How does one honour a fabulous exhibitionist? With a fabulous exhibition, is one way. Killed in a motorcycle accident just at the start of his third decade, Italian artist Pino Pascali lives on across the globe as an artiste par excellence. You’ll find his striking multimedia sculptures on the cover of books, headlining gallery shows, analysed in journals, and now, strewn across three buildings of none other than Milano’s Fondazione Prada. From March to September 2024, tens of thousands of viewers will pass through the museum’s four-part exhibition, rounding corners and descending staircases deeper and deeper into one man’s brilliant career—a career whose dearth of hours is eclipsed by a plethora of substance.
When the year is 1955 and a twenty-year-old Southern Italian denizen decides he wants to pursue art, he moves to Rome. Pascali’s formal training began at the Accademia Di Belle Arti di Roma, where he studied set design and scene painting. This course of study, coupled with his early career positions—as a set designer for Italian broadcaster Rai and a graphic designer for various cinema and advertising companies—revealed his knack for a good scene right off the bat. Each one of his individual works is robust and more than apt to survive and thrive as an isolated work. And still, Pascali was too enthralled with relationshipsbetween his own creations, between his creations and characters, times, places, and props—to forego the scene.
By the time of his premature death, the Italian artist had perfected the art of showmanship. A creative polymath must, for cohesion’s sake, find a way to fraternise his pieces—assuming true marriage remains a distant illusion. With one set of sculptures, the artist uses army-green, dense material to build a small arsenal, fit with missiles, tanks, and all. The mood is tense, matching the sturdy, inflexible, and unforgiving materials from which the structures are built. One would feel no surprise at seeing these statues in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh or in London’s Imperial War Museum. That such works come from the same hands as a giant, fuzzy, brightly coloured piece—made to lay like a worm across the floor—bearing resemblance to all of a snake, a pipe cleaner, and a gummy from the penny candy store, elicits understandable shock.
More in line with the latter is a similarly gargantuan, cobalt blue, faux fur tarantula. In the former camp is a grey-cratered block that juts out from a blank wall in grim isolation. Delineation, a practice in which the art world delights, is difficult, if not impossible, when it comes to Pascali. A “tortured” man with a taste for the dismal would not dabble in pipe cleaner-adjacent play, but a euphoric daydreamer would have no interest in such military vehicles. Rarely could a critic point to two works by an artist, call one “garish” and the other “mirthless,” and sound any kind of reasonable. But need we remind you? Pascali provokes. This man loves a scene, and he puts on a real juicy one.
When Mark Godefry was given the honour of curating Fondazione Prada’s exhibit, he inherited no small feat. On his side, at least, was a bounty of physical space, and he took full advantage of it. In the eponymous hero’s wont style, the exhibition spans four rooms, planned and calculated meticulously yet manifested seamlessly. Part one, spanning the ground and first floors of the podium, reveals Godfrey’s best shot at a Pascalian exhibition—theatrical and just-so. Only Pascali’s work is on display here. Next, the Podium’s upper stories spotlight the sculptor-at-large’s passion for material—an abundance of materials, many of which you would classify as more in the “garbage” category. Faux fur, steel wool, canvas, dirt, car components, and hay are accompanied by magazines and catalogues from the '60s—the decade in which Pascali mostly worked—which help a wide-eyed audience interpret both the logistics and the theoretical intentions behind what they’re seeing.
As he takes them out of the Pavillion building and in through the doors of the Nord gallery, Godfrey moves the audience away from pure-Pascalian territory and into a group collection. Three key group shows are highlighted: Fuoco Immagine Acqua Terra (Rome 1967), Manifestation Biennale Internationale des Jeunes Artiste (Paris 1967), and Arte Povera (Bologna 1968). A staunch believer in collaboration, the way he was able to build off of and onto other artists’s work is a part of Pascali that Godfrey, rightfully, does not overlook.
Walking out of gallery Nord, the audience knows the end is near. The fourth and last part in the series, housed in the gallery Sud, meets the definition of grand finale in the most fulfilling sense. Blown-up photos of Pascali interacting with his own installations deck the walls. We see him in the shadow of his giant blue tarantula, splayed out on his back, legs thrust up over and behind his head, in a dramatised child's pose. His intention was apparently to give audiences an idea of how to interact with his creations: “playfully” and “imaginatively.” A walk through Pascali’s art requires of its audiences everything but the typical “museum-whispers”; the Italian creative mastermind says sotto voce can “stick it.” This is a perfect final ode, on Godfrey’s part, to a vibrant, vivacious young man who left the world too early, but a bit weirder and more fun than he found it.