Looking at Giorgio de Chirico

Fiat-1400Heather Ewing at The Brooklyn Rail:

In 1969 a young artist in Turin named Giulio Paolini took as his personal motto the Latin inscription—itself a quotation from Nietzsche—at the foot of an early Giorgio de Chirico self-portrait: Et quid amabo nisi quod ænigma est [And What Shall I Love If Not the Enigma]. He made the phrase into his own business card and transformed it into a public manifesto by placing it on an enormous banner hung across the main piazza in Como. This was his contribution to Campo Urbano, the public art intervention staged that year by Luciano Caramel in collaboration with Ugo Mulas and Bruno Munari, which invited artists out of their studios and galleries to engage directly with the urban environment, the spaces of daily life. For Paolini, it was the beginning of a decades-long fascination with de Chirico’s oeuvre, which Paolini has referenced, cited, and interrogated in his conceptual practice—artwork that is now the subject of the fourth season at the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA), which places paintings spanning much of de Chirico’s career together with works by Paolini from the 1960s to today.

This phrase “And What Shall I Love If Not the Enigma” was a touchstone as well for Philip Guston—Dore Ashton said he quoted it all his life; and it was a prompt for Sylvia Plath, too, who wrote several poems inspired by de Chirico paintings, as did Mark Strand, John Ashbery, and others (Ashbery also translated parts of de Chirico’s surrealist novelHebdomeros). I love that Louise Bourgeois and her husband, the art historian Robert Goldwater, together dedicated themselves to translating some of de Chirico’s writings. De Chirico’s work has beguiled and bedeviled a surprising number of artists and writers.

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