Vincenzo Agnetti

Galleria Lia Rumma

“There is just one obligation: logic. Logic commits suicide through coherence.” This is a statement by Vincenzo Agnetti, a concise, explosive declaration of poetics that might have been the ideal commentary to accompany this show. Since his death in 1981, Agnetti’s name has continued to reverberate as one of the most interesting in the circles of Italian conceptual art.

The exhibition consisted of some significant pieces created between 1967 and 1973, such as Il libro dimenticato a memoria (Book forgotten by heart, 1968), Tempo-azione (Time action, 1972), La macchina drogata (Drugged machine, 1967), and Principia (Principles, 1967). Agnetti’s voice echoed everywhere. In In allegato vi trasmetto un audiotape della durata di 30 minuti (Enclosed I send you an audiotape lasting 30 minutes, 1973) the artist recites a simple numerical sequence as if it were a radio play: the inflections and speed of his voice attributes an emotional sense to the nonsense rhyme of the numbers. The work demonstrates Agnetti’s terse logic, carried to extreme consequences—to the edges of mysticism, of religion, of nothingness.

Within this elaborately constructed conceit, Agnetti drew a cosmology made of absences, of things forgotten, of voids. The pages of Il libro dimenticato a memoria are emptied, having lost the space usually occupied by the words. What is left is the carcass, symbolizing an incompatibility between object and language, reminding everyone that “culture is learning to forget.” Tempo-azione draws a path through seven sheets of paper that have been cut out, incised, or barely crossed by words as light as a breath, a path that culminates in the absence of the totally blank, final sheet. All Agnetti’s work is about an impossible confrontation with time: the time of language, the time of thought, time as insurmountable blackmail that renders vacuous every structure, every logic. The vacuity, the futility of gesture, is continually denounced, but especially in Macchina drogata, in which Agnetti used a calculator that has letters instead of numbers. The results of operations on this machine are systematized words utterly without meaning. Agnetti took the dadaist gesture and replaced it with one that made the rhetoric of the machine’s nonsense passive. His was an absolute gesture, beyond which art cannot be nurtured, not even by tautology. Agnetti didn’t have the cold determination of international conceptualism, but his work possessed the anguish of renunciation. In today’s reflection on the conceptual legacy, that is the exquisite difference which makes this artist extremely significant for his profoundly European—or, better, profoundly Italian—philosophical stance. If Agnetti didn’t have the power to designate things, it was because he was overwhelmed by their memory. His renunciation had the heroism of a classical gesture, rooted in European culture and still seeking in art the power to transform all our knowledge into myth and symbol. And his logic, which admitted nothing but white and black, solid and void, absolute and final relationships, indicated a single path for his work: “to commit suicide through coherence.”

Alessandra Mammì

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.