You don't know who I thnik I am
by Barbara Casavecchia
After all, the museum is one of the places that suggest a higher concept of Man.
André Malraux, Le Musée Imaginaire
You want the greatest thing
The greatest thing since bread came sliced.
You've got it all, you've got it sized.
R.E.M., Imitation of Life
Piero Golia is a small artist, as you may hear him say. A feather-weight of 52 kg by 1.72 m. Life is difficult for the small: some get away with supports in their heels, some shorten the distance by contemplating the world from the Olympus of their megalomania.
Piero Golia S & S
If, every evening, Alexander the Great used to read the Ilyad, elated by Achilles’ deeds, Golia puts in the VCR his favourite movie, ultra dark Japanese anime Akira, and watches Tetsuo let loose devastating psychic powers against a Great Conspiracy hatched by mad scientists and corrupt politicians, till the final nuclear apocalypse, on the background of Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium. I suspect that Golia dreams of having the superpowers of a post-modern paladin, capable of storming and defeating the Art System, thus conquering the Earth and becoming a hero, and that when he wakes up, his lips curls into a smile. Maybe.
Maybe it’s for this reasons that Golia gets himself involved in bold enterprises – in between supermanism and self-irony – that generate fabulous chansons de geste. Piero G. who stops a damsel on the street and convinces her, as a token of courtly love, to get his portrait tattooed all over her back, framed by a ribbon proclaiming Piero My Idol. Piero G. photographed with a platinum blond pretty woman in front of five stars hotels and Californian pools, driving his Ferrari, novel Hollywood prince charming. Piero G. in a snapshot entitled Me and J. Koons (“I know that like this, it is not quite right, but it’s exactly in this imperfection that lies all the beauty”, he says). Piero G. who accepts the invitation to the Tirana Biennale by proclaiming that he will row all the way to Durazzo, thus tracing backwards the route followed by Albanian clandestines across the Adriatic sea. Piero G. who climbs up a seven meter high palm tree, at the Turin art fair, threatening to come down only when somebody will buy one of his works. The title of this piece was On The Edge, the exact place where to balance yourself if you want to surface and rise, to gain the much longed for visibility. Sky is the only limit.
The myths of contemporary art spring up and grow at amazing speed, they become huge, bigger than life. Names and works easily tower, and sometimes risk to become lovely puppies and toys for those who show, criticise, publish, or buy them. Golia plays along, by sticking two life size anti-stress polyurethane cows in the doors of a gallery, or by raising pedestals so high that bend the neck of the (inflatable) animal with the longest neck on earth, the giraffe.
In Piero Golia’s world proportions are doomed to perennial uncertainty, to sudden changes dictated by perspective, as in Welles’ Citizen Kane. Like Kane’s mansion, his Museum in miniature is protected by a tall iron fence. Those bars, in the movie, appear in the very first and last sequence, to seal the present-past-present loop of the story, while in Golia’s model they fix the boundaries of a paradox: a debut show as retrospective.
But unlike Kane, Golia’s myth will not fall victim to arbitrary and contrasting versions, grotesque distortions and touching anecdotes: the artist moves in advance and jumps to conclusions, he humorously does away with all clichés on the posthumous genius, reshuffles the importance of the consecration in an institutional temple, and points out by himself the turning points of his own career (culminating, at least for the Lilliputian Italian scene, with a solo show in Milan), thus neutralising the role of spectators, tomorrow’s potential witnesses.
In the only room of Viafarini’s show left in 1:1 scale, the public is welcomed by a silk band with the title of Mister o Miss WHITE TRASH. Maybe we’ve all been shrunk to fit into the miniaturised set built for us by Piero Golia; maybe now it’s our turn to know who the hell we think we are...
by David Hunt
Sincerity and sacrifice. Master these two themes and the Grammies, the Box Set, and the Behind the Music rockumentary is bound to follow. The script will read like this: pale, thin, misunderstood loner (but endearingly sweet, with just a hint of dark menace) from – where else? – some gray-skied, rain-soaked approximation of strip-malled central casting, finds glimpses of beauty in the boredom, records said fleeting moments in spiral bound notebook, sets pained couplets to jangly guitar accompaniment, gets spotted by decidedly insincere A & R exec in dank underground club, signs precious idealism away in dubious boilerplate contract, proceeds to eagerly reap the windfalls of materialist fame (cash, cars, a devotional website), loses what semblance of an idealistic center he once had, then, finally, repeats above-mentioned process, though this time around, the whole practiced routine -- the glamorous archetype -- is tinged with a melancholy nostalgia. He’ll climb any mountain, or failing that, there won’t be any mountain high enough to keep him from you. You, the adoring fan, made so by the Grammies, the Box Sets, and the Behind the Music rockumentaries that preceded, by minutes, your almost famous, singularly authentic object of devotion. But it didn’t have to be this way.
Piero Golia shows why. What is sincerity, the Naples-born artist seems to ask, if it’s not put to the test? What is sacrifice, as any one of his harrowing adventures implies, if it’s not life threatening, dangerous? Well, quite simply, it’s the difference between a cloyingly naïve single in heavy rotation for a month, being instantly consigned to an eternity of AM radio static, and the wave-soaked logs of Golia’s one man journey by rowboat from Italy to Albania. Programmed amnesia on the one hand, gape-mouthed reverence at the monumentality of the task on the other. Who knows what evil lurks en route from the recording studio to the awards ceremony? Probably very little, aside from that which is self-inflicted. Whereas for Golia? True, nobody put a gun to his head and compelled him to set sail. An artist like Golia, however, needs no provocation. The will, although it flirts with derangement, comes from within. From without, it goes without saying, is where the danger arises. A flooded hull, baking sun, the constant reminder of the dwindling rations on board. Boredom. A blank despair that can’t be so easily processed into a 3 ½ minute pop song, nor, for that matter, ever truly conveyed to the outside world. A despair that clings like a life-jacket and, likewise, is designed to be borne solo.
Rather than pen innocuous ditties to life’s fleeting pleasures and fragile balancing acts, Golia takes that notion as a first principle, a basic assumption that fills him with a sense of urgency. He has no patience for poor players who strut and fret their hour on the stage. The time to act, for Golia, is now. And when you see the miniature facsimile of the boat that carried him from one shore to another, you might be reminded of Kcho’s rafts or any other global metaphor writ large that’s graced an international exhibition hall in the past few years. Say, a Thomas Hirschorn tin-foil plane, or one of Daniel Pflumm’s quaint abstracted logos. But you would be dead wrong, since the notion of a streamlined diaspora of ideas, a kind of cosmic creative trough where accredited artists go to graze, is far from the point. Golia simply likes the beauty of the gesture; it’s radical simplicity. Man, boat, water, twin shoals….everything else (self-aggrandizing ambition, artistic one-up-manship to the nth degree, the aestheticized flirtation with death) seems to melt away. And with them go our preconceived notions -- if we still have any in this hyper-pluralistic moment -- of how we are to address a work of art. A work that is work, and so, necessarily, one that we can only ever admire if we, too, are gripped by a pathological compulsion to go it alone at sea. Endurance is always difficult to calibrate, no matter what aesthetic yardstick you use.
So the kid can row you say. He’s got a nautical gene. An errant aqueous chromosome coursing through his bloodstream. But where are the multi-disciplinary gifts of the triathlete? How is he on land, for instance? Can he climb? The answer is not can he, but for how long. Golia scaled a palm tree, long a desert isle prop, in the kind of action/stunt that makes the viewer far more complicit than Golia’s lonely stargazing at sea. No opium-induced hallucinations of an albatross here, just some serious skin rashes from clinging desperately to the rough bark and the aching muscles that ensue. So when does it end? Why does he do it? If the Neopolitan Napoleon is starved for attention, surely there are less physically taxing ways. But then it dawned on me that Golia's formulating his own contract. I’m told he won’t come down until an interested collector agrees to buy the photo of the artist holding on for dear life right beneath the tree’s spiky fronds. Like any contract, this one has conditions. Some haggling is likely to arise. Price points and framing costs, no doubt. Meanwhile, Golia’s not getting any stronger, but his position at the bargaining table seems to be enhanced. With every second in the tree, the photo’s value begins to rise. Golia, it becomes increasingly clear, is smarter, more wily, than you and I.
So, to recap: Sea? Check. Land? Check. Gallery? Hmmm….Lights. First slide: Two floor-to-ceiling columns spread about ten feet across from each other stand sentinel in the gallery. Could be a sly jibe at the fetishization of classical architecture. Perhaps a post-minimal critique of the gallery’s own pillared foundations. Maybe Golia senses some mute conversation between the two poles that only his acute radar can pick up. They do appear to be literally facing each other. But look closer. The columns are adorned with a kind of verdant ivy; an emerald trim of dangling vines. The topiary gardens in Kubrick’s The Shining come to mind, as well as the walls of every New England liberal arts college that ever had a crew team. But somehow the leaves are too green; a Technicolor green that looks too healthy to be mere decorative flora and fauna. I look even closer and realize that what from afar looked like creeping tendrils, now has the unmistakable look of freshly plucked lettuce. And lettuce is no dried flower. It gains no dignity with age. Lettuce wilts and rots like the most forlorn entropic monument. The slow lapping of countless waves against a spiral jetty it is not. Lettuce, to be blunt, has a shelf life of one day.
The piece is paradoxically titled “…Forever…” for how can the inherently perishable even last the typical five weeks of a gallery show? Which brings us back full circle to the kind of market-nurtured memory that is the province of the cheap pop song: planned obsolescence. Memory here is manufactured. Stoked and primed. Pavlov has nothing on the army of MBA grads who know how to find your wallet. Anticipation is merely a dull ritual before you sign on the bottom line. Bad performance art before they get you in the gut. Golia would like to short-circuit this. Better yet, rewire the whole system so that his art is trapped in a closed loop between your brain and your heart. No tugging on the lower regions required. In the market equation that Golia would like to institute, forever = fantasy + “X” if an only if “X” equals sincerity. Sincerity, then, becomes the avenging redeemer. How will Golia minimize the variables, you might ask? I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “The inmates are running the asylum.” Well, within Viafarini’s cloistered walls Golia is the lone inmate and the asylum looks like a miniature Parthenon painstakingly handcrafted by expert craftsmen. Each of his previous works is rendered 1/10 to scale and front-loaded into this dollhouse world.
If space is compressed than so perhaps is time. The seconds will leak out in a slow drip in synch with a kind of glacial time. Golia’s hobbyist wonderland will outsmart the actuarial tables and leave us all in and of the dust. The flesh, like his columns, are simply just soft fruit. And as full scale museums become artifacts of their time – faded architectural paradigms, geographic markers, anachronistic props amidst the constantly morphing skyline – Golia’s personal museum will remain as portable as luggage. Deep storage for deep thoughts in a crowded yet shallow pool.