Carrino, Uecker, Venet

Galleria Primo Piano

This show consisted of only three works, all from 1987: one by Nicola Carrino, one by Günther Uecker, and one by Bernar Venet, intimately set in the gallery’s small space, as if in conversation. What tied these artists together? Not generation (Venet is younger by ten years than the other two); not formative influences (Carrino and Uecker come out of the late-’50s and early-’60s climate of reaction to poetic abstraction, while Venet’s work is deeply related to conceptual art); and not the point at which they have arrived. For Carrino has achieved a cold minimalist geometry; Uecker has abandoned the asceticism of his early work, when he belonged to the Zero group, in favor of an expressive art informed by the subjective, the archaic, and the spiritual; and Venet continues to pursue the purity of signs within the concreteness of sculpture. Yet the juxtaposition of their works did reveal an unexpected harmony, a coherent, sober dialogue of light pauses, gentle movements, and unforeseen exclamations.

Here Carrino placed a black iron slab against the left wall, then leaned a second at an angle against the first in what seemed like an unstable, house-of-cards equilibrium. Although the work has Carrino’s usual sort of title, Costruttivo 2/87 (Construct 2/87), it differs from his “Costruttivi” of the ’60s and ’70s in its increased reductiveness, lacking their play of recesses, repetition of modules, and many references to a mechanical civilization. In this work, there is a geometry that is completely liberated from its physicality; the act of constructing has become the province of thought rather than of the hand. Despite these differences—and despite the inevitable comparisons to the work of Richard Serra—it occupies a logical place within Carrino’s body of work.

Carrino’s tilted slabs seemed directed toward the suspended motion of Venet’s Deux arcs (Two arcs). In Venet’s piece, the space is pure image. These arcs are turned on their side, and thus literally open-ended. Although made of steel, they seem to have neither weight nor physicality, like the “ideal city” of the Renaissance. And in this respect they share the silence and transparency of Venet’s previous works, in all of which he has attempted to grasp an incomprehensible and immeasurable immensity, whatever the dimensions: whether the gigantic arc along a stretch of the ParisRhine-Rhone highway or any of his much more modest pieces, like the one shown here.

Next to Uecker’s massive wall relief, Riss (Tear), Venet’s sculpture seemed even lighter. Riss consists of a large, canvas-covered square of wood that Uecker ripped through at the center and then completely covered the rest with nails, which project from the underlying surface. The central split is like an open wound, surrounded by a body lacerated with nails. Uecker has emphasized this offended field by spreading black paint over it with his hands, dripping it on with his fingers. “Art cannot save man,” Uecker wrote recently, “but with his means he can make possible a dialogue that exhorts him to act in a custodial sense, for the preservation of the human soul.” It was a visit to Auschwitz that made him recognize the incredible madness to which reason can be stretched, and that forced him to pose questions about existence, questions to which the mind, no matter how lucid and terse, cannot respond. Yet, with all of Uecker’s sense of the tragic, Riss is sedate, for it is elevated to a symbol, like the terrible fate of the flawed hero in ancient tragedy.

The method in Uecker’s madness doesn’t appear very different from Venet’s madness with a method. In fact, the three works shown here create a dialogue with each other because they are all examples of a long and coherent European investigation into the significance of structure, of form, of the very essence of art—that is, because they speak the same language.

Alessandra Mammi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.