New York

Enzo Cucchi

Sperone Westwater Gallery

In Enzo Cucchi’s paintings and drawings the nature/nurture argument reaches its predictable impasse. Mythically overexposed, Italy the cultural construct, as preserved in house and city, strains to overcome its adamantine imperviousness and to merge with the entropic ooze of Italy the physical, almost scatological landscape. It’s a kind of post-Modernist death wish, impossible to fulfill because the social and intellectual forms are rocklike in their obdurate persistence. Only cosmic, not historical time can grind such boulders.

Heads and skulls are synecdoches for impotent human presences and thought. Alive but disembodied, they lie inert or helpless, corralled in an architecture that squeezes and suffocates them yet at the same time is dominated by them in scale; they are descendants of the Titans who built the city, if only in ambition. Dead Yoricks outside the protective circle, these ciphers mineralize into flinty helmets of empty consciousness. They litter the soil, pockets of abomination, rendering the earth untillable; in Paesaggio Barbaro (Uncivilized landscape), every furrow of impastoed paint heaves up a skull.

Inside the colony of culture, claustrophobia; outside, in nature, one breathes more easily but no longer humanly. For Cucchi animals virtually inspirit this realm, particularly a phoenixlike fowl that rises from the enclosure of the city—whether the regenerative spirit that broods over chaos, about to reclaim these plains, or the carrion of a freed barbaric impulse, Cucchi never clarifies. Is the collar of rationality a necessary restraining order? These are generally bird’s-eye views which prime us to conflate artist and bird, but they are views which also and fatefully include the bird. Thus, be it eros or thanatos, the bird exemplifies the schizophrenia of cognition: the freedom to cruise above the monuments and battlefields of civilization; the inevitability of witnessing, and thereby circumscribing, one’s own free flight.

Jeanne Silverthorne