Hope and Chaos in Nello Petrucci’s The Essence of Lightness
It’s late October and New York has its first chill in the air. I’m walking around the World Trade Center and it takes more than a couple of minutes to find where I’m supposed to be: the unveiling of largest collage art installation in the world, Nello Petrucci’s The Essence of Lightness. I’d researched Petrucci beforehand and knew his artwork to be gritty, organic, mixed media, and Jackson Pollock-esque. The building hosting his exhibition (once I finally found it) was not: large, clear-windowed, sterile, structural. I’m greeted warmly by an Italian-American young man who explains to the Italian-Italian gentleman before me that he unfortunately does not speak the language. We meet in the elevator and he is charming and jolly, even offering me a ride back to the Bronx after the exhibition is over. I know I should be creeped out, but I’m not and instead thankful for his warmth and to be out of the cold.
We arrive at the 45th floor and now the only thing separating me from The Essence of Lightness is a long cement corridor. My new Italian friend immediately spots an acquaintance and they are lost in an exchange of double cheek kisses, smiles, and pleasantries. I check my coat, wander in, have a look around and think to myself:
Holy sh*t, I’m under-dressed.
The event attendees weren’t just well-dressed. They were Italian well-dressed: chic, classy, elegant, and beautiful. I spot Petrucci and am a little more at ease. He’s smiling and relaxed in denim. Tall, stylish, but approachable and obliging despite being blinded by flashbulbs and pulled in opposite directions for an interview here, a hug and a handshake there.
The backdrop to the event – his backdrop – couldn’t have been more perfect. It was larger than any single camera could allow. Believe me I tried. The torn materials and drips of paint at first glance may convey chaos, but you quickly see that the placement of every poster, magazine, ad, text and image is very purposeful. Petrucci’s background in film is evident and pervasive in his use of ripped movie posters, film box covers, and advertisements. Carefully placed butterflies add an air of whimsy as they lead to what I believe is the climax of the piece: a large image of a young child smiling with an outstretched hand. It stands out not just in sheer size, but with its sepia tones in contrast with the bright colors used in the majority of the piece. The rendering is pixelated, possibly a reference to Roy Lichtenstein and pop art, which again hearkens back to Petrucci’s first love of film. It’s then that I understand the meaning of his piece:
Hope amidst the chaos, or what we think is chaos but is really an intricate pattern of the universe. I’m reminded of one of Petrucci’s biggest inspirations, a quote by scholar Gallileo Galilei:
“Things are united by invisible bonds. You cannot catch a flower without disturbing a star.”
I ponder this as I look out the large glass windows to the still-busy street below. I can’t help but notice my reflection against the city, against Petrucci’s work, with the people inside and out moving back and forth – all of us super imposed on top of each other. We look like a collage ourselves, not knowing consciously we are connected, but in this moment are visually lying on top of one another. I wonder if this was planned and then remember: we’re in Petrucci’s world and he is an artist, so of course it is.
Taking in the scene once more, I realize I’d forgotten the cold New York air that surrounded me just moments ago. I forgot that I was lost. I forgot that I was embarrassed. Now there is just light and lightness – The Essence of Lightness to be exact, just as the Nello Petrucci intended it. 🔷