supper, a painting in acrylic on serigraphy, transported to canvas in 1986, which testifies to the last cycle by the protagonist of American Pop Art, who died the following year. The cycle consisted of a large number of works of different dimensions and typologies, entirely dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. They were created for the Milan exhibition held a few months later at the Galleria del Credito Valtellinese in Palazzo delle Stelline, a few steps away from the Cenacolo. It may well be the most complex and detailed religious cycle ever created by an American artist. It is a testimony to an awareness of the iconic nature of Leonardo’s image, taken from a reproduction bought in a Korean shop not far from the Factory. But it is also a testimony to the fact that the artist’s faith was as real as it was hidden, linked as it was to his love for his mother. The great painting in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie is here cited literally and used as the matrix for his own work, revisited with the repetition and fluorescent colour typical of Andy Warhol’s language. It is a work that, in itself, is representative of a way of relating to the artist’s own masters. 
At the same time, it aims to grasp the iconic nature of the work that is to be reproduced, obsessively, in all its variants of number and colour. It is a hymn in praise of the surface, which Warhol had perceived to be the real field of action for a modern artist seeking depth. There is nothing irreverent here, if anything it encloses a wish: «Do you believe that the Italians are conscious of the respect I have for Leonardo? » asked Warhol of his friend Pierre Restany. 

The work that the great Michelangelo Antonioni dedicated to the Tomb of Giulio II at San Pietro in Vincoli, and to Michelangelo’s celebrated Moses, placed at the centre of the complex, is a work on silence. The short film The Gaze of Michelangelo is considered the director’s testament. Created in 2004, three years before his death, it is the only work in which Antonioni appears as an actor, and he does so occupying the entire scene. The director had himself filmed as he entered the empty church. Dragging his feet, he approaches Michelangelo’s statue. Very slowly, he comes closer to it. He examines it deeply, finally allowing himself a direct contact, caressing it. A simple, intense and moving progression. What makes it heartrending is the evident struggle of the protagonist, marked by age and, above all, by the stroke that had afflicted him almost twenty years earlier, making it difficult for him to walk and talk. But his silence is not, here, the sign of a defeat forced upon him by the ravages of time, Rather, it is the real protagonist, the instrument with which he pays homage to Michelangelo. According to tradition, Michelangelo himself had been the first to experience the full dramatic nature of that silence between art and life. When he had terminated the statue, he struck it, declaring «Why don’t you speak? » Antonioni draws upon Michelangelo’s exasperation for a perfect beauty that does not translate into life, into the possibility of speech. He creates that silence, and obtains it with complex technical means, needed to obliterate the sounds of the city while maintaining those that are pertinent and significant, such as those produced by his steps along the nave or by his wedding ring against the marble surface. Thus Michelangelo’s gaze is transformed into sound. The compulsive repetition of Warhol that releases energy, and Antonioni’s caressing of a full silence. Two opposite means sound the possible starting note for the expression of a re-earned love for our parents. They provide the visitor with a final blessing before departing on this new journey into contemporary art. 

WORKS ON DISPLAY

On display at the 2017 Rimini Meeting: I Promessi Sposi cancellati per venticinque lettori e dieci appestati (2016) by Emilio IsgròMadonna (2007) by Alberto GaruttiArcipelago (2016-2017) by Giovanni FrangiVia Crucis (2011) by Adrian PaciNew York, November 8, 2001 (2001) by Wim WendersProcession (2015) by Andrea MastrovitoQui Ora (2011) by Gianni DessìMutter und Tochter (2010) by Julia KrahnLo sguardo di Michelangelo (2004) by Michelangelo AntonioniThe Last Supper (1986) by Andy Warhol.

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Posted on: 11 November 2021, by : Alessandro Ulleri