An Exhibition of 50-Year-Old Paintings by Mario Schifano Draws Eerie Connections Between 1968 and Today

“Compagni, compagni, 1968” brings together a little-known body of work by the Italian artist that draws on Communist symbols and revolutionary rhetoric.

Installation view of “Compagni, compagni, 1968,” 2018. Courtesy of the Mayor Gallery.

It’s been 50 years since 1968, a year marked by political unrest, violence, and protests worldwide. It’s not a stretch to think that 2018 will likely be remembered for the same qualities.

Indeed, there are many similarities between these two time periods. Just look at a show of works by Mario Schifano, on view now at the Mayor Gallery in London. Titled “Compagni, compagni, 1968” (“Comrades, comrades”), the show brings together a little-known body of work of the same name, completed by the famed Italian artist in 1968.

Inspired by emerging socialist movements across Europe, Schifano created a series of stenciled, spray-paint-on-canvas works employing Communist imagery. Each is a variation on a theme that depicts three men, hammer and sickle in hand, below the phrase “Sulla giusta soluzione delle contraddizioni in seno alla società” (a Mao Zedong quote that loosely translates to “on the right solution of contradictions within the people”).

Mario Schifano, Compagni, compagni (1968). Courtesy of the Mayor Gallery.

The simple production method of these paintings recalls signs and banners made for protests or pickets; the seriality puts them in conversation with mass media. Schifano is “inviting the viewer to react to the serialization and mass utilization of political mantra,” the show’s press release states.

“With his use of stencils, Schifano could be considered the forerunner of the street artists of today such as Banksy, some 50 years earlier,” James Mayor, the managing director of Mayor Gallery, tells artnet News.

Mayor also points out the eerie similarities between the context into which these works were originally born and their context today.

Mario Schifano, Compagni, compagni (1968). Courtesy of the Mayor Gallery.

Upon completing the works in 1968, Schifano wanted his gallerist, Ileana Sonnabend, to exhibit them at her Paris Gallery, but Sonnabend refused, citing the tension that pervaded Paris in the aftermath of the riots. Flash forward half a decade, and less than two weeks after these works were installed at Mayor Gallery, Paris again broke out in riots, this time over a newly imposed fuel tax and the increasingly stratified gap between the wealthy and the middle and lower classes.

“The gallery wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the events of 1968 and felt that this series of works by Mario Schifano portrayed the situation perfectly,” says Mr. Mayor. “It shows that these works have as much relevance today as they did when they were painted 50 years ago. When we hung the show, we had no idea that Paris would again erupt in such a manner.”

Installation view of “Compagni, compagni, 1968,” 2018. Courtesy of the Mayor Gallery.

 “Compagni, compagni, 1968” is on view at the Mayor Gallery in London through December 20, 2018.


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