BEIRUT: Most art aficionados recognize Rene Magritte’s masterpiece “La trahison des images,” (The Treachery of Images) of 1928-29. This oil-on-canvas work features a pipe, in profile, with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une Pipe” (This is not a Pipe) beneath. Innumerable innocents have no doubt wondered what Magritte meant by suggesting his rendering of a pipe wasn’t actually a pipe. Magritte’s talent lies in the title of the piece: The painting isn’t itself a pipe, of course, but a representation of one. What we see is not what is.
Magritte’s pipe has inspired many artists, not least himself. In 1964, he painted an apple, above which was the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pomme” (This is not an apple).
It has also was inspired Italian artist Remo Ciucciomei, a selection of whose recent works are now up at Zico House in an exhibition entitled “Ceci n’est pas une Peinture” (This is not a Painting).
These 21 works-in-progress represent, the artist says in a press release, “a search for a change as opposed to usual activities that involve the implemented work as a whole ... rather than every single painting.”
Ciucciomei’s purpose was not to display completed (and by implication salable) objects in the process or practice of painting. The process – as he and innumerable art market skeptics have put it – is more important than the finished good.
Born in 1956, Ciucciomei had a varied career, holding a range of jobs including as a farmer, before discovering his artistic talents years later. It is this eclectic professional background that he tries to express through his works.
Another inspiration for Ciucciomei was Michel Foucault’s theory, “The Order of Things.” With his work, the artist tries to shift his viewers’ consciousness and their assumptions about what is before their eyes. Onlookers see a painting that is not a painting but instead an intermediary trying to pierce the barrier between art and the epistemology of art.
Meandering through Zico House, viewers will see a man getting his hair cut, representations of the haywire of Beirut’s electricity system, cars, visions of Phoenician stones and a lazy Sunday afternoon in Ashrafieh.
These are not mere decorative tableaux. They are meant to make the viewer ponder what it is he, or she, is looking at. Do they depict random situations or do they provoke an awareness of what lies right in front of us?
Ciucciomei’s paintings are neither extraordinarily good nor poorly done. The technique has been seen before.
One painting (the only untitled piece of the exhibition) epitomizes Ciucciomei’s objective. It depicts a red-and-blue abstract work hanging on a wall, beside which is painted the words “Acrylic Paint, Do Not Touch.” In the midst of the warning is drawn an arrow, pointing to the abstract.
Its humorous use of mise en abime reflects on Magritte’s treachery – that is, what the viewer sees is not Ciucciomei’s painting, but the artist’s representation of a painting.
Other works are harder to decipher. Take “Silence Before the Start.” The artist has painted a street scene in which a man doesn’t walk down pavement but instead atop a row of piano keys. Evidently, the artist wants to equate the music of performance with the sounds encountered during an urban stroll. And?
Each painting in this exhibition must be viewed as part of a whole, rather than as a freestanding entity, so onlookers face a labyrinth. They must understand the aim of the artist and then decipher the puzzle of Ciucciomei’s “This is Not a Painting.”
The Daily Star visited “Ceci n’est pas une Peinture” the morning after the opening and found the space littered with the detritus of the evening’s revels. Lipstick-smeared glasses, bits of nibbled sandwiches and cigarette ends were everywhere.
Given the artist’s interest in work-in-progress art, should this tableau be read as an extension of the exhibition itself and, if so, how?
Does it say, “It was a late night and we haven’t had a chance to clean yet.” Should the title be “This is Not an Exhibition,” then?
Remo Ciucciomei’s “Ceci n’est pas une Peinture” is on show at Sanayeh’s Zico House until June 10. For more information, please call 76-908-250.