For the life of him, Italian immigrant Silvio Barile cannot figure out why the health inspectors shut down his pizzeria in Redford Township after he ran the business successfully for 43 years. Don't bother trying to convince him it has something to do with the inventory in his storefront, where there are rows of wine bottles on the floor, shelves of vintage canned goods, questionable meat in the freezer, an old bicycle hanging from the ceiling, worn clothing hooked to the doorway and album covers, handwritten notes and magazine clippings of Gina Lollabrigida, Elvis and Pope John Paul II découpaged to the walls. Then there's the four-lot infestation of Barile's unbelievable concrete sculpture garden out back, which has made its way to the patio and inside the back door to the restaurant.
Barile, 65, says he worships philosophy and literature, and that his yard art is an attempt to enrich and elevate America by fabricating a version of history that, in his mind, should exist. So he creates a "Leaning Tower of Detroit" and an "American Coliseum." And with his statuary, he honors George W. Bush, the Red Wings and the Three Stooges alongside Greeks, Romans, Christopher Columbus and Venus.
His sculptures are made by covering steel armature in cement and embellishing it with marble and tile mosaics. Barile also imbeds conch shells and uses flea-market toys as symbols. His figures are set in fountains and altars, and on trash cans, which are used as makeshift pedestals. Some pieces are an amalgamation of historical figures he worships. "Arch of Caesar" was created "in honor of Senatus Julius Caesar and Divi Bush, Titus, Vespesian, Lincoln, Kennedy and Pope Leo." With a sense of humor, he also injects himself into the narrative. His tribute to Ronald Reagan is inscribed with quotes: "Tear down that wall!" and "Win one for the Gipper!" and "Well, Silvio, there you go again, voting Democrat."
While touring the yard, Barile offers to sing a song. His face changes as he explains that when he was younger, everyone in his family was taken to a concentration camp by the Nazis, while his father helped them build bridges and repair roads. For food, he would sing to the soldiers, and they'd give him a piece of bread or a cookie. This afternoon, he chooses a Puccini song from Tosca. Out comes this voice, a baritone with a booming vibrato, from a man, so far from ordinary.Send comments to [email protected]