Aw, Phooey!

Il Ghirigoro
Pio Pico Gallery, Los Angeles
13.02.20 – 14.03.20


Author’s note: I wrote this during the latter half of April 2020. Thus it is a document specific to the early, uncertain days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Il Ghirigoro closed unexpectedly on 14 March 2020, due to complications caused by coronavirus, but found a comfortable revival online for the remainder of its tenure at Pio Pico, Los Angeles. Other exhibitions curtailed by the shutdown did the same, but few were as primed for a second life, half-life, afterlife as this one. Il Ghirigoro was so well versed in reiteration that its passage to the digital realm seemed natural and obvious. Il Ghirigoro was so well versed in recursion that it became the subject of its own debate, over and above what its curator, Francesco Tenaglia, could have anticipated.

The exhibition was deceptively simple: a standard group show thoughtfully hung to afford the work of five artists ample space to emanate, but behind the conventional pretence churned contractions and expansions, cycles and spin-offs that, had they been mapped, would have rivalled a chart of ocean currents. And at the centre of it all was an unlikely fulcrum: Donald Duck; middle name: Fauntleroy; Italian name: Paolino Paperino.

In his long history as a Disney icon, Donald Duck played a recyclable pawn for the situational gags and thinly-veiled social commentary that propel classic cartoons. His repertoire includes treasure hunter, reluctant Nazi, gung-ho American soldier, and more, but it was his stint as a talentless painter that set in motion the warp that would be Il Ghirigoro, years before its gallery debut. A passage from the exhibition statement, long but necessary, explains:

The curator’s encounter with contemporary art happened in the 1980s in a reprint of the comic book Paperino e il Ghirigoro, originally published in the weekly Topolino ( the Italian name for Mickey Mouse ). In the issue dated 20 September 1964, Donald Duck is a painter of little success… When he discovers that the ‘Museum of Modern and Future Art’ is hosting an extremely successful exhibition, he takes inspiration from a work he sees there, Il Ghirigoro ( The Scrawl ), to create a substantially identical painting, a replica. Unfortunately, the original is stolen and the police – on the advice of eminent art experts – arrest the duck, who tries to exonerate himself by calling attention to the fact that initials on the back of the picture are his… The exhibition is an attempt to imagine, today, a possible version of that ‘Museum of Modern and Future Art’.

In a nostalgic twist on a nostalgic twist, Tenaglia superimposed the Museum of Modern and Future Art onto the space of Pio Pico and populated it with works by Jef Geys, Ezio Gribaudo, David Ostrowski, Andrea Romano and Trevor Shimizu. In doing so, he paid tribute to Donald Duck’s misguided attempt at greatness by way of decoy, itself a classic narrative of hapless ambition, and one that he equated with Walt Disney’s alleged self-isolating, world-builder narcissism and Lucifer’s voracity for paradise. The exhibition statement, with respect to Disney:

He struggled to free himself from the romantic idea of artistic authorship… One biography reads an anecdote about some company managers who were annoyed because Walt would miss their night-time poker sessions, preferring to spend his hours imitating the shape of his own name, drawn by someone else on a piece of paper.

And again the statement, with respect to Lucifer:

He tried to become original, to steal Our Lord’s authority, to command his own destiny, to bear his own light! And he won his own domain, didn’t he. Didn’t he! And his own light is the light of the fires of Hell!¹

The takeaway? Be the change that you wish for yourself in the world…
… or be being that change if actuality is not an option. Be the next big thing, a state we shall call ‘B’, even if by becoming B one must cease being in a state of ‘A’; that is, one’s comfortable status quo. Lucifer relinquished his divinity; Disney, his sociality; Donald Duck, his integrity ( from a Modernist Point of View ); Tenaglia, his guardianship of a cherished, formative experience. To simulate something, with the hope of exceeding that something, means to gamble A part of oneself.

The transition between A and B is volatile, and it can unleash any outcome, from victory to its opposite. A mentor once told me, in reference to the emotions of fathers, that she believed transitions are especially hard for men. Now I understand what she meant. Lucifer went straight to hell and Donald Duck went straight to jail. Their ambitions wrought condemnation, but the duck and the devil are only half of whom we are considering, and regardless of the circumstances and outcomes of the decisive wagers these males made, they all engaged in a common strategy in their stab at so-called greatness: mimicry. Mimicry is the common denominator; mimicry jumpstarts the sacrifice of identity, originality, ‘authenticity’ – or the precious illusion of such ideals – requisite for passing onto a subsequent state, felicitous or not.

In Tenaglia’s case, that stab at greatness is tempered by a cognisance of inevitable failure. In Il Ghirigoro, mimicry manifests the cartoon in physical space, but it fails to explode with zip-a-dee-doo-dah animism – like in the worlds of Who Framed Roger Rabbit ( 1988 ); the music video for a-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ ( 1984 ); or even The Three Caballeros ( 1944 ), starring none other than Donald Duck – due to the simple impossibility of such things occurring outside cinema. Still, the boundary between illustrated dimension and reality is effectively destroyed in the attempt. As is Tenaglia’s fantasy of an inaugural, ‘real-life’ Museum of Modern and Future Art. The deed is done, the fantasy fulfilled, or at least played out. The moment the Museum of Modern and Future Art became Il Ghirigoro it superseded its cartoon iteration and any alternative versions still floating in the curatorial ether.

Il Ghirigoro’s constituent artworks verified these terms or otherwise echoed the supporting details of the exhibition’s premise in their own aesthetic and conceptual programmes. For example, Trevor Shimizu’s crude and carefree paintings, Playboy #5 ( 2016 ) and Elevated Penis #7 ( 2016 ), are indebted to Cy Twombly, whose signature spiral gestures seem to be referenced in Paperino e il Ghirigoro, as the artwork – the titular ‘scrawl’ – that Donald Duck forges.² Similarly, Ezio Gribaudo’s deskilled paintings of palm trees – all entitled Cuba and dated 1967 – reinforced the exhibition’s self-reflexive comic attitude through their unpretentious scenography, which look, in part, as though painted with a finger.

Yet it was Andrea Romano’s Potsherds of Gazes ( 2019 ) that hewed closest to Il Ghirigoro’s postmodernist mindset. Romano’s series turns The Flintstones into a collection of cropped action sketches that approximate the cartoon’s fictitious Stone Age universe in the same way The Flintstones approximated life in the Palaeolithic age. The broader implication of this correlation is its hand-me-down pattern: we moderns will someday have our history inferred through our cultural debris too – cultural debris that may include traces of Fred, Wilma, Bamm-Bamm and Pebbles, and thus further distort the historical record.

Like Potsherds of Gazes, Il Ghirigoro represents but one stage of cultural trace formation on a continuum extending both backwards and forwards in time. The brick-and-mortar museum serves as the parent referent for the cartoon Museum of Modern and Future Art, and so Il Ghirigoro’s ancestry is composed of a lineage initiated by the cabinets of curiosities of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries ( i.e. the first museums ). That the cabinet of curiosity was meant to illustrate the cosmos in abstract summary suggests we are receding towards infinity in the hunt for a museological progenitor. Vastness likewise attends Il Ghirigoro’s rebirth in the digital cloud. If we accept the notion of computers as modern cabinets of curiosities and the internet as a cybernetic cosmos, then Il Ghirigoro-online brings us back to infinity, albeit at a different level, for now we have the cosmos at our fingertips and Tenaglia’s Museum of Modern and Future Art perdures as a constellation among constellations.

Is not intimacy with the cosmos one of the earliest promises of art? Perhaps the more urgent question is: What will happen next with this cyber cosmos that has become our primary conduit to the world since the pandemic? A big bang or a black hole? A is in the rear-view, B is on the horizon, and judging by the news of late, this transition will require that we relinquish more than we want; more than the anti-quarantine protestors who rallied on 18 April 2020 in Austin, Texas, are willing to consider; and more than most in isolation are willing to admit. So, while some of us take a cue from a-ha and declare ‘It’s no better to be safe than sorry’, the rest of us abide by our screens and cry like Donald Duck, ‘Aw, phooey!’, because there is no foreseeable upgrade to this limbo.

1. Note that this an excerpt from William Gaddis’s proto-postmodern novel The Recognitions ( 1955 ), as quoted in the exhibition statement for Il Ghirigoro.
2. Although Twombly’s well-known spiral works Cold Stream ( 1966 ) and Untitled ( 1967 ) postdate the publication of Paperino e il Ghirigoro by at least two years.


2020年2月4日-2020年3月14日| 线上持续进行

( 作者备注:下述文字写作于2020年四月下旬,因而与疫情初期的种种不明朗状态密切相关。 )


因为新冠疫情的复杂情势,展览“吉利戈罗”很意外地在2020年3月14日闭展,好在展览剩下的时间被转移到了举办地洛杉矶皮奥·皮科画廊的网站上。其他一些因为疫情而缩短了展期的展览也类似地转移到线上,但很少能像这个展览般迎来重生、余生或来生。“吉利戈罗”的迭代完成得如此之好,以至于它进入数码领域的转变显得自然而鲜明。“吉利戈罗”的递推同样精彩,因而它成为了自己所争辩的主题,这超越了策展人Francesco Tenaglia的预期。

展览看上去很简单:一个标准的群展,作品的悬挂经过深思熟虑,使五位艺术家的创作都能有充足的空间,但传统的呈现背后显出了收缩与扩展、循环与延续,如果对此进行绘图示意,那将会是一幅大海潮汐涨退的图表。而位居整个展览核心的是一个看似不合时宜的支点:唐老鸭,他的中间名是方特勒罗伊( Fauntleroy ),在意大利语中的名字是:Paolino Paperino。


策展人在20世纪80年代时,因为一本再版的卡通《唐老鸭和吉利戈罗》与当代艺术相识,卡通最初发表在Topolino周刊( 也就是“米老鼠”的意大利语名字 )。在1964年9月19日的一期中,唐老鸭是一个惨淡的画家……当他发现“现代及未来艺术博物馆”正在举办一场极其成功的展览时,他想到自己曾在那里看到过的一件作品《吉利戈罗》( 意为“潦草的字迹” ),从中汲取了灵感而创作了一幅基本相同的画作,一件复制品。不幸的是,原作被盗了,而警察—在知名艺术专家的建议下—逮捕了唐老鸭,而唐老鸭试图让人们去关注图片背面的首字母缩写由此来证明自己无罪……这个展览尝试在今天重新想象“现代及未来艺术博物馆”的可能性。

在对怀旧之转折的再次转折之中,策展人Tenaglia将“现代及未来艺术博物馆”叠加在皮奥·皮科的空间上,并在其中放置了这些艺术家的作品:杰夫·盖斯( Jef Geys )、埃齐奥·格里博多( Ezio Gribaudo )、大卫·奥斯特罗夫斯基( David Ostrowski )、安德里亚·罗马诺( Andrea Romano )和特雷弗·清水( Trevor Shimizu )。如此一来,他用诱饵的方式对唐老鸭宏大的、误入歧途的尝试致意,这本身就是一种事关不幸的野心的经典叙事,并且他将这种叙事等同于沃尔特·迪斯尼( Walt Disney )所谓自我孤立、世界建设者之自恋和路西法( Lucifer )对天堂的渴望。展览的陈述提到了对迪士尼的尊敬:


……或者,如果现实并不如意,那就成为那种改变。成为下一个重大事件,我们可以称呼这种状态为“B”,哪怕为了达成B意味着要停止A的状态,也就是那个人人都感到舒适的现状。路西法放弃了自己的神性;迪士尼,放下了自己的社交;唐老鸭,放下了他的正直( 以现代主义的观点来看 );而Tenaglia,则放下了他守护着的一段珍贵却极具塑形一样的经历。带着想要超越某件事物的希望去模拟它,意味着要赌上自己的A状态。


在Tenaglia的情况下,对不可避免的失败的认知削弱了这种对伟大的追求。在展览“吉利戈罗”中,模仿在实体空间中的表现是卡通的形式,但它并没有像是“美丽的一天”的万物有灵论那样爆发出来—比如《谁陷害了兔子罗杰》( 1984 );A-ha 的音乐录影带“Take on Me”( 1984 );或者甚至是唐老鸭出演的《西班牙三绅士》—因为这些在电影院外根本不可能发生。尽管如此,插画的维度与现实之间的界限,在尝试中被有效地破坏了。正如 Tenaglia 对首个“真实”的“现代及未来艺术博物馆”的幻想一样。行动完成了,幻想实现了,或者至少得到了展现。“现代及未来艺术博物馆”成为“吉利戈罗”的那一刻,它取代了它的卡通迭代,也取代了任何仍然漂浮在策展空间中的替代版本。

构成“吉利戈罗”展览的作品验证了这些术语,或者以其他方式在他们自己的美学和概念性的项目中呼应那些支撑展览前提的细节。比如,特雷弗·清水的作品《花花公子 #5》( 2016 )和《高举的阴茎 #7》( 2016 ),它们粗粝而无所顾忌,并且能看到塞·托姆布雷( Cy Twombly )的影响,后者标志性的螺旋图案看起来似乎就是《唐老鸭和吉利戈罗》中那件—标题直译为“潦草的字迹”—唐老鸭伪造的作品。²类似的,埃齐奥·格里博多那些看起来毫无技法可言的棕榈树绘画—它们的标题都是《古巴》,创作日期为1967年—用作品朴实无华的场景强化了展览自我反省的滑稽态度,这些作品在某种程度上看起来就像是用手指画的。

然而,最接近展览“吉利戈罗”后现代主义思考方式的是安德里亚·罗马诺的作品《凝视的碎片》( 2019 )。罗马诺的系列将《摩登原始人》( The Flintstones )转变成一组经过裁剪的动作草图,它们类似于卡通中虚构的石器时代,就像《摩登原始人》对旧石器时代生活方式的呈现。这种相关性的更广泛含义是其世代相传的模式:我们现代人总有一天也会通过文化碎片来推断历史—文化碎片可能会包括《摩登原始人》中的弗雷德、威玛及其续集《卵石和磅磅秀》,并由此进一步地混淆我们的历史记录。

就像《凝视的碎片》一样,“吉利戈罗”所表现的仅仅是在时间上既向后又向前的连续的文化痕迹所形成的一个阶段。砖石结构的实体博物馆,是卡通里“现代及未来艺术博物馆”的前身,而《吉利戈罗》的祖辈则由16世纪末期和17世纪初的“藏珍阁”( cabinets of curiosities )所开启的线性历史构成( 也就是,最早的那批博物馆 )。“藏珍阁”旨在以抽象的形式解释宇宙,这表明我们在寻找博物馆学先驱的过程中正趋向着无限。这种浩渺开阔也同样呈现在“吉利戈罗”在数字云端的重生。如果我们认同计算机就是现代的藏珍阁,而互联网则是一个充满了藏珍阁的宇宙,那么在线的“吉利戈罗”则将我们带回了无限,尽管处于不同的水平,不过我们现在拥有的触手可及的这片宇宙以及Tenaglia的“现代及未来艺术博物馆”都将作为星系中的一个星座而长存。

与宇宙的亲密接触,难道不正是艺术最初的承诺之一吗?也许更为紧迫的问题是:自疫情以来,这片网络的宇宙已经成为我们通往世界的主要渠道,那么接下来会发生什么?是一次大爆炸还是一个黑洞?A在后视镜里,B出现在了视野之中,按最近的新闻来看,这种转化将要求我们放弃比我们所想要的更多;比2020年4月18日在德州奥斯汀集会提倡反隔离的抗议者所愿意思考的更多;也比大多数独自在家的人愿意承认的更多。因此,尽管我们中的一些人可以从A-ha那里获得线索并宣称“安全在家并不比感到抱歉要好”,但我们其他人却守在屏幕前,像唐老鸭一样大喊“噢,糟糕!”,因为眼见的未来还无法升级到这片“灵薄狱”( limbo )。

1. 请注意,这是威廉·加迪斯的后现代主义小说《承认》(1955年)的摘录,为Il Ghirigoro的展览声明中所引用。
2. 托姆布雷著名的螺旋作品《冷流》(1966年)和《无题》(1967年)发布于《吉利戈罗》出版后至少两年。