Massimo Kauffmann

This show had one strange characteristic: the works exhibited by the artist were treated as visual metaphors, and those metaphors were charged with negativity. Massimo Kauffmann had various artisans (a leatherworker, a dressmaker, a shoemaker) create a series of perfectly finished leather mannequins with a sumptuous air. He designed the chests of those anthropomorphic structures to be shaped like purses that could be opened, each with a handle. In the cavities, he placed a large number of metal weights. He has used metal weights in his earlier pieces to convey the idea of measurement and proportion. However, here they were used to signify what is weighty, in the broadest symbolic sense, what is burdensome and brings suffering. Thus these personages were burdened with a weight that is part of their very nature, that gives them substance and in a certain sense defines them.

The mannequins, all painted in monochromatic tones ranging from red to ocher, were stretched out on the floor. Two of them were lying next to a sheet of cardboard, folded to represent a house; others were spread out inside a large metal structure which held them in like a bed or a tomb. Whether on all fours or prone, they all assumed a cadaverlike position, each (except one) with one hand on the handle of its open chest. One seemed to be literally dying and was pouring out the iron contents of its viscera. Another, black in color and isolated, had smaller proportions and represented the mannequin-corpse of a child.

In the past, Kauffmann has dealt with this last subject as a symbolic figure of the new world and the new order; the child-god of Catholicism, announced to Mary by Gabriel. Here it was also treated as a negative figure, burdened by the absence of hope. For that which burdens, that which gives an annihilating and mortifying weight, is the condition of prejudice, of obscurantism, or what we like to call “evil,” that which unites us in impotence and in renunciation. In contrast to these elegant and deadly images of the death of the soul, the artist presents only some sketchy journal entries, meager autobiographical traces, the allusion to a pathetic family tale, a postcard of Greta Garbo, old prints depicting Napoleon as a sleeping father figure, and drawings made from typewriter characters. There were anthropomorphic line drawings and ink blots, figures of children, invocations to the mother figure. It was impossible, at least for the Italian public, not to interpret these works as an emotional response to the tragedy of the times in which we live, and the irony that nonetheless seems to permeate the works offers no consolation. We are reminded that tragedy is often transformed into farce, but this only serves to reveal the utter “banality of evil.”

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.