Two new site-specific paintings by Adrian Ghenie, envisioned to exist in dialogue with their historic setting at Chiesa della Madonna della Mazza, have opened to the public on the Via Maqueda in central Palermo, Sicily. This independent project, curated by Alessandra Borghese and conceived with the artist, sees the reopening to the public of the restored chapels after four decades of closure.
The two paintings by Adrian Ghenie draw on the themes of peace and justice, which are recurrent in classical religious iconography, while relating directly to contemporary events, offering an interpretation of current social and political issues. Although perceived as events of the past, fates such as crucifixion and martyrdom are still suffered by many today.
You don’t have to go back to a martyrdom of a saint who died 1,000 years ago when you have under your very nose, today, exactly the same kind of histories that generate classic iconography. — Adrian Ghenie
The Crucifixion, 2019
Oil on canvas
320 x 280 cm
Taking inspiration from famous Renaissance depictions by artists such as Francisco Goya, Guido Reni, Tintoretto, Veronese and Titian, The Crucifixion (2019) is dedicated to contemporary martyrs of the Church, commemorating recent crucifixions of Christians in Syria. Later, the artist learned of the canonisation by Pope Francis of a group crucified by Islamic State in Libya in 2015.
‘The image itself is really striking because, in the end, if you put someone on the cross it really looks like classical iconography, but this time you see young boys, wearing Adidas trousers, in exactly that Christ position.’ In Ghenie’s reinterpretation of the theme of the Crucifixion, one of the figures on the cross is clothed in contemporary sportswear, while the other is wrapped in an orange shroud that recalls the jumpsuits worn by inmates awaiting execution, and rather than being nailed to the cross, like Jesus, both are bound to it with rope. The artist also developed a palette for the background that incorporates the grey walls of the Chiesa della Madonna della Mazza, situating the painting in both time and place.
The Martyrdom of Padre Pino Puglisi, 2020
Oil on canvas
320 x 280 cm
Conjuring a contemporary vision of the encounter between good and evil, The Martyrdom of Father Pino Puglisi (2020) depicts the priest who was murdered by the Mafia in 1993 for openly challenging its influence in his native Palermo. Demonstrating the virtues of forgiveness and compassion even in the moment of his martyrdom, the figure of Father Puglisi in the painting blesses his murderer with one hand.
The Martyrdom of Father Pino Puglisi is inspired by Michael Pacher’s mediaeval painting The Devil holding up the Book of Vices to St Augustine (c. 1483, Alte Pinakothek, Munich), in which the theologian Augustine of Hippo is shown his own entry in a book listing all the sins of mankind by the surreal figure of the devil. In Ghenie’s version, St Augustine is replaced by Father Puglisi. The contemporary context is indicated by the buildings of the Brancaccio neighbourhood in the background, and by the door to the priest’s house, in front of which he was shot. The gun-bearing killer appears as a modern-day devil, dressed in a yellow bomber jacket in reference to the colour of envy, as Lucifer felt for God and his goodness, ultimately leading to the angel’s fall from grace. The lower half of the devil figure is transformed into a coiling, intestinal, serpentine tail that threatens to encircle the priest. With baby Jesus on his shoulder, Father Puglisi also becomes a contemporary analogue to the biblical St Christopher, who carried the Christ child across a river.
Watch a 17-minute documentary on the making of these works, filmed at Adrian Ghenie’s studio and at the chapels in Palermo
Inspired by Adrian Ghenie’s site-specific project, the Ghenie Chapels Foundation was established in 2022 to maintain and develop the artistic heritage of the chapels and the church while promoting the ideals of art, cultural exchange and social inclusion. Building on a centuries-old tradition in the family history of its President, Alessandra Borghese, the Foundation places particular emphasis on the community. The Foundation will host an inclusive programme of events, developed with international guests and spanning art, music, dance, performance and philosophy, drawing on the two themes of Adrian Ghenie's installation: justice and peace.The inaugural event – a musical homage, with a performance by Giovanni Andrea Zanon – will take place on 28 June.
Find out more about the project and plan your visit at www.fondazionegheniechapels.org