Paolo Icaro is one of Italy’s best kept secrets. Active since the 1960s, Icaro’s distinctive and unique body of work is not quite arte povera (despite featuring in its seminal shows ‘Arte Povera Im-Spazio’ at Galleria Bertesca in Genoa in 1967 and ‘Arte povera piú azioni povere’ in Amalfi in 1968). But it’s not quite conceptualist or minimalist, either, despite Icaro’s 1966 move to New York to immerse himself in its new art scene. Icaro seems to have slipped through the cracks. Now, two shows in Italy offer an opportunity to see Icaro’s work, at the Galleria di Arte Moderna (GAM) in Turin and at P420 gallery in Bologna.
Icaro’s sculptures and installations are constant investigations into space: its form, how we move in it, our relationship to it. Where the GAM show is institutional, Icaro’s show at P420 is more intimate and personal: Icaro himself selected the works and curated ‘Cantiere’ (roughly, ‘construction site’), presenting around 20 works covering 50 years of artistic production. Throughout the exhibition, wooden beam structures reproduce elements of Icaro’s Woodbridge studio in Connecticut, where he lived for a decade from 1971.
At the show’s start, Hopscotch (1967) was made shortly after Icaro moved to New York’s SoHo. This floor sculpture, made of brightly painted cyan steel angle bars beckons you to, well, play hopscotch – the children’s street game – while subverting the seemingly static nature of the structure by attaching a long rope-like chain to one end. If you were to pull the chain, the squares of the hopscotch would move along, as though you were pulling a net. The rigid minimalist structure becomes fluid and emotive – it propels you to your own childhood days playing hopscotch, whether you grew up in post-war Turin as Icaro did, or as a kid in 90s Rome, like me.
The earliest work in the show, Hopscotch is also its only colourful piece. Icaro soon favoured untreated materials, including steel, lead, wood and his trademark white plaster. A little to the left of Hopscotch stands Spazio Liberato (‘Freed Space’, 2018): a two-metre tall sculpture consisting of a triangular base and three thin steel rods which rise unsteadily to form a pyramid but never quite join together. Space itself has been made visible.
Just beyond, Spazio Liberato, Mappa, cherry bones (2015) is pinned to the wall. A map or path is traced in pencil on a roughly cut out sheet of paper. The paper is held onto the wall by a thin steel skeleton of a frame. Every so often, a cherry pit is stuck onto the path as though highlighting a location, a city, a town or a personal milestone.
In the next room, Angolo buio (‘Dark Corner’, 1971) is terrifying and funny in equal measure. Its ominous black steel renders, viscerally, the infamous corner generations of children were sent to. Inside the small sculptural corner, steel walls have been covered in silicon carbide, giving it an otherworldly glittery, granular quality. It could be construed as a cave of wonders or terrors, depending on your perspective.
Adjacent to Angolo buio, Icaro’s ‘Racconto’ (1969–ongoing) series carefully lines the floor. This work marks Icaro’s discovery of new materials including multi-coloured onyx, oakwood or iron. Each material was then cut into a brick of identical dimensions engraved with the word ‘racconto’, or story. Like most of Icaro’s work, it is open-ended and leaves you thinking back to the first time you encountered a material which moved you.
Icaro once said he wanted sculpture to be something you can have and hold dear, and keep in your house like you would a book. He has succeeded. You leave this wonderful show with the distinct feeling that you’ve somehow seen poetry in a sculptural form, and that somehow you, too, have a part in all this.
Paolo Icaro, ‘Cantiere’ runs at P420, Bologna until 11 January 2020.
Main Image: Paolo Icaro, ‘Cantiere’, exhibition view, 2019, P420 Gallery, Bologna. Courtesy: the artist
First published in Issue 209