New York

Attilio Salemme

Terry Dintenfass Gallery

Attilio Salemme is best known for the curious canvases of Surrealist persuasion which come from the early 1950s, just prior to his death. Essentially carefully colored drawings, these paintings dispose plank-like rectangulated personages across horizons opaquely painted in cool, fruit-flavored colors. They resemble the Surrealist accretions of Kay Sage in the period and, through her, the compositions of her husband, Yves Tanguy. They speak of Noguchi’s theatre sets for Martha Graham and a great deal of forgotten graphic work, even some by Louise Bourgeois. But Salemme’s painting is more severe than that of his colleagues and more strictly executed and I suspect that much of its playful whimsy is a chastened reworking of the lessons of Paul Klee from the early 1920s.

This kind of widespread Surrealism in the early ’50s fuses two sources. One is an American Cubist color idiom realized with genius in the still lifes of Patrick Henry Bruce. Labyrinth, of 1944, despite its Grahamesque title, reveals a great deal of feeling for the kind of Precisionist geometry I am referring to. The other tradition is that of the world of fantasy unleashed in America by the many Surrealists here in exile from the European war, such as Tan-guy himself, or Breton. I think that the confluence of these two streams is interesting as an art historical problem—and it may even lead to works of stature. In Salemme’s case, however, the .anthropometry often leads to a debilitating humorousness that fails to amuse.

Robert Pincus-Witten