Last day of the Art Sale – Sold Out

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Today is the final chance to pick up an art bargain from Casa Cordati as the exhibition SOLD OUT goes into its final day.  Specially printed leaflets were distributed in Barga this weekend featuring some of the art on sale in the gallery. The leaflets resembled quite closely the advertising leaflets which local supermarkets deliver to homes in the area showing discounts for their products. In fact on the Fabrizio Da Prato leaflet is shows all paintings discounted by an astounding 80 %; the Keane paintings showing a less startling figure of 33.3% discount.

The two artists featured this month at Barga’s Casa Cordati couldn’t be more different, apart from a peculiar common element in their work: faces. Or more properly, facelessness. The point is inescapable in the men and women who populate Fabrizio Da Prato’s canvases. They are presented head-on, yet for the most part entirely bleached of visible identity. Keane’s nuns are faceless by implication, turned decisively away from us, while the subjects of his mutande have in effect been reduced to their vacant undergarments, bodiless as well as faceless.

“Faces,” Da Prato says, “define a subject too quickly,” and by extension, superficially. They offer a recognizable and readable “person” – a distraction from the often more troubling persona below the surface.

And it’s there, below the surface of what we think we see (or want to recognize) in our collective and individual worlds, that the twenty-year collaboration between Keane and  Da Prato is best understood. They are both miners of the persona, endlessly digging into the shadows.

The first two rooms belong to Da Prato, and they offer a journey that is sometimes harrowing and always intellectually acute. The walls throng with highly expressionstic couples, positioned so that they stare across the gallery at each other; families, both literal and metaphoric; solitary figures wrenched in painful contortion or lost to meditative reflection. Give these canvases the time they deserve – another characteristic Da Prato and Keane share is superb technical mastery of paint and form – and facelessness grows eloquent.

What it speaks to, at least for this observer, is the complex web of relationships that frame human experience, the emotional currents swirling around lovers, parents and children, and strangers who pass in the night. The currents we seldom acknowledge aloud, which is precisely what gives them their power.

Keane is also drawn to the unacknowledged, to landmarks and habits that derive power from the very fact that we seldom voice their meaning. But where Da Prato concerns himself with what lies hidden in the human heart, Keane turns his painterly eye on the hidden codes of community. His subject is the psyche of the group, the intimate dramas we witness collectively every day, but collectively pretend to ignore.

The mutande series, featured in exhibitions in several Tuscany venues since 2005, has stirred controversy everywhere its windblown boxer shorts and brassieres are hung. This is the unspoken social code writ large and ironic: in Italy, few artifacts of material culture are more ubiquitous than the undergarments floated in public to dry. They’re the iconic banners of Italian towns and cities. Everyone is familiar with the neighbors’ knickers, while no one admits to noticing them.

The suore of Barga are similarly iconic, but with a resonance that extends far into the community’s history as well as its behavioral codes. We’re promised a much larger mostra on the subject eventually, and the tantalizing selection in room four of the current exhibition is a taste of what to expect. Heads turned away, walking silently into the distance, these nuns are what Barga has been for nearly 2,000 years, and by inference, what Italy has been. Catholic, in its education, faith and ritual habits, and strongly attached to the traditional past. One of the striking things about Barga life is that the dwindling number of suore, as well as priests and parishioners, is almost never commented upon. Like the torments of the human heart in Fabrizio Da Prato’s paintings, the implications are tacitly suppressed.

Yet what we know, what we cannot ignore, is that the past and its traditions are receding with each passing day, much later here than in other Western European nations, but just as irrevocably. Keane’s nuns embody tradition in all of its contradictory shadings: a past of intense and ancient faith that was at once a model of commitment and a symbol of rigid self-denial. They invite us to recall where we have been, as a community and a people – but also to wonder where we are headed.

“Sold Out,” the mostra’s title, has a wealth of overlapping connotations. In audience terms, it’s what this provocative exhibition certainly merits, a full house. But it is also a reference to the elemental human condition – the betrayal of the profound by the superficial, of the persona by public inhibitions, of tradition by the crushing force of change.

Article by Frank Viviano

By Heart

Plying the aisles
And billowing over benches,
Taming unruly urchins
Through white swathe
Of veil and habit,
The Scotch nun
Governed Class One
Sealed in linen
At the chin and temples.

A delph doll with limbs in-sewn
The stuff of her body
A staid mystery.
But for accidental show
Of hair at her neck’s nape
Or sight of veins
In her reddened neck
When her chin-cloth fell
In fury at girls
Who would not learn.

But proof of her human heart
Was known for sure
When poetry from her belly’s pit
Broke through glottal stops,
She rocked the forms and window panes
Sweeping her charges
From loch to mountainside,
She made the groan of Pìbroch
To sound about their ears
And left at last
All mourning
The watery death of
Lord Ullin’s daughter.

By Geraldine Bradley

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