Happy ending



9.Feb.07 - 31.Mar.07


Via dei prefetti, 17
00186 Roma


In his latest body of work Domenico Mangano takes a step away from the depictions of everyday life, especially of his native Palermo, and delves into a more sinister realm filled with dead animals left on the roadside, discarded motorcycles, and strange nests of earth and clay. His new photographic series “Happy Ending” is somewhat of a misnomer. Happy they are not, though endings—finite resolutions of death and decay—seem rather fitting. And yet the images are not without a sense of macabre humor. The childish drawing on a slab of rock in stone is both haunting and endearing while the quixotic face of History of the Mask is disarming in its naivete, not unlike the subtle brutality of photographers Roger Ballen and Gerald Slota—two artists that incorporate child-like marks into their compositions. By combining the cruel and tender—a tangle of tree roots in brilliant Mediterranean light, homemade birdhouses left dirty and empty—Mangano evokes discordant moods that simultaneously attract and repulse the viewer in quiet awe.

Similarly, his recent foray into painting is at once hysterical and thoughtful. An astronaut waving from a moonscape complete with Native American teepees, and a camel strolling down Main Street—they explore themes of America with an ironic bite. The street scene is rendered in exaggerated hues, transforming an Edward Hopper painting into a scrolling background from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Likewise in Moon Landings, the conquest of North America and the displacement of the native population is conflated with the Apollo lunar explorations. Instead of examining moon rocks, the astronaut finds a skull reminiscent of one in a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. The works are laugh-out-loud funny and also scathing. Mangano may bite the hand that feeds him, but he’ll do it with a smile.

Though he has seemingly turned towards the cynical, Mangano maintains a delicate touch and lyricism throughout his video work. Confident of his subjects’ ability to engage the viewer without the need of flashy cuts and edits, the artist eschews the rapid-fire style of music videos. He taps into a different pop cultural vein, namely the film noir of 1930s and 40s cult director Edgar Ulmer as well as contemporary practitioners like David Lynch. The video Dark Messages begins with the shipping container cranes in a vacant wharf that appear in his previous works and then shifts from twilight to night, presenting a group of men abandoning one vehicle and piling into another in a conspiratorial mood. Avoiding any sense of plot, the work is emblematic of urban life: accidents and injury without known causes, anxiety without explicit reasons, endings without closure.

Paranoia and secrets are at the heart of The Pine Float. A video that prominently features the artist’s father, who mysteriously unearths a bull skull and meanders through a persimmon grove, it is not about familial bonds as it is about the distance that separates one from another, an artist from his subject, a son from a father. The talismanic object that he pulls from the ground and carries with him, in addition to the disorienting camera work through the bare tree branches, produces a sense of bewilderment. For poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, the horn of an animal—especially from a bull—is a symbol for male virility. To situate his own father within this context, Mangano invites a psychoanalytical reading, creating a paternal rival within the work.

When initially brought together, the photographs, paintings, and videos may seem like disparate combination, but actually reveal a broader scope to Mangano’s artistic vision. One that is concerned with the local and global, revealing the world for all its comedy and terror. To borrow from William Butler Yeats: a terrible beauty is born.

-Christopher Y. Lew