Temporarily fusing their already expansive spaces into a block-spanning megagallery, Boesky and Pace present a survey of the work of Pier Paolo Calzolari, a key figure in the Arte Povera movement. Maintaining an absorption in organic substances and fragile states characteristic of his late-’60s Italian milieu, the artist also pursues an interest in time and transfiguration. But while his themes may be weighty and his aesthetic austere, Calzolari’s world is not without leavening glimmers of experimental chutzpah and absurdist wit. Over the past quarter century, he has tried all manner of counterintuitive physical juxtapositions—wax and neon, moss and lead, paper and iron—en route to the fusion of art and life, that Holy Grail that seems to be perpetually hidden in plain sight.
Alongside such material touchstones as salt and blackened wood, several works here incorporate naked flames and refrigeration units, volatile elements that convert otherwise static sculptural forms into startling embodiments of cyclical loss and regeneration. Curiouser and curiouser: Tiara C, from 2006, incorporates an oyster revolving jerkily atop a fabric-draped iron shelf, while Untitled (Tall fish tank), from 1978–80, provides swimming space for an albino koi carp in the shadow of a weathered lead monolith. Similarly confined is the battery-powered cuddly toy that butts ceaselessly into the base of an oversize portal in 2004’s Untitled (Door). “When the dreamer dies” is a fascinating reminder not only of Arte Povera’s radically liberating influence, but also of the power to surprise and involve that kingpins like Calzolari retain.