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Frank Pulaski: LA DOLCE MORTE:
Gourmand is a large Printer's Row Coffeehouse which sponsors regular art hangings to enliven its gallery-sized walls. The art hangings are curated by Sheila Malloy-Howe.
LA DOLCE MORTE is a visual narrative series of nine original collages constructed by Frank Steele-Pulaski, writer, raconteur, and now -- collagiste. The artist's released statement notes: "...LA DOLCE MORTE imposes a reality -- however artificial -- of primary, original photos upon fictional or secondary photos (photos of photos and film clips), combined to validate an imitation of life that we assume, or at least hope, to be not only sweet but real,"
Materially, each collage is well-composed -- the baroque fragmentation common to the medium is unified and made visually 'readable' by using the bright blue and red elements to marshall together greytone, sepia and lightly-tinted vignettes. That these are all photographs, with no clip-outs, magazine snippets or foreign matter, gives each panel an overall consistency of tone and finish. The black mounts and mylar over-guards bring the series together as an ensemble, despite some variation in panel size and orientation.
It is, however, only fair to the artist that, at the onset, I declare my personal prejudices. Firstly, I have seen many thousands of collages and can count on one hand those -- mostly polemical -- that merit remembrance as art. LA DOLCE MORTE was a surprisingly enjoyable encounter. Secondly, an acquaintance had described the exhibition to me as "butts, busts and Buddhas," and so I came to the venue probably prepared to dismiss it. I found it lively, well-executed and it did pique my curiosity; as a visual performance; as collage.
The collagiste himself best sums the intent of his nine-piece progression: "LA DOLCE MORTE asks, 'Are we happy?' The exponential growth of the entertainment and fashion industries suggest we are not -- but, hell, what a way to die!" Pulaski's series shares a kinship with William Hogarth's "The Rake's Progress," albeit in a Buddhistical coloring. But in LA DOLCE MORTE the rake opts to return to his rakish milieu.
LA DOLCE MORTE inverts Federico Fellini's 1959 film, LA DOLCE VITA, and, indeed, proceeds to even bill the Italian film director and his star, Marcello Mastroianni, as the primary characters in the collage narrative. The collagiste explains the casting choice by asserting: "Marcello pursued the 'sweet life' as hotly as we pursue the 'good life,' and the price he paid was his spiritual death."
The first four panels are entitled, respectively: "Marcello a Go Go," "Merengue Marcello," "Go Girdle Crazy," and "Literature And Art." They embody the ever-deepening descent of the never-to-be-redeemed pilgrim, Marcello, into the distractions of the modern world, and, ultimately, into arts now taken as rationalizations of that world.
The fifth collage, "Punkland," is Pulaski's overt homage to "Satyricon," replete with name-dropping... Petronius... Catullus.... The collagiste constructs the marquees, hustle and visual noise of an American-style Place Pigalle, where the hell of some is the heaven of the many.
"Godfather of the Paparazzi" is the sixth panel, and elaborates on the collagiste's assertion that "Marcello, star of LA DOLCE VITA, ran with the paparazzi, and was indeed himself a tabloid journalist." The declaration here appears to be that it is not enough to play the profligate; one is driven by society to win celebrity for being a rogue -- the world acclaims it. Throughout the panels, among the images of the principals, the female derrieres a la Betty Page, and the urban lights, the collagiste increasingly intersperses the persistant Buddha images. The tempo accelerates and the direction of sight chosen for the images becomes important. Here the appearance of the Red Buddha, said to dissipate lust and worldliness, becomes prominent. The collagiste places particular emphasis on the lettered inscription, "I want to be born in the Tashita Heavens at the feet of the Buddha Amitaba."
The seventh collage is "LA DOLCE MORTE, or, The Last of Marcello." This and the eighth, "Marcello Among The Lesser Herukas," indicate that the hero is not about to -- cannot-- let go of his worldliness. It is the ninth panel which confirms his desire to repeat the cycle endlessly. This is entitled "The Magic Show, or, The Return of Marcello," and is intended to then cycle back to collage number one. In the ninth panel the collagiste asserts the power of "mara" or form.
LA DOLCE MORTE seems a Twentieth century parry at "The Rake's Progress" -- the panel subtitles add to that impression -- but the images and the medium, collage, are the pure products of a contemporanity where there is only fleeting entertainment and fashion -- pop culture -- to stand in function for traditional iconographies.
If one is near Printer's Row this month, and choosing to spend some time over lunch, or even a good cup of coffee, LA DOLCE MORTE tips the decision toward Gourmand Coffeehouse. And should one be inclined to purchase a collage, information can be had by phoning the curator, Sheila Malloy-Howe at 312/427-2610.
--G. Jurek Polanski
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