Enzo Cucchi

Paolo Curti / Annamaria Gambuzzi & Co.

After an absence of three years, Enzo Cucchi returned to Milan with an exhibition, “Prima neve” (First Snow), dominated by a single, large, plaster sculpture located in the first room of this modestly sized gallery. Il comandante della luce in perlustrazione (The Commander of Light on Patrol; all works 2004) recalls those vertical sculptures in Gothic cathedrals that were elongated to compensate for being viewed from below, and it greeted the visitor with a strongly ambiguous charge. The nude male figure alludes to the features of Christ—head bowed, long beard and hair, sunken eyes—and brings to mind the deposition from the cross. His arms cover his genitals and, even more incongruously, one of them, wrapped behind his back, gives the image an almost derisive appearance, allowing religious allusion to coexist with its parodic reversal. This mocked Christ is presented to us as a two-faced Janus, simultaneously tragic and grotesque; like some bulky hunchback, the character has a skull behind its head, its flayed and negative double, also bowed, its empty gaze turned downward. If the man who covers his groin and buttocks seems to hold himself in a stylized, almost feminine posture, the same figure seen from the side seems monstrous, with an absurd and lugubrious protuberance growing out from its neck. In the space between the two heads, the lumpiness of the material evokes the mountains we have seen so often in Cucchi’s paintings, an almost fairy-tale world where characters of dual nature wander about in archaized landscapes. It has been a long time since the artist has shown work as powerful as this extraordinary sculpture, which is exacting in terms of its fabrication and both emotionally formidable and disquieting in terms of its possible meanings.

At once classicizing and barbaric—looking at it face on, I thought of Michelangelo’s unfinished, rough-hewn masterpiece Rondanini Pietà (1555–64)—sacred and carnal, refined and vulgar, the work brings us back to the sort of pantheistic and popular religiosity that has characterized much of Cucchi’s best work. Here it heats up from a particularly chilly and nocturnal, indeed Gothic, temperature, evoked by the looming skull, like a somewhat carnivalesque yet still alarming memento mori.

The exhibition ended with two series of plaster works—“Lavori di bisogni della pelle” (Works of Needs of the Skin) and “Lavori di chi pensa alle cavalla” (Works of Those Who Think About Mares)—that call into question the distinctions between painting and sculpture, image and frame, text and commentary. In both, small nests made from interwoven plaster twigs appear like so many painted containers, mounted on tables, not walls, yet acting as frames for a series of watercolors inhabited by human beings, roosters, and wild boars. Once again, Cucchi’s enigmatic naturalism is combined with his tireless search for surprising technical and formal solutions.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.