Gianni Pettena, Italian artist

(in “Artforum”, June 1972)

GIANNI PETTENA is an Italian artist whose work has features in common with both earth works and Conceptual art, though he stands significantly apart from their tendencies to suspend value and meaning. Pettena is trained architect and has taught in schools of architecture, but what he himself makes is only "architecture" of a cleverly nefarious sort. In the last few years artists have tried innumerable ways of dealing with (or overlooking) a world that grows increasingly piggish. Pettena's response is one of the subtlest I have yet encountered. In his work, political considerations are not a variance or in competition with – or even withheld from – the esthetic operation.
I imagine Pettena as an architect actively on strike. Like those artists who have No Comment on the life that surrounds us, Pettena is reticent and guarded. But there aren't many people who are "on strike" now whose artistic response is as constructive as this. Pettena's works deserve the respect due art objects, though they are not mere properties. His works are neither the residue of desperation, nor pseudo-philosophical games. They are not "gesture" and not theater. While they comment on the rising temperature of life, they are real works of visual art. On Wednesday, April 13th, the John Weber Gallery showed a film made by Pettena of some of his recent "situations", as he calls them. The fim begins wiht a Smithson-like sequence of aerial views of the great Kennecot open-pit copper mine in Utah, Ordinarily Pettena is more urban than Smithson, which is part of the meaning in both cases: the American finds room for a decent and sublime neutrality ("I am interested in the politics of the Triassic period" – Smithson), and usually works with kind of landscape that is boht "unimproved" and not likely to be "spoiled" by artistic modification, while the Italian is more at home in the townscape with all its social and political torque (a Futurist legacy?). The seductive approaches to the copper mine are in themselves Smithsonesque, not only in terms of the choice of motif but even in stylistic relation to Smithson's Spiral Jetty film. The difference will be apparent in the fact that Pettena's, as attractive as it is, is a raped landscape. Yet Pettena has a gift for the most polite, discrete subversion.