Giuseppe Penone: Drawing Center, New York

Article excerpt





Fable I: "Giuseppe Penone: The Imprint of Drawing." In the anteroom of the Drawing Center, a giant barred the way, buried up to his eyebrows, from which his colossal forehead, its worry lines traced by thorns, emerged aboveground. Never mind the crown of thorns; for me that gargantuan tracery called up Briar Rose's thicket. For it was hard to see the forehead for the forest of finger-pricking points. Indeed, it wasn't until later that I knew Penone's Spine d'acacia (fronte) (Acacia Thorns [Forehead]), 2002, was a forehead at all. Stand to the side, as I did, approaching gingerly, and all you saw was that spiky copse, daring you to touch, to feel instead of see, and then fall under the somatic sway of a world in which you were suddenly so impossibly small as to be blind to the gestalt of everything around you. You became like a fly, crawling across a spine-sprouting surface so expansive as to require a map for its traversal--except here the surface was its own map and the fly could not read it. Stepping away from the side, you began to grow and see something develop: not forms, nor directions through the prickly maze, but a cursive swoop here and a springing are there--gradually you became aware that those linear fragments might be huge, stray hairlines. Step farther away and orient yourself less sidelong to the spiky surface, and growing more you began to be aware of openings, clearings, paths through the spiny woods: the fissures between rows and clumps of thorns, the spaces that helped to define lines as lines, gaps that were the negative of those lines, broken-off trails of not-line that meandered on either side of strings of thorny line starting and stopping here and there.

Step back farther, grow larger and stand squarer to the plane of the false wall, and then, like a cartoon character standing on what she thought was a harmless mound of inanimate matter but was really an enormous beast about to awake from its sleep and shake the minute irritant from its back, you noted the massive extent of that surface and began scanning it to take in whatever patterns there were to be discerned among the thorns and the weave of shadows cast by them. It became less evident that they were sharp protrusions that might puncture your skin if you got too close and bumped into them. Backing away, you knew in a flash that you were facing the top of the head of a giant who couldn't quite see you ... yet.


Quickly you skirted the colossus and entered the atrium. There you found, on the left, Palpebra (Eyelid), 1989-91, dark clouds of eyelids with shards of a repeated profile caught in them. All nose and unseeing eye, its gaze canceled out by an inked fingerprint in place of a pupil, that reiterated part profile was oriented sidelong to its surface, as if you were to be encouraged to come so close that your own cheek and nose touched the feltlike fiber of which it was made, and your own eyelids brushed up against it without your eyes being able to see it. Your eyes felt as if they felt the felt, instead, and found it slightly hairy, not wrinkled as you thought from a distance.


On the back wall was Impronte rilevate sulla matita durante l'esecuzione (Prints Left on the Pencil During Execution), 1975/2004--four giant fingerprints where some huge humanoid had dirtied the wall with smudges left by the giant pencil stub held between his giant fingers. Then, turning to the right, you found yourself held in the mammoth hands of another Gulliverlike personage with hands so large that the whorls of the ten fingertips became channels, gutters and troughs, tree rings and spiraling whirlpools, surrounding you in your once again Lilliputian dimensions. The hands of L'impronta del disegno (The Imprint of Drawing), 2002-2003, were so large that where their prints began was invisible to you, and where they ended disappeared off the horizon. …