“Carlo Maria Mariani: A FLIGHT OF DOVES,” is the third exhibition of work by Mariani to be held at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art (the first was a show of works on paper in the fall of 2007, and the second in the spring of 2012 showed a series three large painted classical heads).
The present exhibition features a single painting, Un volo di colombi [A Flight of Doves], a monumental composition that—within the same unified perspective space—portrays the art critics and dealers who were prominent in Rome and New York during the last forty years of Mariani’s career (some of whom he knows personally and considers friends, but others he knows only by reputation). Since the canvas surface is primarily composed of graphite with highlights of gouache, the work takes on the appearance of a cartoon, the full-scale drawings used in the Renaissance for the preparation of frescoes. Indeed the historical precedent for a painting like this is Raphael’s famous School of Athens, where contemporary artists—Michelangelo, Bramante, Leonardo—are cast into the guise of ancient philosophers and mathematicians. A more immediate source of inspiration for Mariani’s is his own Costellazione de Leone (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome), another monumental composition that the artist made thirty-five years ago (in 1981) that featured a portrait of himself surrounded by the best-known artists, critics and art dealers in Italy at that time. In the 1970s, Mariani pioneered a style that could be described as conceptual realism, where painting techniques perfected during the Italian Renaissance were ingeniously fused with the most advanced examples of Conceptual Art. When he moved to New York in the 1990s, this approach was refined and developed resulting in some of the compelling images of the era, causing Mariani to be regarded as among the most important and influential artists of his time. He has continued this path until the present day, presenting highly complex ideas through the visual vocabulary of Classical Art, an approach for which he has become internationally known. A Flight of Doves is installed with a prayer bench, inviting viewers to kneel and contemplate the picture before them. Upon examination, they will see that hovering above the figures is a million-dollar bill floating in space between two swinging incense burners—one labeled Sotheby’s, the other Christie’s—whereupon we become aware of the cynicism implicit to the painting’s message. All of the figures depicted within the space function in response to the “Almighty Dollar” that, within the context of this painting and the kneeling prayer bench, carries the very deific and religious implications the term implies. To the side of the painting, Mariani has hung a 12 ½-foot long scroll on which are depicted portraits of notable dealers in the field of modern and contemporary art. Where the scroll folds and lies horizontally at floor level, Mariani has depicted himself in four stages of life—from conception to adulthood—to which he has added his own skull. This positioning suggests that dealers such as these will continue to market his work after he is no longer here, a somber thought from an artist who has steadfastly dedicated himself to his work for so many years, yet realizes in the latter part of his life that he is powerless to determine how it will be treated in the future. A selection of drawings and paintings made earlier in the artist’s career supplement the exhibition in a separate gallery space.