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Following is the obituary of the artist from The Independent, July 2007, London, England.
Luciano Fabro, artist: born Turin 20 November 1936; married (one daughter); died Milan 22 June 2007.
In September 2006, an article in the Daily Mail revealed details of Tate Modern's acquisitions budget for the previous year. Amid general outrage, one purchase came in for particular scorn: a three-metre-high pillar of bronze and perspex that had cost the gallery £400,000 and which the newspaper dubbed "the world's most expensive hat-stand". This sculpture, called Piede ("Foot"), was one of the key works of the Italian artist Luciano Fabro.
An irony of the story, overlooked by the Mail, was that Fabro was a founding father of the movement known as Arte Povera, or "poor art". First named by the critic Germano Celant, in 1967, Arte Povera was never a school in the narrow sense of the word. Rather, the term described a common response by many young Italians in the mid-1960s to US domination of the contemporary art scene. While Americans like Andy Warhol celebrated the graphic slickness of consumerism, Celant encouraged his countrymen to concentrate on the mundane and everyday. This dictum was meant to extend to the materials used in Arte Povera artworks - wool and concrete were recommended - although, Italians being Italians, Celant's advice was often ignored.
This was particularly true of Luciano Fabro, whose work from the start was made of costly materials such as stainless steel and silk. Fabro's insistence that the truth was not to be found in Celant's form of minimalism was surprising, as his own background had all the makings of social militancy. Born in the car town of Turin, he lost his father as a young child; he was then raised near Udine in the Friuli in conditions of varying poverty. Fabro was older than many of his fellow Arte Poverists, however: he was already in his late twenties when economic recession hit Italy in the early 1960s, and in his thirties when students stormed the Venice Biennale in 1968. The political rage that gave rise to the Red Brigades seems largely to have passed him by.
Instead, his overlap with Arte Povera came in the form of what John Cage called "an experimental condition in which one experiments with living". Art, for Fabro, was a means of enriching the mundane rather than of embracing it. At the age of 12, fatherless and poor, he decided to become an artist, and he never wavered in his resolve. Dazzled by the work of Luciano Fontana at the 1958 Venice Biennale, Fabro moved to Milan, where he spent the rest of his life. For the last 25 years of it, he taught at the city's twin art schools, the Accademia di Brera and the Casa degli Artisti. Students were encouraged to think of the universe in three parts, as microcosm, macrocosm and - Fabro's own word - "androcosm". "Although the term doesn't actually exist," he would say, "it describes a world that includes humanity."
Quite what he meant by this can be seen in a late work, called Sisyphus (1994), at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Sisyphus consists of a cylindrical volume of marble, etched with the artist's own likeness, which is rolled over a bed of flour to leave a life-sized self-portrait on the floor. Given the delicacy of the medium, the image has to be remade at least once a week by weary conservators. Like the myth from which it takes its name, Sisyphus might be read as a reflection on the futility of life. Its maker, though, saw things differently, the point of the story being, he said, that "Sisyphus always succeeds in rolling his stone". The public evidently identified with this optimism, in a 1996 poll voting Fabro's the work they would most like to see on permanent display.
This kind of popularity eluded other Arte Poverists who toed Celant's line more strictly. Fabro, who had involved himself in performance art in the 1960s and 1970s, had a way of making people feel included in his work. In part, this was because he saw art as tentative rather than dogmatic, prone to an infinity of readings and constantly evolving. His Enfasi (baldacchino) ("Emphasis (canopy)") began its life in Rome in 1982 as a relatively austere copper-and-aluminium wall piece. In the decade that followed, it traveled to Kassel, Aachen, London and Lucerne, gradually changing shape as it went. By the time it reached the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1992, Enfasi was suspended from the ceiling, studded with hand-made copper medallions and a-flutter with brown-paper streamers. Faced with the work's nomadic history, visitors had to decide for themselves how best to navigate their way around it. Fabro himself could offer no clues. His art, he said, wasn't "predestined and fixed", catching him just as unawares as his public.
Like the recurring triumph of Sisyphus, Enfasi's migration from wall to ceiling seemed to hint at a personal ascension, a life raised from the mundane to the heavenly by the democratising process of art. Early, floor-based works concentrated on the ugliness of the past. Fabro's late-1960s Piede series, so derided by the Daily Mail, mocked Italian classicism by clothing monstrous feet in silk; his famous maps of Italy, made in wood and lead and gilt bronze, played on the peninsula's resemblance to a boot.
As his works moved from the earthly to the cosmic - Sisyphus was dotted with golden stars - so the materials of which they were made tended to become shinier and more expensive. To the end of his life, this disconcerted curators who insisted on believing that Arte Povera meant "cheap art". Shortly before his death, Fabro was invited to take part in the Louvre's "Contrepoint" series, which pits contemporary sculpture against the museum's classical collection. Given the scale of the commission's intended site - the sepulchral Cour Marly - the artist submitted a plan for a suitably monumental work. This was turned down on the grounds of cost. Stung, Fabro made the smaller piece which was installed in the Louvre in April. Made of pink and white marble, this sits, significantly, on the floor. It is called Cul de Ciel, or "Sky's Arse".
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