New York

Fausto Melotti

Paolo Baldacci

Fausto Melotti makes two kinds of sculpture: delicate, ironic works that are variations on a few elementary formal themes, and ghostly white, mannequinlike figures. The former seem to extend the sculpture of empty space that Pablo Picasso’s “cage” sculptures outlined and that Alberto Giacometti surrealized in his The Palace at 4 A.M., 1932–33.

Meloni’s structures are ingeniously self-contradictory, pushing opposites to an extreme and then fusing them. Explicitly geometrical—more decisively abstract than those of Picasso and Giacometti—these sculptures also make subliminal allusion to the figure. Melotti represents the second generation of avant-garde innovation: the application of formal invention to familiar reality, in order to create an effect of irreality—of confusion between the real and the unreal—rather than the “purification” of the original formal idea of the avant-garde until it is reduced to self-defeating absurdity. Melotti’s delusional abstract sculptures brilliantly succeed in suspending the reality principle without offering us a clear sense of an alternative reality. By contrast, Surrealism was all too eager to do this, thereby risking reification.

Melotti’s works are architectural in import, and ingeniously “minimalist”: stick figures seem to become autonomous structures, as in the witty Embrace, 1961, where the tolling genital bell suggests intimacy even as it confirms the isolation of the lovers. In a different vein, Sculpture A (Pendulums), 1968, can be regarded as an architecture of modular units, as well as an allusion, however loose, to a row of figures. But Melotti often contradicts the sense of uniformity that characterizes his works, as in Contrappunto XII, 1975–84. Indeed, the central formal question posed by his sculptures seems to be how a great sense of “deviation” from the norm can be achieved without denying it, at least as a heuristic point of departure for the exploration of “individuality.” Sometimes found objects—such as the bell and, in The Runaway, 1981, a long chain, draped over yet integral to the figure-make the deviant difference. More often, this difference emerges from the rhythmic play of material and formal opposites, as in Theme and Variations XI, 1981–84. In general, Melotti’s sculptures are like nerves stretched not to the breaking point but to a lyrical extreme.

Donald Kuspit