New York

Enzo Cucchi

Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery

The rather extraordinary packaging of Italy’s “three Cs”—Chia, Clemente, Cucchi—seems to have worked. Rarely have contemporary European artists been accorded such instant éclat in the American art market. The push that started in Basel, and accelerated in Venice, has now made it to New York. The triumvirate was introduced as a group in the fall; now the solo shows have commenced.

Not surprisingly, the major bond uniting the three artists is alphabetical. (Could Carlson, Close and Clough be marketed in Italy as an American movement?) Beyond that, allusive figuration and a shared penchant for oblique metaphors are all that hold them together.

ENZO CUCCHI is the trio’s primitivist maverick. His figures have the awful, distracting ambisexuality of the work of brut artists like Albino Braz and Miguel Hernandez. Simply and economically rendered, Cucchi’s figures are imposed on landscapes with which they have only minimal proportional and perspectival integration. The shift in scale—Titans in Toyland—tends to render gesture heroic and to make content mythic. Working with a palette of brilliant, vigorous colors, Cucchi generates an authority and tension that is sometimes too frequently repeated before settling into almost Goyaesque narratives.

The recent paintings portray landscape-dwarfing giants, caught up in mysterious, somewhat violent activities. A virulently yellow figure, clutching a rifle (a paw-bound dog hangs upside down on his back, a lick of blood limns his thigh), lunges at a train emerging from the angry, red face of a tunnel. Another yellow figure (perhaps an update of Goya’s Saturn), its hand torn by a bullet hole, straddles a dog whose forked tail has burst into flame. In a fecal brown painting, an enormous figure careens toward earth like an obscene parody of Blakean devotion. The titles, such as Ferocious Painting, do not elaborate on the subject matter.

Cucchi gets as close as he can to gonzo, awful painting without overplaying his hand. A number of American artists—Earl Staley is an appropriate example—are engaged in similar experiments. What makes Cucchi’s awfulness intriguing is an easy, but not irrelevant, association with Renaissance sources. In the best paintings, he is capable of paraphrasing Giotto’s and Martini’s paralytic, yet emotive, depictions of spiritual (idealized) movement; he can evoke Fra Angelico’s and Veneziano’s undulent, emotionally complicit landscapes. What is missing—what trivializes the effort—is the lack of a subject capable of transcending Cucchi’s dreamily retentive vocabulary. Lacking a pervasive religio-mythical structure or compelling political allegiance, Cucchi succumbs to a psychological regionalism of his own devising. It’s a stance that tends to turn his mountains into molehills.

Richard Flood