New York

Vincenzo Agnetti

Ronald Feldman Gallery

Vincenzo Agnetti has been active a good while now, and as a result his work seems comfortable, seems to fit. It has an ease of conception, and an equal ease of execution, that gives it a charm utterly absent from the anxious, unsettling work of many younger Europeans. Nor does he suffer from any inhibition concerning media, using whatever seems appropriate or necessary at the moment. He is equally at home making paintings or sculpture, taking photographs, performing, writing or working with combinations of any of these disciplines.

4 Titles, the four pieces exhibited at Ronald Feldman, illustrate the point perfectly. Ostensibly sculpture, each piece is a witty juxtaposition of black-and-white photograph and metal construction. In each case the photograph shows a rather absurd yet ordinary event—a man picking up an armful of envelopes; a man tripping, hidden behind a cascade of the envelopes as they fall; a man sprawling over the scattered papers; a few envelopes, obviously leftovers, blowing down a street. The pictures have a pathos which borders on the comic, partly because of the clownish appearance of the man, who is the artist himself.

Agnetti’s placement of abstract constructions in front of these photographs ensures that the work be understood as comic. Formal abstractions of the recorded actions, cut out of iron plate, these structures mock the photographs with all the ponderous solemnity of reductive sculpture. Triangular forms take the place of the envelopes, a tubular rod takes the place of the man; the dynamics of chance are frozen, as in the photographs, but now are given the impossible importance of serious, material existence. The conceit is a whimsical one, but nonetheless effective; the pieces are a spunky attempt to inject life into a discipline currently deep in the doldrums.

Inquiries at the gallery revealed that in fact the photographs are records of a performance Agnetti staged in Venice over a year ago, and that the current work has been evolving since then. The information is crucial, for it shows that Agnetti understands the premises of modern sculpture, and the inevitability with which they lead to a deadlock between the ephemera of performance and the unforgiving bulk of construction, a deadlock given a certain glamour, and unexpected longevity, by the photography that so eloquently documents it. The flash of wit in Agnetti’s work is sufficient to illuminate one way beyond the impasse, a way free of the sacrosanct dictates of material and process, a way that acknowledges the intangible significance of image in the creation of any visual reality.

Thomas Lawson