Italo Scanga

Betsy Rosenfield Gallery

Italo Scanga’s recent work continues to provide his signature mix of whimsy and visually satisfying poetic effects—its lassitude and play evoke a sprightly delight. His sculptures are actually no more than complex vase holders, rather abstruse assemblages of found and altered objects recycled into near-votive presentations. Like flowers hopefully held out by a suitor, these are wistful pieces, charming in their unrelieved eagerness and amiability. Scanga uses dreamily pigmented, conical blown-glass vases, and then it’s off to the resale shop where he collects a wide range of junk metal that he subsequently glazes, paints, and welds into these constructiores ad absurdum. Scanga leaves it to subsequent owners to fill the vases within these sculptures with flowers, preserving and adding to the sense one has that the pieces are gestures decorating and interacting with their environment.

Scanga’s is an inquisitive and acquisitive system, one that collects materials into surprising but pleasing confluences. Attentive to the resonances of his found elements, he combines them with an esthetic fairness that barely suppresses their gleefulness. Dog in a Spiral, 1992, takes a small, cloying, cast-iron seated dog and places it in the midst of a whorl of metal tubing (out of which also come some metallic cacti placed as if to grow horizontally), where it dutifully stares at the attached glass vase and the resplendent flowers. It all accumulates in a presentation piece, some seemingly matter-of-fact assemblage now capable of absorbing interest and attention. Oil Can and a Blade, 1992, is just that—bits of exhausted implements, still somewhat redolent of their former function, reconstituted into supporting structures that function as bases for floral crowns. Scanga’s aspirations toward transformation are less willful and complex than Cubist assemblages: he opts for a kind of alert estheticization over a metamorphosis of his materials, sensitively and finely retooling them into art.

Scanga’s monotypes and collage works on paper can also seem slight: driven by an appearance of pictorial indolence that belies their achievement. The barely mediated, washy, and mushy fields of color in the monotypes create a somewhat arbitrary patchwork of zones, all usually surrounding an image of something like a flower, a chesspiece, or an animal. A few of the larger works on paper, however, are built around a preexisting image, a print or illustration that Scanga dreamily expands. The Voyage, 1992, seems a rather blithe comment on emigration and the quincentenary. Dappled and encrusted with dollops of blue and gold paint, an old mock-heroic print of Columbus at sea, pointing out the distant land to his crew, is set in the lower-left corner of Scanga’s composition. The rest of this piece is comprised of areas saturated with dark blue, orange, black, red, and green, seemingly independent of the Columbus print, but in an odd way an amplification of it. Scanga, like Columbus, was born in Italy and made his transforming voyage to the “New World” at the age of 16. What he continues to discover in himself is a sensitivity to taste, an innate sympathy with materials, and an ability to measure pictorial activity that result in objects that are clever but never cloying.

James Yood