Enzo Cucchi

Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci

In the catalogue essay for this exhibition, Amnon Barzel suggests a comparison between Enzo Cucchi and halo Calvino. It is certainly not the central point of his text, nor the only interpretive route to be taken, and yet this comparison can become a key to the entire show, particularly if one bolsters Barzel’s intuition with a reading of Calvino’s posthumously published Lezioni americane. Sei proposte per il prossimo millennio (American lessons. Six memos for the next millenium, 1988). In one lecture particularly, which is presented as an homage to the concept of lightness in art, Calvino discusses Lucretius’ De rerum natura, calling it “the first great work in which consciousness of the world turns into the dissolution of the world’s solidity.” Cucchi, too, knows Lucretius, writing of him, “I have the feeling that he resides within things: when he speaks of a stone, he resides within the stone.”

This show really seems to be the De rerum natura of Enzo Cucchi. It is about the will to restore meaning and value, not only to art, but to existence itself. It is the aspiration of the artist to convince us of the truth and of the reality of things, to touch the profound reasons for life, to provoke the terrible wonder that we sense in the wake of every birth and every death. It is not only an esthetic problem, but above all an ethical one that Cucchi poses (as the title of his catalogue statement, Per Dirigere l’Arte [To direct art], indicates). For him, the instrument must reside in the image. But it is an image that only art in its highest affirmations is still capable of restoring to us. Cucchi’s symbols partake of both new and old mythology; the headless figures, the birds, the cottages isolated by taut perspectives, the skulls, the meridians, earth, light, and matter are shown here in a system of mute relationships that build up, in a crescendo of associations, to the last, and most rarefied, work. Here, the black profile of a bird is repeated three times on a sheet of paper, each time losing color and definition, until it dissolves into nothingness (Untitled, 1987–88). And this nothingness is barely held in check by an iron wire that crosses the work and anchors it with the slightest support. With this fragile work, the developmental path of the show concludes, as if with a sigh—the path that has led us through darkness, nightmares, disquietude, but also through the simplicity and immediacy of existence. The squat, primordial man who contains within his belly an image of landscape, and thus of nature; the three heads that support a meridian like a perennial symbol of time; the cities as the locus of history and culture, all symbolized by a Rome under the heel of classicism; the two black slabs illuminated at the center by the outline of a fetus—all these are not the words of a delirium, nor the product of a symbolist language, but rather suggest the very possibility of imagining, of belonging to a collective realm of images that connects us to the history of the world. For Cucchi, this is the great ethical task of art—its promise of eternity, its ability to astonish. Through his presentation of the 19 works here (all produced in the past decade) Cucchi has succeeded in giving us back a sense of wonderment—as a clouded faculty, which it is our duty to use once again.

Alessandra Mammì

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.