New York

Leonardo Cremonini

Claude Bernard Gallery

Many writers—including Alberto Moravia, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, and Stephen Spender—have been intrigued by the work of Leonardo Cremonini. The source of his appeal, particularly to those of a philosophical bent, lies in the poetic urgency of his imagery. Although the figures and objects in Cremonini’s paintings are always recognizable, they are often in disconcerting juxtapositions and seem to inhabit eerily empty spaces that suggest unearthly, self-contained worlds. This is especially true of his large canvases such as The End of the Party, 1984–85, The Last Games of Summer, 1984–85, The Laying Bare of the Father, 1980–82, and The Drawers of the Journey, 1977–78, all of which were on view here in this selection of works from 1975 to 1986.

The End of the Party is a diptych that at first glance seems to show two unrelated scenes, due to the dramatic differences in light, depth, and psychological atmosphere. On the left is an interior resembling a diner, with a counterman attending a customer whose head is just visible above the countertop. It is painted in acid yellows and pinks that have a piquant videolike vibrancy and is illuminated by a bleaching light. On the right, the scene shifts to an outdoor plaza—perhaps (but not necessarily) just outside the diner—shown against a dark, moonlit sky. In the foreground, a trio of balloons floats in front of a tall pedestal supporting a classical bust of a man. Formally, the scene on the left is neatly sealed within a flat, strictly rectilinear design of horizontal and vertical rectangles and stripes. But the calm silence of this hermetic chamber is contradicted by the harsh light, lurid colors, and nervous drips of paint, which charge the atmosphere with an inexplicable tension. In contrast, the scene on the right is darkly romantic and expansive; however, the unsettling yellows and pinks of the interior scene show up in the splotchy surfaces of the balloons and portions of the wall. The ambiguous content casts a provocative pallor over this painting, like a second skin. Although the title invokes the notion of an ending, the work itself exists in a perpetual state of beginning—an endless maze of inconclusive narrative readings.

The Last Games of Summer shows three children playing running games on a boardwalk by the beach. Their seemingly harmless games carry more than the usual risks, for the boardwalk is an obstacle course with pieces of wood strewn about and small rounded markers tall enough to trip over. Yet our fear for the children is turned into fear of the children, catalyzed by the ominous quality of their big, masklike faces and awkward bodies. Cremonini manipulates our feelings in a similar way in The Laying Bare of the Father and The Drawers of the Journey, both of which feature his creepy yet oddly sympathetic children in situations also fraught with danger. These paintings are like scenes in a horror movie, using expectation as a constructive ingredient for a dramatic confrontation with the unknown.

Reviewed by Ronny Cohen.