New York

Andrea Vizzini

Marisa Del Re Gallery

It’s a slaughter of the innocents! In his new paintings, Andrea Vizzini rounds up some of the greats of art history without much pretense of due process. In Copertura (Cover-up), 1989, Albrecht Dürer’s glorious self-portrait as an elegant young Venetian is hidden behind a frame that’s bolted like a prison door. It’s been reproduced on a fragment of canvas, the colors leeched, and casually attached to a board as though it were an old pinup. In an untitled 1996–97 painting, a real pinup, Titian’s Venus of Urbino, suffers a similar fate. The goddess’ lower half is covered by a huge white triangle, and half of her face is veiled by a parallelogram; a vertical white rectangle completes the obliteration. Implicitly, the canvas is returned to emptiness, and Venus’ seductiveness is destroyed by analysis.

Again and again Vizzini works over old masterpieces, doing a number on Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne and his Danaë, and Venuses by Rubens and Giorgione, among other works. Does he have something against gorgeous women? Maybe they epitomize for him the beauty of which these painters were capable. Picasso’s Crucifixion and a Warhol flower painting also get the treatment, but they’re the exceptions: all the other works Vizzini dissects, with pseudo-intellectual bravado and theoretical hocus-pocus, are justly famous but perhaps no longer relevant to the development of art or to contemporary culture. Is Vizzini suggesting that these twentieth-century masters are also useless relics? I think his negation of the Picasso and the Warhol is beside the main thrust of this group of paintings, and suggests that Vizzini’s practice of negating has become a stylistic tic.

Vizzini’s obsession with the old masters—particularly those from Venice, where he lives—also evinces a strong identification with them, as Self-Portrait Like Antonello, 1997, makes clear. In this ambivalence we have a familiar postmodern trope: appropriation of “great” art involving equal parts disdain and admiration and cloaked in critique. Vizzini makes these Renaissance works contemporary, as it were, by factoring them into his blueprintlike abstractions, where they all but disappear; but the fragments that remain visible are tantalizingly and startlingly vital—more vital than the “concept” into which Vizzini draws them.

The temptation old-master art poses to appropriationists has been a constant since the dissolution of the avant-garde. Applying the method of the latter to the images of the former, Vizzini attempts to reconcile them, but instead suggests only the enormous gulf that separates their goals, worlds, and cultures. In his clumsy way, he finds commonality only in their shared obsolescence. The void in Vizzini’s pictures is that left by the meaning these traditions no longer carry.

So while the attack on tradition is a hallmark of the avant-garde, the geometric scrims Vizzini uses to wipe the slate clean are themselves merely a cliché that he deadens through overuse. His symbolic defacing of the old masters serves to corroborate the emptiness of such gestures of renunciation. We leave him, at exhibition’s end, stuck on the horns of his own dilemma, with no way to free himself.

Donald Kuspit