Gianfranco Baruchello

Raven Row
56 Artillery Lane
September 29, 2017–December 3, 2017

Gianfranco Baruchello, Impudique Venus (Shameless Venus), 1979, industrial enamels, ink, Plexiglas, cardboard, aluminum, 16 x 16 x 2 1/2".

The star of Marcel Duchamp’s handpicked progeny never shined outside of his native Italy. While Gianfranco Baruchello exhibited in New York and Rome in the 1960s, the story of his polymathic career has rarely found its way into common knowledge. After more than six decades in the field, incredibly, Baruchello is now making his London debut with a museum-size retrospective.

Painter, sculptor, performer, filmmaker, writer, political renegade, and occasional horticulturalist Baruchello’s appeal comes from his interdisciplinary approach. Like his famous postwar literary compatriots (e.g., Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco), Baruchello eschews the essentialism of a single, core aesthetic; instead, his art circles within a broad repertoire of conceptual and formal approaches that beg comparison to those of Joseph Cornell, Francis Picabia, and Joan Miró.

Fortunately, what distinguishes Baruchello from the crowd is curator Luca Cerizza’s primary focus here. Scrawled with notes of illegible cursive, Baruchello’s best works are schematic, translating psycholinguistic tautologies into biomorphic horrors. Impudique Venus (Shameless Venus), 1979, a work of painted Plexiglas, dissects the titular deity as both commodity and weapon (“Hey you cast-offs of the degenerate bourgeoisie !” one scribble yells). The extreme flatness of Baruchello’s works is cartographic, providing a visual parallel to the metamorphic municipalities in Calvino’s 1972 novel Invisible Cities. This crystallization of existential flux, itself a Wittgensteinian loss of balance, encourages Baruchello’s loose systems of perspective and order to tumble off the page. As empty signposts, works such as Altopiano dell’incerto (Plateau of Uncertainty), 1964, engage our fear of the unknown and disjointed. In this painting, an avalanche of symbols falls from on high. The collapse of verbal and pictorial language becomes both the challenge and the goal, evoking equal parts intrigue and panic.

— Zachary H. Small