Maurizio Nannucci

Since his first appearance in a group show in 1964, Maurizio Nannucci has been investigating the relationship between word and vision. In 1967, he began using neon as a medium for his text-based work. Today Nannucci continues to explore the same territory, which is essentially that of the relationship between signifier and signified. This is what distinguishes his work from that of other pioneering Conceptualists like Joseph Kosuth, whose early work was more involved with the definition of the “thing,” or Bruce Nauman, whose art is often characterized by the emotional trace of the self.

In Nannucci’s recent exhibition “Neon Words,” the viewer encountered seven words in seven different colors and in large letters resembling signage on a building: SHOCK, LOOK, HEAR, EXPLORE, PERCEPTION, MIND, and VISION (the artist generally uses English). These isolated words are nevertheless tied by an idea that apparently establishes a sort of hierarchy among them. “Shock” is the motor of sensation, particularly in art (the idea is borrowed from Walter Benjamin), and so it lies at the vertex of this hypothetical pyramid. Then, in cascading fashion, the senses become involved (“look,” “hear”). Finally more complex and active mental workings come into play, expressed by the four remaining words. So much for the overt content of the exhibition, but as a work of Nannucci’s from 1987 reads, NOTHING NEW TO SAY BUT SOMETHING TO SAY IN A NEW WAY. What is original in Conceptual art lies not so much in its purely linguistic-structural aspects but in the form that is attributed to these and that must be effective in the territory of art rather than in that of linguistics. In this sense, Nannucci’s choice for this exhibition is audacious since in his other works—like most of those by other Conceptualists—words, all words, are generally connected to form phrases, and therefore substantially specific and complex meanings; but here the relationships between the words are in the mind of the observer, and the connection is variable. Clearly the artist’s “authorized” interpretation exists, if only through his conversation about it, but this interpretation may not be the most convincing; and the artist himself, in this case, leaves individual words open to suggestion. The connections among these, which, all things considered, are deliberately weak, find visual analogy in the colored halos that each illuminated word casts around itself. The halos become blurred, and a small area of reciprocal influence, marked by the indefiniteness of the color, tells us that between those two words there must exist some link. They are neither entirely detached from one another nor are they connected. Rather, they seem to be awaiting linkage, suspended in a sort of conceptual “standby” situation. We know through intuition or convention that one or more meaningful paths could and should connect them to each other, but we are not shown these connections.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.