Venus of rags on fire between premature presidentialism and eagerness to rebuild

Before the flames of the fire that destroyed Pistoletto's monumental replica of the Venus of rags in Naples had even been extinguished, comments and analyses of the incident were already flowing in, in the name of tragedy presidentialism. Besides: does it really need to be rebuilt?

The last flames that, the day before yesterday, enveloped Michelangelo Pistoletto’s monumental-scale replica of the Venus of rags had yet to be extinguished, but on social media and the online editions of all newspapers, local and national, comments on the fire were already beginning to flow. Without waiting for any clarity on what had happened, hosts of logorrheic show-offs did what almost everyone does whenever a crime case gains national newsworthiness: they improvised as sociologists and began to pour out analyses on the fact of the day before anything could even be understood about what had happened.

Just in case further confirmation was needed, the affair of the Venus burned in the Piazza del Municipio in Naples reminded everyone that the most democratic and cross-cutting trend that exists in our century is presidentialism: that attitude that leads anyone, from the politician at the top of the major national party to one’s neighbor, to believe that it is a good and useful thing to share with one’s neighbor one’s observations of the day’s faits divers , and that the audience finds these analyses, often rendered before they are due, interesting. Some do this through quotation marks delivered to their press office, some are content with a connection and a social account, but the result does not change.

Now, when a criminal event occurs, it would always be the case to limit oneself, at least until the facts begin to take on a minimally defined physiognomy, to an expression of dismay and, at most, a declaration of confidence in the authorities who will have to proceed with the necessary investigations. Something like, “We are baffled by what happened, now we are waiting for clarity.” And instead, for most of a day, we had to sit through a deluge of pithy sociological disamenities about the violence of those who don’t want art, about youth deviance, about the worst side of humanity, about Heine and book burnings, about the need to remake the Venus “as it was where it was” as a symbol of rebirth, and down down the scale of tragedy trombonism.

Then it turned out that it was probably not an “attack against beauty,” to use an expression that appeared more than a few times on the timelines of commentators who had just finished making their position known on the latest vicissitudes of the president of the Senate, but of the gesture, at the moment still without explanation, of a homeless man, identified through the images of video surveillance cameras, subjected to arrest, who so far has denied any charges, but against whom the gip then decided to confirm the precautionary measure, having considered that the circumstantial elements collected point to the responsibility of the detained man. And so, since it was no longer possible to blame some alleged enemy of public order, or a baby gang involved in a social-social cimento, or perhaps a conscious protester, the analyses of the prescientists focused on the work. And they turned out to be perhaps even more delusional, because one read about it all: the homeless man who, amidst the mists of rampant approximation, becomes a homeless man (a “ragamuffin,” he was also cutely called) who sets fire to rags and is transformed into a symbol of existential malaise if not also of revenge; the flames that invested a 1967 work with new meaning; the fire as a random performative act; and on and on with ever more imaginative instant exegesis. A torrent of ramblings on the sidelines of what, according to initial reconstructions, is nothing more than a mere crime story with contours yet to be investigated, which perhaps could have happened to anything else found in that square, and should be treated as such.

An image of the fire
An image of the fire

Then there is another issue, of a more markedly cultural nature. Certainly, it is regrettable that Pistoletto’s work ended up in ashes. We are talking about a painful event. But the fact that the protagonist of a criminal case is the gigantic replica of a famous work of art is not in itself sufficient to make the object relevant. It was, precisely, a replica of a work from more than fifty years ago, curiously exhibited at a festival called “Contemporary Naples.” A replica that added nothing to the original (or to the concept, if you want to consider it a conceptual work). It is like having lost a multiple, albeit of enormous proportions. Or like having seen an untimely end to a performance, a show by an artist who does not stop every year to administer us the same old repertoire: Third Paradise and Venus of rags cooked in all possible sauces.

It was not, in short, a loss to despair over. It was worse, in the past few hours, and speaking of fires, to the Genoese who lost some portions of the forest in thefire that broke out at the Guardia sanctuary. And there is an article in today’s Linkiesta about the not-so-comforting situation that Sicily is preparing to experience as the heat increases the chances of losing hectares of forested areas. But do we want to put how much more socially expendable it is to satisfy one’s needs for presentialism by focusing on Pistoletto’s Venus instead, to show how sensitive one is to art or how skilled one is at finding new meanings behind a work?

Finally, news arrives that the City of Naples aims to raise 200,000 euros to reconstruct the work. It was a replica, so it is normal that it can be replicated and someone wants to replicate it. One hopes, of course, that the entity will resort exclusively to voluntary donations, with no public money being used to put the expensive trinket back together again, if one really does not want to resign oneself to the idea that even destruction is part of the natural course of a work of’art (even the Vegetable Cathedral in Lodi, to take a recent example, ended up demolished, destroyed after only two years of life for an even more serious reason in some ways, namely neglect, and will not be rebuilt because it can happen that a work of art ceases to exist). But, again, perhaps it is more socially expendable to redo the installation and then impishly declare that beauty has triumphed over evil.

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.