Before he became a full-time artist, Pino Pascali had worked as a set-designer for TV and film. And you can sense, in these final works from 1968 – the same year he was later killed in a motorcycle accident – his playful predilection for work that’s visually striking and dramatic. Yet there’s also something endearingly ad hoc and ersatz here, almost as if these sculptures were made on the fly: the sci-fi-esque giant caterpillars, for instance, are built from multicoloured scrubbing brushes, while a phallically prominent sundial has had its circular base cut from cheap furniture foam. Most theatrically of all, there’s his giant spider, ‘Vedova Blu’ (‘Blue Widow’), which manages to be both extremely creepy and deeply hokey – with its covering of artificial blue fur and its sets of three legs (as opposed to four).
Such inauthenticities are at the heart of Pascali’s work. Like other artists affiliated to the Arte Povera movement in Italy, he was interested in myth and fable but his works have a greater sense of exaggeration, of unreality, so that a bow and arrow, or a shield studded with feathers, become enlarged to comical, vaguely disquieting proportions. Even when exploring ideas of nature, he emphasizes trickery – such as the apparently empty aluminium tanks that actually contain water, or his metre-square blocks of earth, magically elevated up the wall.
The best tricks here, though, are not merely perceptual, but offer a kind of ontological questioning about the nature of art and reality. Take the assortment of agricultural tools – spades, rakes, and hoes – propped against a wall. A few are appropriated, ‘real world’ versions, with metal heads and wooden shafts. Most, though, are entirely wooden, and clownishly oversize, strangely primitive-looking – simultaneously ‘art’ objects, caricatures of wholesome rusticity, then, yet presumably also fully functional as working tools, at once real and artificial.