Milan

Carlo Benvenuto

A simple wooden kitchen table rests on four plastic ballpoint pen caps, while photographs of similarly ordinary objects—glasses, cups, a teapot on a tablecloth—hang on the walls. The effect of these works (all untitled, 1999) by Carlo Benvenuto is that objects and spectators seem to observe each other with equal amazement. The sense of alienation induced by the photographs is closely tied to the precarious equilibrium of the real table (and a chair as well) immobilized on those little bits of plastic, abstracted from their function by this slight elevation. In both cases, the objects have lost their functionality, their sense of use, and with it their familiar domestic existence. To restore to them their identities as glasses, cups, tablecloths, the mind has to impose itself on the gaze, for the latter doesn’t perceive them in their customary way of being, but in their anomaly. How is this effect achieved? By isolating the object, turning it into the sole actor on a stage that would normally be crowded. While a series of glasses might be New Realism, a single glass on a cloth becomes a metaphysical object. Modern Italian painting is full of “magic” (not surreal!) objects that owe their enchantment to the device of isolation, of partial decontextualization. It is only partial in that the tablecloth is on a table, as it would be under everyday circumstances, and the glass is on a tablecloth and contains water; but they are alone. For the intention is not like Duchamp’s, that of revealing the conventions both of language and of the system that makes a work a work. It is more like de Chirico’s: to reveal the secret life (“silent,” he called it) of objects in and of themselves—as noumena (to use the Kantian terminology) and not phenomena.

Only a painter can do this, and it matters little that Benvenuto uses photography here. Though he avails himself of that medium for convenience and to accentuate the clear precision that separates the object from space, he is profoundly a painter. (In his most recent works, not yet exhibited, he has finally embraced the technique of painting as well as the idea.) Painting alone, in principle, allows for the choice of what to represent and the creation of the stage on which it will appear. An artist who—even using photography—constructs a set that imitates reality thereby practices painting, creating a “tableau vivant,” a living canvas. The absence of any surrounding element, the “background noise” of reality, transforms the most common object into a mystery. In this sense, Benvenuto’s painting is deliberately traditional, artificial, and absolutely non-immediate, or rather non-“instantaneous,” despite his use of photography. The metaphor of this intention, and at the same time the result of that metaphor, lies in what the artist calls, naturally, sculptures. The table and chairs suspended on points are no longer objects, but metaphorical forms of an artistic equilibrium that is always precarious and unstable, yet perfect. This perfection is achieved on condition that no one tries to restore to those forms their status as real objects. If anyone were to sit on what once was a chair, the equilibrium of the points would be disturbed, and the spell would be broken. We would regain a chair, but in the process, destroy a work.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.