New York

Peter Agostini

Radich Gallery

“Drawings and Small Sculptures from the ’40s to the Present” is an exquisite exhibition that does not attack a survey of Peter Agostini’s sculptural contributions on an ambitious scale. Economic and organizational problems forestall such an examination to a later time. The Radich installation focuses instead on the small product, the clay statuette, the overlooked plaster, the small bronze, and, most importantly, a broad run of drawings which traces Agostini’s, many felicitous alterations of the Surrealizing Expressionist style, developed here during the Second World War. In the earliest work, one recognizes a young sculptor’s dependency on the graphic models of the late 17th century, particularly in the choice of cross-hatched chiaroscuro modulations and in terms of a fascination with the artist’s self-portrait. These accomplished drawings are accompanied by two heads, one still in plaster, the other already cast into bronze. Both of them encapsulate the inwardly turned glance and classicistic linearism of the best expressionism of the moment. By this I mean that these heads recall similar researches in the work of de Kooning and John Graham. The bronze piece, a portrait of Kay Sheehan, is very strongly similar to the suavely modulated head of Marina, the latter as yet still unpublished in a bronze edition. Personally, I will regret seeing it cast for despite the by now scruffy patination, the plaster is still most grateful. The kind of classical distillation which these heads display emerges of course from a long tradition. One can go as far back as Medardo Rosso for the source of the bruised inner glance––not to mention Despiau. And yet, I think the true origin is not in so called “impressionist” sculpture but in the Tanagra figurine, an influence easily discerned in Agostini’s early plasters of reclining, draped heroines as well as in the later doll figures which come from the ’50s––a classical and naïve taste which Agostini shares with the late Nadelman. During the 1950s, the baroque character of the drawing changes, possibly because of a greater realization of certain, possibilities germane to automatism. It moves thus from a tight linearity to a free brushwork of a near oriental dexterity. The newer drawings become amalgams of agitated blotches with slight thickenings of color where the pools of ink or watercolor have dried in upon themselves. The chief themes of these Rorschachian images are the female nude, often of a burlesque queen hilarity, and the man leading a horse, aligning this latter group, in this, as in other connections, with the once widely admired equestrian sculptures and graphics of Marino Marini. It is at this moment in the ’50s that the doll figures emerge in Agostini’s sculpture and they present an image which is at once enfantine and jaded.The drawing method of these figures––their splotchiness––adumbrates the time honored pellet buildup of the figure to which he has returned at the present time. The new terra-cotta figurines, rapidly executed and revealing the pellet and thumbprint of the artist at each instant, appear to have been suggested by the drawing method of the mid-fifties.

Robert Pincus-Witten