PRINT September 1984

Closed Quotes

OVER THE YEARS THE DESIRE to imitate has provided a certain relief, on various levels of importance, for many genuinely interesting artists. At the 1984 Biennale this desire became an inescapable urge, a mode. Citazionismo—quotation—was the ubiquitous password. Even “Aperto,” the section of the Biennale whose mandate is to show young, emerging art and which need not have followed the guiding theme of this year’s exhibition, did not escape the overriding fascination with the past at the expense of the future. Four years ago this was a lively environment where the “new painters” mounted their coup against the establishment; this year artistic courage, perseverance, and idiosyncracy failed to materialize, and bits and pieces of earlier styles had to suffice in their place.

Fortunately, those artists who take their activities seriously were easily recognizable. Peter Shelton’s abstract steel hut and surrounding objects, however didactic, still contribute to a significant esthetic debate. By setting a small panel of red light in an empty white wall, Susan Kaiser Vogel produced a marked clamor here. The hermetic paintings of Domenico Bianchi, Bruno Ceccobelli, Gianni Dessi, and Dale Frank are all expressions of genuine vision on the part of the artists; all display unique perspectives which are strongly influenced by older traditions but do not fall back into the quotation of obvious clichés.

In a sense, the best paintings of Albert Oehlen form a trait d’union between citazionismo and a more relevant practice. Oehlen, it seems to me, is influenced by the somber Teutonic world vision of Anselm Kiefer, and especially by his painting style and palette, but he does not so much follow Kiefer as directly confront him. The gray green, brown, ocher, and black interiors here are recognizable without too much difficulty as spiritual landscapes; they have an inward quality, and at their best they almost make Kiefer’s painting seem overcultivated, estheticized. Oehlen circles around Kiefer’s universe, always attempting to cut through toward a more personal expression, to detach himself from the object of his fascination. Even if he often fails, his recalcitrance is a pleasure to see; the intention of Oehlen’s quoting is not to imitate but to master the model.

Translated from the Dutch by Willem Brugman.