Pino Pascali

Sculpture, set designer, graphic designer and performer, Pascali is one of the most eclectic and innovative protagonists of contemporary Italian art and is still highly relevant, as demonstrated by the exhibition currently on display at Fondazione Prada in Milan.

From childhood to youth: ladders and snakes

Pino Pascali was born in Bari, Apulia, in 1935 to parents from the nearby Polignano a Mare. He spent part of his childhood in Tirana, his adolescence in Bari, before attending art school in Naples. In his early twenties, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, where he met artists from the Piazza del Popolo scene and took lessons from Toti Scialoja.

After graduating, he began drawing cartoons, commercials, and TV opening sequences for Lodolo film by Sandro Lodolo. In the meantime, he worked as assistant set designer at Rai, signing the sets for short musical dramas such as: Primula Rossa, The Story of Scarlett O'Hara, The Three Musketeers, At the Grand Hotel, Il Fornaretto di Venezia and some costumes for the Kessler Twins.

I don’t think that sculptors do strenuous work: they play, painters play as well; like all those who do what they want. Playing is not only the prerogative of children.

Pino Pascali, Interview with Carla Lonzi, Marcatrè, July 1967

Pino Pascali, 32 mq di mare circa, 1967. Palazzo Trinci, Foligno, Italy. Photo Claudio Abate © Archivio Claudio Abate

Bewitched by female fascination, during those years he produced  pieces such as Omaggio a Billy Holiday, 1964 (GAM Turin); La Gravida/ Maternità, 1964 (MACRO Rome); Labbra rosse, 1964 (Museum of Fine Arts Nantes); Primo piano labbra, 1965 (GNAM, Rome); Torso di negra, 1964/65 (GNAMa, Rome).

These works were influenced by American Pop Art, which had just landed in Italy thanks to the 1964 Venice Biennale. But they drew inspiration by Surrealist Erotica, as evident in the striking resemblance to Salvador Dali’s iconic sofa dedicated to actress Mae West.

During that time, he launched his artistic career, producing in a few years the masterpieces that would make him one of the most important exponents of Arte Povera movement.

Pino Pascali, Colomba della Pace (1965), artist’s studio, Rome, Italy. Photo Claudio Abate © Archivio Claudio Abate

The weapon series

The large toy weapon series was realized in 1965 by assembling mechanical scraps, hydraulic hoses, old Fiat carburetors, scrap metal, and knobs. Pascali’s father recounted that during the years they lived in Tirana, a young Pino enjoyed coming out of shelters during air raids wielding his toy weapons to incite the Italian troops.

How nice it is to put a cannon in a sculptors’ place, to be able to put it in that world that so sacred, so fake!

Pino Pascali

Pino Pascali, Bachi da setola, 1968. Photo Andrea Taverna. Courtesy Fabio Sargentini, Archivio L’Attico

He was featured in his first solo exhibition in Rome, at La Tartaruga gallery opened by Plinio De Martiis, who opposed the artist’s wish to exhibit his new weapons series, considered too bold and exaggeratedly provocative. It would be Gian Enzo Sperone, enthusiastic about the new cycle of works, who would exhibit Armi only a year later at his gallery in Turin.

Immediately after that is the turn of the cycle devoted to animals also called “the fake sculptures.” Giraffe necks, dolphin and whale tails, reptiles, hunting trophies whose internal structure consists of a wooden frame covered with canvas. The series depicts enlarged, sometimes furry, animals that are surprisingly light and hollow.

I am like a snake / every year I shed my skin / my skin, I don’t throw it away / but I do everything with it. / What I’ve done recently / has been repelling me for a long time.

Pino Pascali, 1966

Domus 1013, May 2017

In 1966 he became friends with Fabio Sargentini, son of gallery owner Bruno Sargentini and owner himslef of the L’Attico gallery in Rome. Together they held the exhibition Pino Pascali Nuove Sculture, the first fully organized by the junior Sargentini, which marked the beginning of a new season for the two friends. The exhibition is divided into two phases: Decapitation of the giraffes, Decapitation of the rhinos, The great reptile, Decapitation of the sculpture, Reconstruction of the dinosaur, and The sea, The reef, Sinking boat, Two whales.

The traveling exhibition Tendenze confrontate (1966) hosted by Galleria Il Centro in Naples, is his first exhibition with the young Adami, Ceroli, Schifano, and Fioroni. The exhibition stopped in Stockholm and in Paris, where the following year Pascali participated in the Fifth Paris Biennale, along with Ceroli, Festa, Mattiacci, Kounellis, Schifano, and Pistoletto.

Pino Pascali, Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy. Photo Roberto Marossi, Courtesy Fondazione Prada

The world of game and toys

Meanwhile, he worked on his idea of transforming natural elements in sculptural objects that serve as units of measurement. The result is the series of suspended clods that he called 1 mc di terra (1967) and what perhaps remains one of his most famous works, 32 mq di mare circa (1967) consisting of 30 galvanized aluminum tanks, each containing 78.5 liters of methylene blue water to represent the different shades of the sea.

The world is like a big Meccano where there are many pieces…all looking the same but also different, and fitting them together creates or discards a possibility.

Pino Pascali, Interview with Carla Lonzi, Marcatrè, July 1967

The following year, introduced by Giulio Carlo Argan, he presented at Galerie Jolas in Paris the Bachi da setola, acrylic pipe cleaners on a metal support resembling colorful caterpillars. These standard 35 x 20 x 10 modules could be joined lengthwise to form any desired size.

Pino Pascali, Cannone Bella Ciao (1965), artist's studio, Rome, Italy. Photo Claudio Abate © Archivio Claudio Abate

Success and death

In 1968, he participated in two major group exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and at the Jewish Museum in New York, which brought him international recognition. Moreover, the 34th Venice Biennale featured a solo room showcasing his work.

He died of a serious accident on his motorcycle, his great passion, during Biennale, missing the chance to be awarded the International Prize for Sculpture. 

Pino Pascali, Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy. Photo Roberto Marossi, Courtesy Fondazione Prada

After his death, the Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna in Rome honored his artistic legacy with the anthological exhibition dedicated to him.
In 2010, the Pino Pascali Foundation in Polignano a Mare was inaugurated at the town’s former municipal slaughterhouse.

His work continues to be exhibited at major national and international museums and events such as at PAC in Milan (1987); Musée d'Art Modern de la Ville in Paris and the RIjksmuseum in Kroller-Muller (1991); Venice Biennale (1993, 2015); Reina Sofia National Museum in Madrid (2001); Camden Arts Centre in London (2011); Fondazione Prada in Milan (2024).

Opening image: Pino Pascali,Vedova Blu, VI Biennale Romana, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy, 1968. Photo Claudio Abate © Archivio Claudio Abate

Pino Pascali
Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy
from 28th March to 23rd September 2024
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