Clotheshanger of the North is a large sculpture by the Italian artist Luciano Fabro. It consists of a linen curtain-like wall hanging from an oxidised copper frame of interwoven and bundled rods that resemble twigs. The fabric is spray-painted with stripes in four different colours – red, blue, green and grey – and is attached to the metal frame with Velcro. The copper rods form a series of four loops projecting out from the wall, so that where the fabric is fastened to the frame it appears gathered. The rods are fixed to the wall by means of a flat T-bracket at the rear, and the sprayed linen is cotton-lined.
Fabro created this work in 1981 when he was living and working in Milan. He began making his series of Clotheshangers in 1976, exhibiting his first group, all of which had bronze frames, at Galleria Framart in Naples the following year. He continued the series in subsequent years, exhibiting them at, among other venues, the Museum Folkwang, Essen (1981), and in his solo show Habitat at the Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1981). In 1984 he showed a new group at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, entitled Attaccapanni di Parigi: I cinque sensi (Archivio Luciano e Carla Fabro and Galleria Christian Stein, Milan).
Fabro is associated with arte povera, or ‘poor art’, a term coined by the Italian curator and critic Germano Celant in 1967 in reference to a number of Italian artists whose work explored a wide range of materials and processes in a direct manner that consciously resisted established institutional presumptions. Beside Fabro, who contributed to Im Spazio (The Space of Thought), arte povera’s first exhibition curated by Celant at the Galleria La Bertesca, Genoa, in 1967, the group included Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Jannis Kounellis, Giovanni Anselmo, Gilberto Zorio, Pino Pascali and Giuseppe Penone. Despite the movement’s name, the work associated with it did not necessarily eschew traditional fine art materials and processes. Clotheshanger of the North is a case in point, being a work of visual subtlety and technical precision.
When asked about the overall title he had chosen for the Clotheshangers series in 1977, Fabro commented that if he had called them ‘objects’, ‘environment’, ‘landscape’ or ‘installation’ then this would have provided a false justification for their existence and would therefore have prevented the viewer from looking deeper into the work and asking further questions of it. He went onto say of the word attaccapanni (clotheshangers): ‘I decided that it was the simplest and most appropriate word in the Italian language, because they are clothes on hangers.’ (Luciano Fabro in conversation with Lisa Licitra Ponti, Domus, 1977, reprinted in Fabro 1987, p.165.) Tate’s Clotheshanger is described as being ‘of the North’ simply because it was made in northern Italy, as distinct from the Neapolitan location of the first group.
Clotheshanger of the North has strong painterly qualities: commenting on the colours sprayed onto the cloth, Fabro remarked that they were the colours of the sunset (Fabro 1977, reprinted in Fabro 1987, p.165), and these abstract colour washes resonate with the work of abstract expressionist artists such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman and Morris Louis. However, the work is undeniably sculptural, with the bundled sticks of the frame bridging the worlds of nature and of manufacturing, and its solid presence as a curtain prompts consideration of what it might hide. This conjures associations with Pliny’s tale of Zeuxis and Parrhasios, one of the founding myths of painting to which Fabro has himself made reference (see Fabro 1992, p.26). In competition with one another, Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so realistic that the birds swooped down to peck at them. Asked by Parrhasios to draw aside the curtain concealing his painted response, Zeuxis realised that the curtain itself was the painting. In a similar sense, Clotheshanger of the North is a work with both two-dimensional (virtual) and three-dimensional (real) aspects. Writing in these terms in 1964, Fabro emphasised that his primary interest was in space, and in finding a way, through the work, of ensuring that unlike Zeuxis we do not confuse the virtual and the real:
Just as a bent piece of iron expresses the force that was exerted upon it, just like a thrown stone gives a centre to the borders of a puddle, a finger indicates the direction of a gaze; in the same manner, we move in a space by means of solicitations of impressions. In virtue of references.
(Fabro 1992, p.27.)
While Clotheshanger of the North addresses the essential characteristics of painting, Fabro’s series of Feet (Piedi) sculptures, being both pedestal and work at the same time, explore the nature and definition of the sculptural object (see, for example, Bronzo patinato nero e seta naturale (Piede) (Black Patinated Bronze and Natural Silk (Foot)) 1968–71, Tate T12002).
Luciano Fabro, Attaccapanni, Turin 1978.
Luciano Fabro, Fabro: Works 1963–86, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 1987.
Luciano Fabro, Luciano Fabro, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco 1992.
Supported by Christie’s.