Enzo Cucchi

In Enzo Cucchi’s recent exhibition entitled “Roma,” the “eternal city” supplied the imaginative core around which the various works were arranged. The show was divided into two parts: five large paintings displayed on the walls, and 66 tiny panels and canvases strung like tram cars along steel wires fixed diagonally from the floor to the ceiling. Though the little paintings in their wooden frames were fixed to the cables, the impression given was one of great dynamism. I don’t believe, however, that this was intended as a true “installation,” but simply as another way of hanging paintings. For Cucchi, the problem is always that of creating a compelling image, and here the long diagonals stretched between earth and sky, upon which images of Rome dangled like birds, sleeping with their heads pointing down imprint themselves upon the viewer’s memory. Rome—real, dreamed, or invented—it doesn’t matter, for however he presents it, Cucchi finds in his memory of the city a repository of images ripe for reinvention. In fact, in an interview of a few years ago, he stated, “We have the fortune of walking in a city, where, below us, there exists a city still more incredible, more beautiful, and what can we do? Let’s hope that we are not rendered immobile.” In Rome, the city/symbol of historical and archaeological memory, Cucchi’s problem is to add a sign, his own sign, to this enormous concentration of history and of tradition; it is only in this fashion that he can truly safeguard its memory.

In the large canvases, the germinative core of the show generates the artist’s most typical motifs and images: skulls (some circle like a concentric choir of angels); the “signature” written in very large iron letters; the lamp that “reflects” fragments of an unknown reality on its glass surface; ancient and perhaps sacred stones ensnared in dark, thick paint; the legs of archaic, primitive men that make their way through the void. In contrast, the small paintings hung from cables contain images that refer more directly to Rome, memorial images of an ancient city that, at all costs, wants to become a metropolis and a world center. Cucchi’s inventive strategy is based on the accumulation and mixture of images in a teeming magma of figuration: the fish—symbol of the Christian era—and the keys of Saint Peter’s, the elephant in Piazza della Minerva and the Pyramid, the Aurelian Walls and Piazza del Popolo with two shrubs that perhaps have never really existed there, the Colosseum and the satyrs with a flute, the Bernini fountains and the Pantheon. In this way Cucchi turns culture back into nature, history into legend, since for us, it is as if these symbols, these monuments, have always existed; at this point they are part of the iconographic baggage of our memory. And so, deep in the belly of this city, there is an immense deposit of real, imaginary, and symbolic stratifications; there is a constant murmur of accumulated history available to those who know how to heed it. It is precisely for this reason that the artist is able to invent a new sign and add it to the others, to the signs of a memory that lies dormant, to be nurtured and brought to visibility in the present.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.