The Daily Heller: Read? No! His Type is Designed to Be Admired!

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Daniele Cima has fun ridiculing one of the fetishes of modern bureaucracy: the fiscal (or tax) code*, which is the translation of the title of his recent exhibition, Ritratti Fiscali (curated by Angelo Crespi at Fondazione Maimeri, Milan). I am not certain I grasp the grandness of his concept, but as Gianni Maimeri writes in the bilingual catalog to the show:

Daniele Cima’s idea of proposing a series of ‘tax code’ portraits … came across as a stroke of genius; an attempt to use art to restore humanity to the inhumanity of the public apparatuses that have social control as their ultimate goal. His portraits, therefore … give meaning and joy to those sad sequences of numbers and letters. And all with the paradox that in this era of super-visibility with selfies, where each one of us wishes to put ourselves on hyper-display, Cima’s portraits do not really portray the subject at all, at least not in the way of previous centuries-old art; they actually present the subject to us in its minimal form, reduced to number and letter but, and here’s the but, also knowing that that number and that letter, being the work of an artist, are no longer just a mere number and a letter.

*In Italy, the Codice Fiscale (Fiscal Code) is a unique identification number—actually a 16-character alphanumeric code—that is assigned to every citizen. Although its fundamental purpose is to facilitate compliance with the Italian tax code, as with all government manipulated schemes, the Codice Fiscale has numerous other (potentially nefarious) uses as well.

Rather than try to decipher the larger philosophical and intellectual riddle at play here, I asked Cima a few simple questions for answers that even I could process. The fact is, I am smitten by these paintings, or shapes and colors, and the playfulness of Cima's alphabetic expressionism regardless of intention or perception. Or as the prophet said: Confusion is understanding, sometimes.

What is the essential inspiration behind this new work?

My inspiration is always the same: to transform the lettering from a functional element to an aesthetic meaning.

How do you functionally and/or philosophically distinguish between this collection of letters as art and alphabet?

My lettering is not designed to be read, but to be admired. Despite its name [Cima calls this an "Artphabet"] it is not an alphabet, but a visual code, therefore it's not on the market, it's not usable by anyone other than myself. Apart from some uses … I propose my letters as art pieces that can be assembled to compose words.

Aside from the artful ways the letters are constructed and composed as portraits of the famous, anonymous and infamous, how do you want these art-alphabets to be seen?

In Italy every citizen is identified through a tax code, which is determined on the basis of the name, surname, sex, date and place of birth. I transform this bare and gray bureaucratic form into a festive, positive, inviting image. A true process of overturning perception.

There is a quality about the shapes and colors that suggests the Memphis movement. Is that an influence or coincidence?

Yes, Steve, there's something of Ettore Sottsass/Memphis in my letters, as far as Peter Blake's, Alighiero Boetti's, Robert Brownjohn's, Fortunato Depero's, Milton Glaser's, Alessandro Mendini's, Piet Mondrian's, Bruno Munari's, Piet Zwart's. All presences that are not coincidences, but precise influences, citations. The powerful colors are stolen from the houses of Bo Kaap, Boca, Burano, La Paz, Whitehead …

Che Guevara, 2021, Polycolor su tela I on canvas 100x100cm, and Ipazia, 2021,

Polycolor su tela I on canvas 100x100cm

Dracula, 2021, Polycolor su tela I on canvas 100x100cm, and Papa Bergoglio, 2021, Polycolor su tela I on canvas 100x100cm