LA Concept Artist Luciano Perna Dies at 63
Luciano Perna, a conceptual artist whose original sculptures and varied photographs play with the elasticity of matter and time, often hiding unexpected autobiographical depths, died on December 28 in Los Angeles.
The cause was an apparent heart attack, according to Darcy Huebler, his wife of 35 years and associate dean of the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. He was 63 years old.
Perna was one of the 90 artists included in “Invention photography: American images of the 80sOrganized in 1989 by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the invention of the modern camera. Her work has been featured in exhibitions at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Laguna Art Museum, List Visual Art Center at MIT, DIA Art Foundation in New York, Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, ICA in London and other museums and artists. run the spaces.
In the first months of the 2020 effort to curb the COVID-19 pandemic through sequestered closures, Perna began posting spare and stylish still life images on social media. The photographs maximized the capacity of the digital medium as both an independent and community exhibition space.
Spectral images show artifacts from ancient museums, unrolling balls of string and fragile, flowering succulents and cacti against velvety black backgrounds and calmly ominous. The objects appear foreign and ancient, delicate and determined. The photographs were presented the following fall in Art Forum magazine, where critic Benjamin HD Buchloh described them as “flowers of current confinement and despair”. Inkjet prints were exhibited last year in Paris at the Marian Goodman Library.
Born in Naples, Italy on January 14, 1958, to Elena Chiesa and Berardo Perna, he began taking photos at age 14, inspired by his father’s amateur work with a now classic Leica M3 camera. Young Perna learned to develop and print his images in a home darkroom.
After both parents died a few months apart when he was not yet 16, he moved to Caracas, Venezuela, to live with an older half-brother, Claudio Perna, a conceptual artist and geographer. He stayed for five years.
While briefly employed at the National Library of Venezuela, he did archival work, including providing documentation on Carlos AndrÃ©s PÃ©rez’s presidential election campaign. He also found work at a local commercial portrait studio. Throughout his career, Perna has recorded international artists in photographic portraits, some casual and others inspired by the Dada and surreal camera work of Man Ray.
Claudio, who died in 1997, introduced Luciano to the adventurous countercultural curriculum he had read at CalArts. Perna took the plunge by enrolling in American School in 1979. The archival and portrait threads first explored in Caracas met in Los Angeles, where he later worked as a studio technician for Ray. Eames on the production of Abrams’ 1989 book “Eames Design: Work from the Office of Charles and Ray Eames.
At CalArts, Perna found a cohort of sympathetic teachers, including mainstays of conceptual art like John Baldessari, Douglas Huebler (whose daughter he would marry) and Barbara Kruger, and photographers Judy Fiskin and Jo Ann Callis. He embraced the lessons learned from the feminist art movement, which had carved out a central place in the school’s broad curriculum. He obtained a BFA in 1984 and an MFA in 1986, both in photography.
The Italian Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s, which put aside traditional art materials like paint, canvas, carved stone, and cast metal in favor of modest, everyday provisions often found in home, helped shape Perna’s emerging aesthetic. Typical was an edition of small flashlight sculptures, a subject that recalled the precedents of Jasper Johns and Claes Oldenburg but took a very different form.
Rather than casting the object in bronze or building an imposing monument of industrial steel, as American pop artists had done, he tinkered with the objects from ordinary household items: kitchen drain pistons, light bulbs, taped batteries and an on-off. switch made from clothespins. The fully functional result was also a witty and unpretentious tool useful for conceptually unblocking blockages of conventional thinking that needed to be thrown down the drain.
In other examples, a plate of spaghetti overturned on a canvas could signify the satisfying consumption of linear color skeins tangled in a Jackson Pollock drip painting. For a sculpture titled âArte Povera,â a black wheelbarrow stacked with large boulders painted in gold both enshrined and commemorated manual labor in an era of post-industrial transformation.
Perna was also likely to fashion a life-size sculpture of a motorcycle or racing car, ostensibly masculine subjects, from pots and pans, darts, record albums and barbecue grills in the backyard than from the more familiar vehicle components easily collected at a regular auto store. A playful, warm and DIY philosophy has been amplified.
His motorbike was based on an image from a movie – the so-called “Captain America chopper” ridden by Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider”, the cult classic from the end of an era from 1969. The iconic motorbike with a fuel tank. American flag essence was celebrated in a poster that adorned the bedroom of Perna’s youth in Naples. Its manufactured version featured the famous handlebar fork, extending over a foot beyond a normal Harley-Davidson length and made from a pair of hospital crutches. The visual rhyme evoked a culture of injury.
“I haven’t seen the movie,” the artist told critic David Pagel in a 1993 article. Bomb interview in a magazine, âit was not accessible to me. I just saw the footage and imagined what was in the movie.
The ability of photographs to ignite the imagination rather than simply indexing reality has fueled much of Perna’s work. The humility essential to an aesthetic of Arte Povera has brought back to earth all the flights of utopian fantasy. A fertile cultural ground was provided by a life lived in Naples, Caracas and Los Angeles – great international cities also anchored in the fallen Spanish colonial empires.
Overlapping fictions from Hollywood films provided thematic groundwork for a 1999 solo exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Included was a cherry red Ducati motorcycle, its hyper-futuristic and uncluttered design a glamorous surprise hidden behind a large horizontal plinth, painted in matte black. The base, echoing the mysterious monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s â2001: A Space Odysseyâ, but here in particular overturned on its side, rested on a wheeled cart. The set was waiting to be removed for the next artificial scene of an imaginary film.
The art museum exhibit, titled âScience / Fiction: A Movie Studio Setâ, was designed as a homemade soundstage. In an Arte Povera twist, dozens of ordinary purple egg cartons stapled to the back wall provided a “futuristic” spaceship interior, suitable for daydreams from a children’s playroom. With the camera as the industrial emblem of the visual history of modernist art, Perna opposed his work to a common urge to fabricate idealized visions.
The Fahey Klein Gallery presented the first commercial solo exhibition of Perna’s photographs in 1988. At Thomas Solomon’s garage, a year later, Perna displayed geometric abstract paintings constructed from sheets of plastic in which metallic weights were hidden ; each work was billed by the pound.
Perna stung a funny villain finger in the eye of an unprecedented boom in the 1980s art market, which broke records and made headlines. The heavier the table, the higher the price.
Personal exhibitions followed at the Rosamund Felsen Gallery, also in Los Angeles, the Holly Solomon Gallery in New York, the Dennis Anderson Gallery in Antwerp, Belgium, the Tanja Grunert Gallery in Cologne, Germany, and many more. He has participated in more than 50 group exhibitions in the United States and Europe. His work is held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Museum of Fine Arts, La Chaux-des-Fonds, Switzerland; and numerous private collections.
Ten photographs of emerging and established artists associated with CalArts as the Los Angles art scene rose to international fame in the early 1980s – including Michael Asher, Jonathan Borofsky, Lari Pittman, Stephen Prina, David Salle and several others – have illustrated the catalog at the largest 2006 exhibition survey âLos Angeles 1955-1985: Birth of an art capitalÂ»Organized by the Center Pompidou in Paris.
Memorial plans for Perna are pending.