June 2009, Francesco Clemente @ Deitch Projects

Francesco Clemente, A History of the Heart in Three Rainbows 3.1, 2009. Watercolor on paper, 73.125 x 147.562 x 2 inches. Img Courtesy, Deitch Projects.


Francesco Clemente, A History of the Heart in Three Rainbows 3.5, 2009, Watercolor on paper, 73.125 x 147.562 x 2 inches. Img Courtesy, Deitch Projects.


Francesco Clemente: History of the Heart in Three Rainbows at Deitch Projects
18 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10013
May 02 through May 30, 2009

I used to write a lot of pieces like this. Words were flowing freely, entered at night, on the keyboard of an electric typewriter first, then a crappy PC inherited by my older brother, up to increasingly contemporary second-hand Macs. I didn’t know much, but I didn’t know it and/or felt it wasn’t going to be that important. I looked at things, thought about things, wrote about things. Then they got hold of me. They told me it was basically crap, irrelevant in the best case. I went back and read some of that stuff. It was bad. I changed. I started to articulate my sentences and structure my paragraphs, fact-checking, putting intros and conclusions in the right places, all the good stuff. It all made sense. It still does, sometimes more, sometimes less.

I always looked up to Clemente. He’s such a positive, accomplished, figure. A good-faced, bright-eyed, intense, articulate and internationally acclaimed painter from my country. I was proud of him since -still in College- I first got caught in the silky red substance, sharp symbolism and flowing metamorphoses of Scissors and Butterflies (1999), on the cover of his Guggenheim retrospective of the same year. What a picture. It stayed with me for years and years. It still does. I was completely content and satisfied with it, that WAS the painter, Clemente’s whole achievement and discourse was in that painting. I didn’t felt obliged to go on and study him or see more work or whatever of the things that I usually do when I meet the work of an interesting artist.

Francesco Clemente, Scissors and Butterflies, 1999. Oil on linen, 92 x 92 inches.

Francesco Clemente, House of Cards, 2001. Oil on linen, 68 x 60 inches.

Images of Clemente’s remarkable career came to me occasionally and mostly unexpected. Stunningly complex and yet playfully spontaneous collective works painted with Warhol and Basquiat in a group show in Avignon. Reproductions of nervous, “ugly” early drawings on the pages of some Flash Art issue. The iconic, dark, crystal clear symbolism of House of Cards (2001) reproduced on Gagosian ads and web pages. Growing up, these images kept resonating deeply with me; still, I maintained a distance from them, collecting them in an ideal drawer and never really relating them to other art. Only a few months ago, I found myself describing my feelings for Clemente’s work to a friend admitting that, if my other passions and preferences could be trusted to represented my general “taste”, I would have to deduct that I shouldn’t at all have been attracted or interested by it. My friend (who knows the painter and his family on a personal level) could not hide a knowing smile. I felt that he knew the way I was feeling. Or maybe I just wanted him to.

I met the same friend at the opening of “History of the Heart in Three Rainbows” at Deitch’s Wooster street warehouse and reminisced our conversation, while also realizing that that was, in fact, the first solo exhibition of Clemente’s work I’d ever been to. A cycle of larger than life watercolors on paper lined the open space of the massive warehouse. Set in three groups of five paintings each, the pieces were some of the brightest and more colorful works that the artist has ever produced. As the press release cleverly remarks, the thin layers of watercolor create the impression of a permanent rainbow of soft light and energy behind the paper. The ubiquitous, universal symbol of a red heart is the beginning and end of the compositions, initiator of mysterious organic processes that involve thorny branches, jeweled trees, energy streams, light explosions and abnormal growths, as well as human figures perennially in balance between love, life, struggle and death. Some figures wear Harlequin (a classic character of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte) costumes, their colorful lozenges appearing sometimes as a fragmented skin from which the bodies have magically emerged or liberated themselves. The struggle for the achievement of spiritual freedom seems to be the driving force behind each scene and arrangement of carefully chosen symbols.

I looked at them for half an hour. An exceptional suite by an exceptional painter that I seem to be exceptionally attracted to, but whose mysterious ways I will probably never manage to fully understand.


Francesco Clemente, A History of the Heart in Three Rainbows, Installation view,
May 2 - 30, 2009, Deitch Projects 18 Wooster Street, Photo by Adam Reich. Img Courtesy, Deitch Projects.


Marco Antonini

Marco Antonini is a New York based independent curator and writer. He has collaborated with some of the most reputable organizations in New York, including ISCP, Elizabeth Foundation, LMCC, ISE Foundation, Japan Society, Triangle Arts and the Dumbo Arts Center.

A freelance educator/lecturer at MoMA, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, MoMA PS1 and 3rdWard Design Center, his articles, essays and interviews have been published on Flash Art International, Cura, Whitehot, Museo, BMM, Contemporary, AroundPhotography, Arte&Critica and NYArts. He has lectured on various topics for the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa (Venice), Japan Society, ISE Foundation, City College of New York/CUNY and the Rhode Island School of Design.

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