Museo MADRE, Naples

MADRE MUSEUM | Via Settembrini 79
80139 Naples

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press release

English for Foreigners is the first solo exhibition in an Italian public institution by Stephen Prina (Galesburg, Illinois, 1954), one of the most seminal and influential contemporary American artists. In his research – which involves visual elements, sound pieces and performative acts – Prina explores the legacy of the conceptual artistic practices of the sixties and seventies, analyzing their historical matrices as well as their possible transformations. The exhibition, which comprises an entirely new body of work realized for this occasion, was conceived by the artist as the ideal follow-up to the two exhibitions galesburg, illinois+ devoted to his hometown and presented in 2015 and 2016 at the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen (Switzerland) and the Museum Kurhaus Kleve (Germany).

In his exhibition at the Madre the artist goes indeed back in time to relive the journey that led his father to travel, in the first half of the twenty century, from Fascist Italy to the United States. The artist writes: “Peter (Pietro) Prina, my father, played clarinet for the local band in the Comune di Canischio, in the Piedmont region of Northwestern Italy. One day the Black Shirts arrived and demanded that the band perform the anthem of the Italian National Fascist Party. This event convinced him it was time to emigrate from Italy — immigrate to America— at the age of 17 in 1923.”
Second Book in English for Foreigners in Evening Schools by Frederick Houghton (American Book Company, 1917), is the title of the book used by the artist’s father to learn English in his new country: handed down to Prina, among many other objects of his father, it became the starting point for this exhibition in which individual dates and events are connected, from 1917 to 2017, telling a personal story which, however, reflects the stories of many other fathers and sons. All the exhibited works – that articulate painting, sculpture, etching, photography, installation, video, sound and performance – not only shows the radical change in the history of his family but critically confront the models of “ideal citizenship” which have marked, in the opposition between totalitarianism and democracy, the political, social and cultural history of the 20th Century itself. Prina transforms in this way the exhibition into a journey through time which, on the one hand, is structured like an analysis of twentieth century history and, on the other hand, like a story of the relationship between a father and son.

Assuming the Pantone Color of the Year 2017 (Greenery) as a main color, Prina updates and makes universal this story, contextualizing all its autobiographic details within a reference as well to the last novel of Cesare Pavese The Moon and the Bonfires (1949-50) and to the film by Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub From the Cloud to the Resistance (1978). The themes developed in these narrative works and films – through their examination of the intricate ties between sedentariness and migration, the affirmation of identity and its uprooting, monumentality and intimacy – represent one of the emotional and conceptual roots of Prina’s project at the Madre. It is a full-blooded account with images and sounds, which, from the story of a father and son, becomes an exploration of the statute of the work and the exhibition as a source of multiple references as well as an analysis of the dynamics of memorials and of the relations between personal and collective sphere, between stories and History.

Stephen Prina (born in Galesburg, Illinois, on November 3rd, 1954; lives and works between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles) is Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. Solo shows have been devoted to him by some of the leading international museums such as the Museum Kurhaus Kleve (2016); Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen (2015); LACMA-Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2013); Wiener Secession, Vienna (2001); Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (2011 and 2009); Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2010); Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaeno, Seville and Bergen Kunsthall (2009); Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (2008); Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts-Harvard University, Cambridge and Cubitt, London (2004); The Art Institute, Chicago (2001); Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt and Art Pace, San Antonio (2000); MAMCO-Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva (1998); Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1992); The Power Plant, Toronto (1991); The Renaissance Society, Chicago, Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and P.S. 1, New York (1989). Among the biennials and periodic exhibitions whom he participated to: Time Crevasse. Yokohama Triennale and Whitney Biennial, New York (2008); SITE Santa Fe Biennial (2001); Documenta IX, Kassel (1992); 51st Carnegie International, Pittsburgh (1991); APERTO – Venice Biennale (1990). The artist has return to exhibit in Naples more than thirty years since the collective exhibition Rooted Rhetoric. Una Tradizione nell’Arte Americana, presented at Castel dell’Ovo in 1986.

curated by Andrea Viliani