Emilio Vedova

Studio Marconi

It is a mistake to try to fit Emilio Vedova’s work here, from 1981–83, within current trends in painting, and equally incorrect to hypothesize the rediscovery of an old master of Italian abstraction (as Vedova’s inclusion in Documenta 7 two years ago suggested). To understand the extraordinary coherence of these works it is necessary to acknowledge the stages in the artist’s development. While one might ignore his interest in Piranesi and Tintoretto and pass over his continuous political engagement, one must keep in mind his vaguely biomorphic paintings from the ’50s, the abstractions from the ’60s, and the “Geometrie nere” (Black geometries) and “Plurimi” (Many) series—paintings on the point of becoming sculptures. The works of this Venetian artist are always tied to their specific historical moment, and the paintings here correspond more than ever to the painful rifts of the present.

The exuberance in the work bears obvious similarity to German neo-Expressionism, and it is true that Vedova has spent time in Berlin and is familiar with the work of artists like Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer. But his canvases also bear traces of both the interior pain signified by Jackson Pollock’s action painting and the obsessive erasures of Franz Kline. These violent red and black works seemed to explode from the ascetic white walls of the gallery. Beneath the barrierlike marks of negation, I believe, lies an obsession with blood. Even when the work is presented as a mere screen, or, better, a “recording” of reality, and yellow, blue, and green make appearances, the perceived moment is immediately overturned by a gale of somber black or dark gray.

One senses that these are statements about plunder and cruelty, made more suggestive by the neutral support of the raw canvas. Over the cubistic geometric order of one untitled work Vedova superimposes brushstrokes like the marks of a lash, the congealed energy of the black and white paint rendering them even more dramatic. Occasionally the obsession subsides into tired, conventional signs with the appearance of figurative elements. From the arrows and triangles in Emerging 82-1 one can intuit a figure in profile, somewhat reminiscent of the stylizations of A.R. Penck; a quasi-phallic element in Emerging 81-3/4 would seem at home in a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. But Vedova’s work, surpassing most current improvisations and attempts at fantasy, is weighted by history, anchored by a half century of positivist activity. Without forgetting the illusory power of myth, his vocabulary places humanity and its suffering at the center of a microcosm built to its scale.

Barbara Maestri

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.