December 1997

Luciano Fabro
Sisyphus  1994
marble, gold leaf, flour
Collection Walker Art Center
Gift of the Norwest Foundation on behalf of Norwest Bank Minnesota, 1995

Sisyphus - by Luciano Fabro

Luciano Fabro is a leading figure in Arte Povera ("poor art"), a movement that emerged in Italy in the mid-1960s. These artists broke with art historical tradition by focusing on process as something equivalent to product and by incorporating everyday materials such as flour into their work in combination with more traditional materials such as marble. Fabro is particularly interested in the inherent physical qualities of the materials he uses, in "rendering as clearly as possible the natural dialogue with the material."

In this work Fabro focuses on the myth of Sisyphus, a Corinthian king who was condemned by Zeus to forever roll an enormous boulder up a steep hill, only to have it plummet downward each time it reached the top. Fabro refers to this myth as a "challenge to fatality" in that Sisyphus ". . . always succeeds in rolling the stone. There comes a moment when Sisyphus triumphs . . . and after that it is the gods who triumph. But it is Sisyphus who begins again and finally the gods are obliged to accept his challenge . . ."

Fabro's Sisyphus consists of his self-portrait etched into a cylindrical volume of marble and a bed of flour over which the stone must be rolled, to create the life-size "drawing." This action must be repeated time and time again because of the fragility of the flour -- the stone is rerolled over the flour on the gallery floor at least once a week by a Walker staff member. Fabro hammered gold-filled constellations into both ends of the marble cylinder, alluding to the stars that guided the lives of ancient peoples along with the mythological stories. By using marble, gold, and flour as his materials, Fabro speaks to both the high-art tradition of Italian sculpture and to Arte Povera's fascination with nontraditional art materials.