Los Angeles

Italo Scanda

Dorothy Goldeen Gallery

It’s odd to see Italo Scanga’s work, which is centered around an unabashed, almost rural emotionality, in smoggy, urbane Los Angeles. At their most successful, his sculptures, paintings, and drawings are bursting with earthy energy. Made from strange ingredients—wood, harvesting tools, fake fruit, real flowers, musical instruments, and other found objects—these pieces reveal Scanga’s love both of the man-made and the natural.

The show was divided into three major sections and a shrinelike vestibule. In the latter section, the works are titled Composite (with different subtitles) and all dated 1981. These are charcoal drawings in simple wood-plank frames, whose edges overlap. The drawings are densely scribbled-in; their execution is crude, almost childlike. They include combinations of figures, images of plants, and what look like internal organs and cuts of meat. In front of each piece stands a wooden pedestal on which sits a handblown, clear-glass vase. Each vase has images based on the drawings outlined on it in black paint. A single stalk of ginger flower, with its big, top-heavy, jagged red bloom, lists in each one. The pieces resemble homemade kitchen icons and evoke a spirit of idiosyncratic innocence, an awkward piety. Quirky pictorial elements, like floating steaks and chops, add a humorous touch.

The first section of the show features work from the “Memories and Poetics” series, 1984-88, as well as two works from the “Meta” series, 1986–87. These are freestanding sculptures in which mostly wooden objects are piled up to form rudimentary figures and abstract conglomerations resembling giant toys. Scanga employs furniture legs, old scales, irons, ironing boards, and violins. These pieces come across as stubbornly cheerful, trumpeting their bright enthusiasm. The next segment, with work from the “Fourteen Stations” series, 1988, was the standout. Here Scanga worked against his own tendency toward largesse, instead filtering his esthetic through the solemn theme of the Stations of the Cross. Scanga displays 14 putty-colored earthenware jars set on spare wooden stands. The stands differ slightly in size, but all are close to the scale of the human figure; if the stands were humans, the jars (actually 19th-century Greek and Italian water jugs) would be their heads. The vessels also call to mind funeral urns. On the front of each numbered jar is a small, square abstract painting, very simply rendered. Glued to the underside of the shelves on which the jars sit are 14 tiny reproductions of Stations of the Cross paintings by Tiepolo. These are the most subtle works in the show, and their muted eloquence provided a moment of quiet in an otherwise noisy atmosphere.

The final section, with works from the “Troubled World” series, 1987, benefited from Scanga’s use of starkly blackened farm tools—a scythe, a saw, a shovel, a pitchfork. Each piece has a blackened tree stump for a base, and a farm tool sticking out of the stump. Impaled on a scythe-tip or the tines of a pitchfork is a globe, and painted across this elementary-schoolish model of the world are black wavy lines and words such as “hunger” and “violence.” This section bordered on the heavy-handed, because the pieces are so unfailingly literal, yet a sense of the artist’s passion and humanity came through.

Amy Gerstler