Over the course of five decades, artist Fabio Mauri, worked across a broad range of media and formats, always focused around the visual languages and vocabulary of 20th Century political spheres, specifically in Europe. Exploring the mechanics and visual exponents of varied ideological states and their attendant political movements, Mauri’s work was an often brutal condemnation of World War II, the rise of Fascism and the Holocaust, while simultaneously examining these events’ lingering echoes in the post-war landscape. Mauri’s work gets a fascinating second look at his current Hauser & Wirth retrospective in New York, spreading his pieces across the spacious 22nd Street flagship location in an attempt to understand both his own meandering aesthetics, and the political situations they address.
Sobering, direct, and poetic, Mauri’s work recovers individual and collective historical memory; it addresses themes of mass communication and manipulation, and brings to light the political dimension of images that proliferate throughout contemporary society by means of our most prized tools. His command of a diversity of disciplines and mediums – from drawing, painting, sculpture, performance, film, and installation, to theatre and theoretical writings – produced a body of work invested not only in preserving these times and sites of conflict, but equally in underscoring the cognitive systems and energies capable of producing the same effects. Here, that interest gets a blindingly powerful articulation, asking over and over how fascist politics can take root in seemingly strong democracies, how the discourse of modern politics can give way to discourses of base power and domination, and how the average citizen can find themselves complicit in this state. Clearly, these are particularly resonant questions for U.S. Citizens in the wake of the 2016 elections.
The works on view perform this task through a range of operations. In one corner, the artist nods his head towards the “Degenerate Art” exhibitions that defined the attempts by Nazi leaders to both undermine and reprogram citizens’ understanding and appreciation of thought and creative critique through a violent assertion of orthodox artistic practice. Presented here, the artist’s work explores this same phenomenon as a pathetic, insufficient attempt to eclipse the capacity of art to shift and evolve, to create new modes of understanding and awareness of the modern condition. In others, his pieces explore divergent fusions of material and space, objects and jumbled masses of text that carry multivalent interpretations and meanings. One piece, which bears a wall-mounted fan and the text “Senza Arte,” seems to parody the breeze blowing around the work, as if the moving air were to emphasize an absence of substance.
Mauri’s critiques are a powerful one, both calling up mechanisms of power and the holes in modern society that these assertions of violence are capable of creating. Challenging readings of oppression and violence as embedded in past situations, and instead looking for the conditions capable of creating them again anywhere, the artist’s work manages to feel consistently renewed in the light of modernity, a point that makes it seem as hopeful as ominous. For even in the darkest moments, the understanding that these forces can be seen, comprehended and defeated, gives at least a glimmer of light.
The artist’s work is on view through April 7th.
— D. Creahan
Fabio Mauri [Hauser & Wirth]