Gianni Pisani (Naples, 1935) belongs to the generation of artists who, since the mid-fifties, have contributed to a substantial renewal of the Neapolitan art scene, establishing a dialogue with international currents such as Pop Art, New Dada and Body Art while also developing these strands in ways related to their own experiences and geographical origins.
Pisani began his artistic career as a painter, a former student of Emilio Notte at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Naples. In the early sixties his pictorial production was accompanied by “object art,” with assemblages such as Il letto (“The Bed”, 1963), in the collection of the Museum of Capodimonte, L’incidente (“The Accident”, 1964), and La Credenza (“The Sideboard”, 1964), in the collection Terrae Motus created by Lucio Amelio and today in the Palazzo Reale of Caserta, works in which he began his research into multimediality.
“The pictorial material is resolved directly into material,” wrote the poet and writer Edoardo Sanguineti in presenting his works in 1965.
Parallel with his artistic activities Pisani became the driving force behind some of the most interesting initiatives on the Neapolitan scene in the late sixties: in 1967-68 beside Dina Caròla and Anna Caputi in the management of the Galleria Il Centro, while in 1969 he was one of the signatories, together with Bruno Barbati, Giannetto Bravi, Vincent D’Arista, Maria Palliggiano and Errico Ruotolo, of the Charter of the Founding of the Non-Existent Gallery, which marks the beginning of a short but intense adventure of a unique kind of gallery, not tied to a physical space but active in the fabric of the city with impromptu and often provocative actions.
Together with the Risveglio del Vesuvio (“Reawakening of Vesuvius”), a hoax which caused a sensation in the press at the time, they included the launch, in November 1970, from a chartered aircraft of 15,000 plastic sleeves, Maniche di G.P. (“G.P.’s Hands”) , taken from a plaster cast of the artist’s arm, then cast as a single bronze copy. The action, embodying an image already recurrent in his paintings, was interpreted by unsuspecting witnesses as a form of protest organized by hospital strikers. The element of performance in Pisani’s work, already evident in his art objects and activities for the Non-Existent Gallery, came to prominence in the early seventies with a number of actions such as Ha vinto G.P. (“The Winner is G.P.”, 1973), a spectacular comeback against death, in which the artist destroyed a coffin with an ax, and Tutte le mattine prima di uscire (“Every Morning Before Going Out”, 1973), in which Pisani rewound a hypothetical umbilical cord into his paunch, staging an extreme attempt to attach himself to life.
Sex, life and death are the dominant themes of Pisani’s work, shaped by his personal history, by which he explores “the relation between the biological and the biographical,” as Angelo Trimarco wrote, in an narcissistic exaltation of himself. The exorcism of death and his self-celebration underlay Suicidio in scatola (“Suicide in a Box”) from 1967, one piece of the monumental installation Monumento a G.P., a composition of thirty-six modular plastic display cases containing casts of the artist’s head engaged in a macabre game, wearing sunglasses and with two revolvers pointed at his temples.
The body fragment returns in Le bambole di G.P. (“G.P.’s Dolls”), taken from a cast of the legs of his partner Marianna and displayed for the first time in 1969 at the eighth Biennale of San Benedetto del Tronto, Al di là della Pittura, and then in Naples at the Galleria Il Centro in 1970. Female torsos in colored fiberglass appear marked by hands that clasp them at hip level, sensuous and menacing at the same time. “In Pisani, the basic idea is the anthropometric obsession and the cast of the human body conceived as a continuous reminder of the presence of an absence,” says Pierre Restany.
Like Il letto of 1963, Il cuscino (“The Cushion”) also places at the center of the work an everyday object charged with tension and conflicting feelings: on the one hand it seems to evoke the sexual act just consummated, on the other a sick bed on which the dying person has left an imprint. This work combines Eros and Thanatos, play and anguish, life and death, dialectical pairs that pervade Gianni Pisani’s whole output, including the selection of works in the collection, focused on the objects and performative production, making for an in-depth analysis, between elements and themes that also return, always varied, in his subsequent pictorial production.