Maurizio Arcangeli

THE WORD, the signifier that defines the word, the object the word indicates—these make up the system with which Maurizio Arcangeli always has operated. The formal correspondence between the words un quadro (a painting) or una scultura (a sculpture) and the words' component letters, created from stretchers built in the shape of vowels and consonants and covered with canvas, or carved from travertine marble, might seem like one of the extreme end points of conceptualism, comparable to Giulio Paolini's Geometric Design, 1960, where a small canvas was marked only by the geometric coordinates of the squaring of the space, theoretical container of all possible paintings. Likewise when Arcangeli hangs a painting on the wall, it somehow contains all the paintings that we might see at that moment, with minimal connotations dictated by the color of the letters or by their shape. Are we dealing, then, with a simple variation on a familiar idiom? The answer is that any language is made up of variants, while its fundamental logical postulates are really very few in number. Thus, working from a limited number of assumptions, one can produce a wide variety of formal results.

What Arcangeli puts into the field—which more or less corresponds to the statement “a painting is a painting”—is as tautological as any of its predecessors in Conceptual art, but his use of different linguistic systems effects a shift in the simultaneous perception of the word and the thing. In his most recent show, “Life Thought Art Love” (all works 2001), the artist introduced a further element of analysis: The words that gave the show its title were formed by a sequence of flags used for international maritime communication. Language emerged in relief as an abstract. vividly colored pattern, incomprehensible for some, absolutely conventional and precise for others—those who know the code. Communication, this implied, is a fundamentally simple system, but only if one possesses the key. The artist's work is made up of small shifts, elementary deviations: from word to color, from signal to word. Everything is unequivocal and determined, except the overall result.

On the one hand, Arcangeli seems to suggest, the signal appears as the deterministic variant of the sign: It signifies only one thing, because it has been conceived precisely to avoid errors, for clarity of communication. On the other hand, the context within which the signal is inserted is complex. Thus, unexpectedly, the signal, the code, loses its communicative precision because it is invested with a flood of significations that may not pertain to its meaning but which constitute an integral part of its context. What assume importance are colors, juxtapositions, and perceptual fields; only after these are apprehended—or at most simultaneously—does the codified value of the signal reemerge. But this value cannot be ignored, because what those colors tell us is not something indifferent. They do not serve merely to give definition to the signal, but instead acquire the sense of a profound definition of “a painting.” Life, thought, art, love—these are what make a painting a painting, a work. Thus the circle closes in on itself, in what one might call a sentimental signifying system.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.