New York

Giovanni Anselmo

New York convention has it that an artist of any ambition does not exhibit without having an impressive number of works on hand, or else a spectacular, room-filling installation. All the more so, as in Giovanni Anselmo’s case, if it’s been seven years since the last show and viewers may need to be reminded of the artist’s stature. Yet what Anselmo presented was nothing more than five tall slabs of dark granite, fixed to the wall with iron braces that looked rather like columns or pilasters.

It was the title, L’Aura della pittura (The aura of painting), that served to indicate that what counted was not so much this stone colonnade as what it was supporting: the softly glowing halations of color—the primaries red, yellow, and blue, but also orange and green—that the unseen tops of the slabs, thanks presumably to some reflective paint, projected onto the gallery walls above them. This was aura in the most literal sense, but with no more mystery about it than there is to Dan Flavin’s fluorescent tubes. Still, it was this most immaterial aspect of the work that we were to understand as its point or substance, not the more obvious and physically imposing part, which turned out to be merely a presentational device—the aura’s ostensorium. More important, this hierarchy (material support at the service of immaterial effect), elegantly and somehow modestly monumentalized this way, was clearly to he taken neither as a strategy nor as a hypothesis, but as the affirmation of an artistic credo.

The work was as simple, as concise, as lapidary as that. Its lightness of effect might have given the impression of something gently poetic, almost naive, like a simple tune played on the five notes of the diatonic scale, but it would be more correct to see it as didactic and ideological. According to Anselmo, it seems, an exhibition takes place when an artist has arrived at an aesthetic statement that has attained a certain degree of clarity in its formulation, if not in its implications. Were more artists to uphold this criterion, it would undoubtedly reduce the number of exhibitions significantly, as well as change the nature of those that do occur. Would that serve art or stifle it? It is a measure of Anselmo’s seriousness that L’Aura della pittura must be taken not only as a solicitation of the senses, although by its own admission it would be nothing were it not also that, but also as a proposition to be verified or falsified on the basis of experience.

Barry Schwabsky