Umberto Cavenago

Studio Marconi 17

Umberto Cavenago’s recent sculptures display identities that pertain to the realm of the industrial or mechanical. Works such as Camion (Truck), Gru (Crane), and Motocicletta (Motorcycle), (all 1987–88), function as playful surrogates for those things that their titles describe. Deprived of a practical relationship to their site, these surrogates quickly spiral back toward the locus of their removal. They seem to provide more information about their identities as machines than as art objects. For this exhibition, Cavenago has constructed simple forms that establish discourses with the negated identities of the mass-produced objects they simulate. But Cavenago moves beyond the simple one-directional chain of reference that his earlier toylike work evoked. He initiates relationships that inform and change both the original territory and the current position of that which has been simulated.

The piece on display here is entitled Half-ton, 1989. It is composed of four massive wheels supporting a rectangular body or hull; the construction seems to strain the proportions of the gallery. This oppressive tanklike structure is like an elephant closed within a tight-fitting cardboard cage. The arrangement of forms seems to imply that the work itself has the potential to move beyond the walls of the gallery. Like many of his other pieces, Half-ton is constructed of sheet metal, but in this work the surfaces have been lightly whitewashed in what appears to be an attempt to camouflage the material. This work represents the first installation piece in which Cavenago directly confronts his own imitation of extra-artistic production. He moves from the realm of the mechanical or industrial to an identification with labor itself. The piece can be read as an extrapolation of the exchange of values. Through its claustrophobic closure and uncertain identity, the work opens a direct discourse with its surroundings, and thus transcends an identification with leisure production, and moves toward an identification with artistic production. Cavenago abandons the sitelessness or absolute loss of place that characterized his earlier work, while embracing an esthetic of play. Like the Futurists, he seems to exalt concrete labor and the production of use values, divorcing labor from alienation and moving it into the realm of the sublime.

Anthony Iannacci