New York

Lucio Pozzi

Susan Caldwell Gallery, Leo Castelli Gallery, John Weber Gallery

Lucio Pozzi has had a strange career. One can look at it as a series either of calculated hops, skips, and jumps or of anxious fits and starts, depending upon one’s interpretative proclivities; since Philip Guston it has become permissible, even fashionable, to make such changes in stylistic direction, usually from abstraction to figuration (although an early career shift of Guston’s, in contrast to his more famous later one, was the other way round). In the mid ’70s Pozzi was a polished Minimalist, producing such tamely self-conscious works as Group Level, 1976, with its neatly duplicated rectangular gestalt. His shift to figuration has not resulted in any increase in conviction, any sense of profound coming to grips with himself, as in Guston’s case. At the same time, one cannot say that Pozzi’s spirited new paintings are simply trendy, that they lack any conviction save that generated by the desire to be part of the zeitgeist. Rather, I think they are “inspired” by a kind of panic—a desperate desire to know what is right, to do what is right, to be artistically and world-historically right. Behind the post-modernist plunge into the past is uncertainty about what is right in the present, even about the definition of the present. In this post-Modernism differs radically from Modernism, which generally thought it knew what the present was—“Modern,” unrepeatable, dynamic, “real” rather than mythological, and thus surprising. There is no sense of surprise in post-Modernism, for there is a quasi-Nietzschean awareness of “eternal return” that makes suspect any finalization of meaning. It is out of this that yearning for past form emerges, as a kind of truncated symbol of the difficulty of “truth” and of the limitations of the present, which always seems to fall short of encapsulating the truth in its “moment.” Behind post-Modernism lies the failure of Modernism’s effort to enshrine the moment in esthetic novelty.

What I see in Pozzi is an awkward, concealed (perhaps even self-concealed) longing for the unity of style and meaning, a longing that issues from his sense of the special truth of artistic revelation in the grand-manner art of his Italian ancestors. In Pozzi’s vistas—and he is at his best when he creates a sense of illimitable expanse—I see a Tiepolo-like exploration and reinvocation of a divine rhetoric no longer really believed in but nonetheless fascinating because of the successfulness of the illusion of grandeur it created. But Pozzi’s work is unlike Tiepolo’s in that the divine space no longer orders the diversity of elements it contains; clutter verges on a chaos barely containable by the frame. The operatic ordering of seemingly random quotations from nature, eros, old art (there’s an “Italianate” Madonna and Child), and modern machine-oriented design doesn’t work here. Experience of the contemporary world—the complete secularization of art—makes it impossible to renounce anything, impossible to be clear about what should or should not be “redeemed” by being placed in infinite space. Nothing clearly fits—nor need it, for its momentum in memory gains it a divine location. Tiepolo’s sublime space has become the reduced space of memory, yet one with its own peculiar implication of infinity, owing to the final unplaceability of the residues of artistic and other experience.

Pozzi’s manicured Minimalism has exploded into the pursuit of fantasy; what seemed like the dead cone of an inactive volcano has been blown off in a kind of imagistic “automatism.” But there is no unconscious revelation, no shocking, unexpected evocations, nothing surprising. Individual elements, of whatever source, tend to be blurred and schematic, and even when not drily rendered lack that Surrealist violence that gives the image a sense of being self-created, of willing itself into being. For all the tumult in some of Pozzi’s stagings, for all his judicious juxtaposition of profane figure and esthetically esoteric ornament, there is a sense here of the casualness bred of familiarity. However melodramatized, these works show ennui. Fantasy is revived, but like Lazarus it has tasted death. We may inhabit a post-Modern culture of quotation, but quotation is a diminished form of culture; the post-Modernist issue is not the relationship between the original and the copy, but the coprophagous, necrophiliac air that hangs over all.

One might say, then, that Pozzi is a post-Modernist by default; he can be nothing else, Modernist expectations having failed him a long time ago (from the beginning of his career he was a busy follower rather than an innovator). How many new languages is it possible to invent in order to make the moment seem fresh? Post-Modernism may be a way of making explicit the attitudes of those who have been failures at Modernism all along. It is a haven neither for the unoriginal nor for copyists, nor for those who know it’s all just language in the end, but for those who realize that art can neither change nor simulate the world, but at best recover lost affect. What one sees in Pozzi is a belated sound and fury, signifying nothing, but desperately trying to objectify the sense of despair that comes from the belated discovery of a limitation that was always there. I don’t really know if he succeeds, but he has given us a way, at times a comical one, of stating the problem. Opéra-bouffe has always been a successful way of disguising tragic self-recognition, which is the reluctant beginning of independence. This Pozzi has at last achieved with his return to roots, to what used to be called “the native tradition.”

Donald Kuspit