Washington, DC

Fabian Marcaccio

Baumgartner Galleries

In his recent exhibition, Argentinian-born Fabian Marcaccio presented four major paintings and several smaller works on paper (all works 1996–97). In the larger pieces—dazzling, quirky, and highly mannered objects that he calls “paintants,” a conflation of the words “painting,” “replicant,” and “mutant” —canvas is pulled tautly over stretchers, made from irregularly shaped copper tubing, that protrude several inches from the wall. Except in the case of Paintant #3, a row of nylon cords fastens the canvas directly to the wall (and in the case of Paintant #4 to the floor as well). The results look something like the underside of a trampoline with people on it, or a tarp fastened with bungee cords over bulky objects that poke and push its surface. Unlike his earlier, more traditional structures, the disrupted surfaces create a tension that is literal as well as pictorial. The cords are seemingly the only things that prevent the work from erupting into the gallery space. The aggressive physical shape of these pieces complements Marcaccio’s now-characteristic style, whose dynamic elements lock together in a precarious balancing act: brushstrokes meander through woven patterns; drips break out of these brushstrokes to become entangled in the tendrillike extensions of biomorphic forms.

Little in these works, however, is as straightforward as it seems. A case in point is Paintant #1, in which a large orange brushstroke appears to be drawn from the center of the picture toward the upper-right-hand corner, where it ends in a puddle of paint; but it also seems to flow downward, abruptly culminating in two small drips spilling in opposite directions. Clearly, this is not an AbEx gesture. Akin to Lichtenstein’s cartoon brushstroke, Marcaccio’s is a thoroughly fabricated mark that exemplifies the manufactured, synthetic nature of the building blocks from which his works are composed. Carefully calculated rather than spontaneous, these elements come from the pamphlet 560 Conjunctures for a New Paint Management, 1996, containing a myriad of pictorial elements. For instance, a notch in the side of the orange brushstroke derives from conjuncture #5; the woven pattern next to it, from #151; and the brick wall in Paintant #3 comes from #412. Moreover, these pre-fab visual components are not painted, but silk-screened onto canvas, allowing scale and color to be manipulated and doing away with any sense of the artist’s hand. This enhances the artificial, mannered look of these elements while the discrepancy in their sizes deprives the viewer of a logical and consistent vantage point from which to comprehend the pictures, something that contributes to their dizzying effect.

Marcaccio’s impersonations of painting evoke the by-now-familiar lament: that there is no unmediated reality, everything is simulated. Yet for the first time in his work, Marcaccio adds crowd scenes, camouflage, and fatigue patterns as backgrounds for “conjectures” that in his work metamorphose into swastikas, hammers and sickles, stars, and the symbols for yin and yang, male and female. With these new elements, we suddenly find ourselves in the midst of what looks like, at least in Paintant #1 and Paintant #3, a map of Europe convulsing under the pressures of competing ideologies. Here the notion that all is illusory collides with the visible signs of social, sexual, and political realities, reminding us that even in the postmodern world, what is supposedly unreal can have very tangible consequences indeed.

Howard Risatti