Luciano Perna, Conceptual Artist Who Evoked the Magic of the Everyday, Dead at 63

BY SHANTI ESCALANTE-DE MATTEI

man with beard
Luciano PernaDARCY HUEBLER

Luciano Perna, a conceptual photographer and sculptor known for his use of everyday objects, has died at 63 in Los Angeles on December 28. The cause of death was a heart attack, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Perna was born in Naples, Italy, in 1958, and went on to spend much of his adolescence and early adulthood in Caracas, Venezuela, where he lived with his half-brother after the death of his parents. In 1979, he was accepted to CalArts, where he was taught by the likes of Barbara Kruger, Judy Fiskin, and Douglas Huebler, who would eventually be his father-in-law. Perna graduated with both a B.F.A. and M.F.A. from CalArts in photography in the mid-’80s.

His work was influenced by the Italian Arte Povera movement of the late ’60s. Artists associated with that movement took objects and subjects from the everyday, and recombined them to create installations meditating on the natural world.

Perna made sculptures out of materials he find around the house. He then fashioned them into objects like motorcycles. “I started by collecting objects and assembling them in an abstract, non-representational way,” he said in a 1993 Bomb interview, speaking of his motorcycle sculpture Easy Rider (1993). “I was using these objects as if I were using paint: the material they were made of, the color, for the shape, deliberately trying to ignore their original functions.”

This tendency stayed with Perna throughout his life. During the 2020 lockdown, Perna began a photography series about the plants and objects around his house. He would post an image of one such object every day on Facebook. Works from that series were exhibited at Marian Goodman Gallery in Paris last year. Perna’s ability to take inspiration from the objects around him afforded him a unique flexibility in his practice.

“What I do is determined by what I believe in, and what I believe in constantly changes,” Perna said in his Bomb interview. “It’s a day-to-day activity. Today I wake up conceptual, tomorrow I might feel like making a painting, the next day I may be cooking, cooking some spaghetti.”

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