New York

Vincezo Agnetti

Language is perhaps Vincezo Agnetti’s trouble. I really get the feeling he wants to be Vincenzo, but his European culture wants him to be Agnetti. I’m always nervous when flyers advertise artists with just their surnames—especially artists I’ve never heard of. It’s a bit like imposing your will on history prematurely, but it’s also arrogant, and invites a few catcalls from the stands.

Although there are interesting things trying to get out—the Vincenzo side—the problem with Agnetti’s show is that it has the look and values of puritanical late ’60s European Conceptual art. This probably shows more in New York than in critically soft Europe where mention of the mind is cause for salivation. I enjoyed the quiet dignity of Agnetti’s black-and-white photographs, immaculate number notations, and his handsome 103-page book Image of an Exhibition (with the cryptic, painfully familiar message: “Before constructing the image of an exhibition one must know why the images to be exhibited exist.”) Still, I felt I was being given an intellectual snow job. And a snow job given earlier and better by other Conceptual artists. I’m sure this isn’t Agnetti’s intention, and perhaps my take is due to New York chauvanism, or just misreading art from a different culture.

While I liked the pomposity of such titles as A’s Median Age, Architecture Translated for All the Peoples of the World, and Herewith I Transmit a Half Hour Tape Recording, they were really poetically lightweight. Such appeals to universality are fucking up English Conceptual art and endangering the European species. Take A’s Median Age, for example — probably the best example of Agnetti’s work. It exists both in an iconic wall model and in sequential book form. Isn’t the work really fanciful poetry posing as phenomenological investigation? Isn’t it Vincenzo? Why pretend? Poetry’s nothing to be ashamed of. On the wall in handsome Huebleresque fashion (it’s really quasi documentation) is a large board with four different stacked photographs of a woman on the left, a block of numbers and letters in the middle, and a single strange looking photograph of a similar looking woman on the right. Are they the same woman? Presumably. But wait! Those four stacked photos on the left trace “the story of her life“ from sad kid at the top, through eager bride, laughing woman, clown to the pessimist’s nemesis, a grim lady with an incongruous beret! Each area of each face is carefully numbered and divided by lines into four Identikit sections. The A’s, for example, are foreheads, the B’s eyes, and so forth. The columns of written numbers and letters, of course, are the possible permutations of the sliced photographs on the left. I didn’t check the numbers except to count 12 across and 49 down. Then you understand, and presto, the slightly strange Mona Lisa-like serious look of the woman’s photograph on the right becomes clear. Vincenzo, you darkroom wizard, you’ve photocollaged each segment together without a trace of a join, then vignetted the image. The result is a composite portrait of a mysterious nonexistent person, like fictitious criminals conjured up from police files and never to be found. A’s Median Age is a delightful mix of photographs, diagrams, handlettered numbers and letters, and a great photocollage, but it’s also pseudoscientific bullshit.

I like the hybridization of photographs to make an imaginary person, but I can’t stand the pretentiousness of the language, and the naive wish to schematize the world by numbers and diagrams. Agnetti’s classification systems, if you can call them that, are ad hoc potpourris surrounded by a lot of language that gets in the way of myth and poetry, which he has a real feel for. In 1870–1970, for example, Agnetti places two actual 19th-century paintings of a man and a woman next to each other. The mere placing is enough for me; you can get lost in the possible chat they might be having with each other. But pretending to universalize their unspoken dialogue by translating it into numbers and fixing them on the paintings, while it is a nice graphic move, destroys any magic for me. His sonorous taped monologue in Italian to an empty theater with three black-and-white photographs documenting it is again compromised myth. Agnetti justifies the idea intellectually by translating the monologue into the intonation of the numbers 1–10—not so different from Cage’s one-and-one-half hour monologue through a distorting microphone to an irate audience unable to understand a word. Agnetti’s monologue is equally dull, although the tape is musically nicer to listen to. What’s nice is the myth of talking to no one. Vincenzo Agnetti bears the Conceptual cross of having to justify Vincenzo’s poetic ideas by crushing them into Agnetti’s ideational form. That’s the European Conceptual rub.

James Collins