From 7 October 2016 to 15 January 2017 the Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo is presenting a solo exhibition dedicated to Fabio Mauri (Rome, 1926–2009), one of the most significant artists on the Italian scene starting in the Sixties.

A master of the Nuova Avanguardia Italiana and founder of several of the most interesting and programmatic journals that fuelled the discussions of those years, Mauri interacted with figures of the calibre of Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and undertook artistic research that asked itself questions and allowed the audience to do so regarding central issues of our existence and culture, above all regarding the use of language as a manipulative mechanism on the part of political power and the media.

The exhibition winds its way through four rooms and holds a selection of works aimed at embracing fifty years of the artist’s work, showing the public some of the key themes of his poetics: Rights, Identity, Ideology, Language, Narration and Time.
The exhibition layout includes several historic works from the Sixties and Seventies, works from the Nineties and the first decade of the new millennium, which include installations, photographs, objects and works on paper, and it sketches out an exhaustive vision of Mauri’s artistic research.

Among these, there are works featuring the words “FINE” or “THE END”, a term that Mauri used a number of times over the years – starting in the late Fifties – and in various typographical interpretations, with the intent of emphasizing a different formal and aesthetic aspect, he prophesied the idea of crisis, viewed not as a negative element but as an opportunity to close with the past and embrace a new beginning. The first time, “THE END” appears written on a screen (the work Schermo-disegno from 1957), a medium that, over time, became a distinctive sign of Mauri’s research, a tangible form of memory and conscience that makes it possible to identify a common way of interpreting reality. The white screen becomes a neutral field, a free space on which the spectator can project his or her own meanings, leaving the work open to numerous interpretations. Even the word “fine” had at least two meanings for Mauri, depending on the article placed in front of the Italian term: la fine, understood as an end, a conclusion and thus looking back at the past, or il fine, meaning purpose, openness and thus looking ahead to the future.

A work that addresses the subject of freedom of expression – another typical aspect of Mauri’s research – is Linguaggio è guerra (1974), a monumental installation composed of over a hundred photographs regarding the wars of the twentieth century, taken from English and German magazines. Through the presence on each photograph of a stamp with the words “Language is war”, the images highlight the way aesthetic language is used as a medium to pursue an ideological war. It thus proves to be a weapon and becomes synonymous with the term war. For Mauri, as was the case with the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, everything is language, so that reality only exists in the form of language and thus of interpretations of reality itself.  

The artist wonders, “If man as an idea and as an essential element is that language” and underscores that “the adherence between language and man is so close, in wartime, that on the analytical chart what emerges is an evil anthropological notion: language is bad, or its man is, or one or the other are”.

He goes on to say that “the perverse inclination of language can be countered with the exercise of criticism, its only antidote”, and this is why, from the very beginning, Mauri has pursued an art for legitimate defence, a key characteristic of all his research, attempting to suggest a “poetic behaviour as a close guard, in the sense of taking sides or counterattacking … peremptorily indicating that, for all, the ‘grave object’ in Europe, meaning ‘history’, was that of ideology”.

Moving in this direction, the exhibition presents the series entitled Le grandi carte (1994), composed of 25 large photographs that summarize some of large photographs that summarize some of Mauri’s most famous works, constituting a narrated memory of all the artist’s work. Among these there are several papers depicting the historic performance Ebrea (1971) on racial discrimination and the memory of concentration camps, as well as Muro occidentale o del pianto (the Wailing Wall, 1993), which is the emblem of the division of the world, exile, escape, forced exodus.

There are also the objects featured in the Ariano exhibition (1995), which was formed gradually as a complement to Ebrea. The aim of this project was to highlight the category of those who cannot be prosecuted through the presentation of everyday objects that do not inspire the memory of pain, but reveal an uncharitable spirit towards those who have taken on an “Aryan” identity as a sign of security, towards the racist, towards the bourgeoisie that protects its own interests alone.

Cina ASIA Nuova (1996) is a work composed of a wall of briefcases in ground metal made in Asia, and in the very middle, through a screen, it shows us a series of events tied to the historical protests in Tiananmen Square: the devastated expression of a young man a few minutes before he was executed and, on the back part of the wall, in transparency, the faces of the young soldiers of the firing squad, whose eyes are just as devastated by the terrible event they had to experience.

The exhibition is completed by the Studenti series (1992), small pictures that present cuttings of school exercises, made with an array of materials such as paper, wood, rubber and, above all, lead (an alchemical and metaphoric element, sovereign of darkness, death and the passage of time), and the Autobiografia come teoria series (1997–98), which highlights the concept of “object” for Mauri, which is first and foremost a sign and not merely a consumer good.

At the same time as the GAMeC exhibition, from 26 November 2016 to 6 March 2017 the MADRE-Museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina in Naples is hosting a different retrospective devoted to the artist that, along with the exhibition in Bergamo and as a complement to it, offers an exhaustive profile of his research.