New York

Gino De Domenicis

Murray and Isabella Rayburn Foundation

This exhibition represented the first real chance for an American audience to see much work by Gino De Dominicis. The early pieces seen here are more or less classical Conceptual art, appealing to cognition and manipulating the viewer into interior visualizations. A square of white tape lines on the floor, for example, is titled Invisible Cube, 1968; a black arm chair is titled Invisible Person: The Fourth Solution to Immortality, 1972; a rubber ball lying on the floor is called Rubber ball (from a fall of two meters) at the point preceding the rebound, 1969; and a granite rock is titled Waiting for a chance molecular general movement in a single direction in order to generate a spontaneous movement of the rock, 1967—that is, waiting for the rock to hurl itself across the room.

De Dominicis’ work of the ’80s, like art of this past decade in general, returned to the pictorial surface, though with sculptural overtones. In the age of appropriation, De Dominicis has emphasized references to, of all things, Sumerian imagery, especially the figures from the temple of Abu at Tell Aswan. Most, if not all, of these figures are worshippers, who are shown holding cups in their hands; their pupils are hugely dilated, perhaps from an opium drink. On the other hand, the hugeness of their eyes also derives from the fact that they are beholding the deity; they appear utterly transfixed in the act of seeing. Their vision of the beyond, as well as their apparent immobility, bring them into De Dominicis’ concern for immortality. Like Parmenides, the artist regards real existence as eternal and immobile. In Untitied, 1986, a large Cyclopean figure based on the Apu temple figures has a long trunklike nose, which emerges sculpturally from the picture surface and hangs down to about the figure’s waist. The eight-petalled gold rosettes on her head seem to be a reference to the famous headdress of Queen Shubad. In Urvasi and Gilgamesh, 1985, the Sumerian references are mixed with Indian ones, in the form of the apsara, or heavenly dancer, Urvasi, to whom Rabindranath Tagore wrote poems.

Sumerian imagery is the most basic image bank in the entire Western tradition, even if one were to go back to the Paleolithic age. It is the beginning of civilization or history; it is where we came from. De Dominicis’ post-Modernist references to this image bank are like starting civilization all over again. There is a utopian implication of a new history and a new humanity to occupy it. The primary interventions De Dominicis makes in his Sumerian references are the long sculptural noses that hang off the picture surfaces of some of them. These noses are commonly taken as a reference to De Dominicis’ own physiognomy. So the Sumerian icon is interwoven with his own particular selfhood. Considering that Western culture is engaged in a transition to a new model of history no longer based on the Hegelian, the revival of this protohistorical imagery is timely and provocative and looks as much toward the future as it does toward the past.

––Thomas McEvilley