A project for the back wall of Kunsthalle Basel (next to the Elisabethenkirche)
The invitation card to the new project by Fabio Marco Pirovino (born 1980, Basel) for the back wall of Kunsthalle Basel shows a photograph titled PPG (2006). The image is immediately recognizable as a reproduction of the back of a shrink-wrapped picture. If you look closer, you can discern a stamp featuring the name “Pablo Picasso”, as well as a price tag, which further reveals a barcode that reads: “Guernica” and “6.30 €”. Thus it is a cheap reproduction of Guernica (1937), the iconic painting that the Spanish artist made in response to the destruction of the Basque city the same year. On April 26, 1937, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, Guernica was bombed by the Condor Legion of the German air force, which was an ally of General Francisco Franco. Picasso had already received an assignment from the Spanish government for a painting on the occasion of the 1937 World Exposition in Paris, but once the air attack became known, he decided to abandon his original concept (titled The Artist and his Model) in favour of a depiction of violence and suffering. After its first presentation, the painting travelled to various cities in Europe, including London, where it was shown at the Whitechapel Gallery. To this very day, Guernica is one of the most frequently reproduced images in connection with antiwar movements across the world. In 1939, the work went on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it remained until Franco’s death, in keeping with Picasso’s wishes. In 1981, the centenary of the artist’s birth, Guernica was returned to Spain, taking its place in the galleries of the Museo de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. Recently, in 2003, the painting again drew attention when the US government, under George W. Bush, had a copy of the painting at the UN headquarters in New York—a tapestry donated by Nelson Rockefeller in 1985—covered by a blue flag while then American Secretary of State Colin Powell stood in front of it as he presented evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—evidence that would be used to justify the imminent invasion of that country. As it later turned out, much of that evidence was falsified.
RAZZLE DAZZLE (PPG) (2010), the mural by Fabio Marco Pirovino on the back wall of Kunsthalle Basel, is a contemporary engagement with the history and the cultural and political significance of Guernica (1). With a mouse click, Pirovino took the first image that appeared on Google under the search word “Guernica”, and processed it using a simple Photoshop procedure. He determined the various grey values in the image and, opting for a particular brush size, painted over the reproduction so that the figures once painted in the grisaille technique became abstract planes. Finally, the artist turned the image upside down in order to “further emphasise the composition and render the painting even more abstract,” as he himself put it. The digitally processed version of the original painting was translated into an analog process, when the artist hand-drew his computer image and copied it several times, copy-and-paste style, so as to employ the full length of the wall. Using an old fresco technique, the image was then painted on the back wall in a correspondingly enlarged size and using a real brush.
Pirovino turns Picasso’s expressive depiction of suffering into an abstract composition repeated more than three times, giving it a very digital appearance, even when painted oversize on the outside wall. The style of the Photoshop brush is as plainly recognisable as the seam where one image borders on the next. In the repetition, the white, grey and black shades become a kind of camouflage that eschews figurative depiction. “Razzle Dazzle” is the designation for camouflage patterns used mainly during the First World War on warships (the term itself is attributed to the British artist Sir Normal Wilkinson, and the technique was initially intended more to confuse than to actually camouflage).
RAZZLE DAZZLE (PPG) not only points to the symbolic significance of Guernica as a politicised and much-reproduced painting, but it also considers the power of images themselves—in both photography and painting—and their utilisation and instrumentalisation today. The availability of visual material on the internet, and the technical development of image-processing programmes, enable enormous freedom in visual art, the limits of which stand in opposition to those in politics: the digital processing and reproduction of media images facilitates the falsification of facts and can be used as means of propaganda by opposing sides in a conflict to different political ends. The supposed transparency resulting from the omnipresence of photo and film cameras, and from access to the internet, is often blurred by the manufactured messages of manipulated pictures. In the case of Pirovino’s work, the model here turns out to be a none-too-precise reproduction of the original: at the time of his internet search, the first image that appeared on Google under the search word “Guernica” was slightly cropped.
Pirovino, who completed his photography studies at the Zurich University of the Arts in 2007, has taken as his model one of the world’s most cited paintings. His mural is a contemporary comment on art’s striving to engage with historical events, above and beyond pure illustration. Whether producing his murals, photographs, drawings or watercolours, Pirovino consistently proceeds like a painter, exploring the different formal possibilities that each material might take, and creating new compositions using variation and reduction. The digital process is never concealed, and the interfaces of the photographic “collages” remain visible—as with his work on the back wall of Kunsthalle Basel.
It has been said that Andy Warhol once asked one of his assistants what he could paint that was abstract but not really abstract either. Working with camouflage was one answer, as it is an abstract pattern that still holds various and rich associations. One could say, then, that Pirovino employs a terrorist’s approach toward Picasso and Warhol, in that he depoliticizes Guernica but arms it at the same time for a post-political era, turning it militant once again.
(1) The city of Basel has unique links to Pablo Picasso. Early works by the artist were exhibited at Kunsthalle Basel in 1914, and, in 1967, Peter G. Staechelin, the main shareholder in the Basel charter airline Globe Air, offered to sell the city two Picasso paintings from the family collection for 8.4 million Swiss Francs, his aim being to save his ailing company from (unavoidable) bankruptcy. Basel’s Grosse Rat (Grand Council) granted a loan of 6 million, and within a few weeks the remaining sum of 2.4 million was raised with the help of a collection effort known as the “Bettlerfest” (Beggars’ Festival), so that the two works could be bought for Kunstmuseum Basel. Pablo Picasso was so delighted about the purchase that he later presented the city with a gift of four more paintings.
The project is generously supported by:
Sponsorship-in-kind has been provided by:
Dold AG, Münchenstein
Fleig Plot AG, Basel
Fabio Marco Pirovino (born 1980, Basel) lives and works in Basel and Zürich. He graduated from the Photography Department of the Zurich University of the Arts in 2007. Pirovino participated several times in the Regionale and received the travel price of the Basler Kunstverein on the occasion of the Regionale 10 at Kunsthalle Basel. He took part in different group shows such as Plat(t)form, Fotomuseum Winterthur and with Amberg&Marti in Riga (Amberg&Marti zeigen FMP) (both 2007). In August 2010 Pirovino will be part of a group show titled The Artist and the Photograph at Ausstellungsraum Klingental. In January 2010 he had a solo show at the Coalmine Fotogalerie, Winterthur (20th Century Fox, in Memory of Thomas Knoll) and at Abbt Projects, Zurich (Fabio Marco Pirovino: Propaganda + Instinct), Paloma Presents, Zurich (FMP at his own flat) as well as with Marks Blond Projects in Berne (Icarus) in 2009.