Milan

Gianfranco Baruchello, Volumi, pieghe, ombelichi e farfalle (Volumes, Folds, Navels, and Butterfiles), 1977, mixed media on aluminum, 19 5/8 x 19 5/8".

Gianfranco Baruchello, Volumi, pieghe, ombelichi e farfalle (Volumes, Folds, Navels, and Butterfiles), 1977, mixed media on aluminum, 19 5/8 x 19 5/8".

Gianfranco Baruchello

Galleria Milano

Gianfranco Baruchello, Volumi, pieghe, ombelichi e farfalle (Volumes, Folds, Navels, and Butterfiles), 1977, mixed media on aluminum, 19 5/8 x 19 5/8".

You don’t know where to look first in Gianfranco Baruchello’s paintings. Very small drawings, meticulous and extremely precise, populate large canvases, where the whiteness of the ground dominates. As the eye traverses the void, it discovers possible narrative connections among these “atoms,” which are made up of figures, objects, and written phrases that come together in fragile groups to which we seek to give meaning, precisely as we attribute a shape to some stars in the firmament, calling them a constellation. Or perhaps it is like a contemporary score in the style of John Cage, in which the performer, in this case the eye, can choose where to begin, where to end, and which path to follow. With Baruchello, surveyed here in an exhibition concisely covering fifty years of work, the reference to Cage is not coincidental, and nods to Marcel Duchamp or to the poet Alain Jouffroy would also be relevant, though Baruchello’s poetics are articulated in a different manner. In fact, one of the strong points of his work is the organization of chance, which, like Cage, he considers a fundamental element of experience.

Baruchello’s films are perhaps better known than his pictorial work. The most famous of them, Verifica incerta (Uncertain Verification), was made with Alberto Grifi in 1964, shown in Paris one year later, and then exhibited in 1966 in New York at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. The work was made using found footage, with clips brutally assembled with adhesive tape. Baruchello’s paintings are also made from found material, but the “clips” used for the creation of a narrative are images layered in the mind and restored to the world through a reconstruction that is drawn almost calligraphically, defining the image through a technique like that of a graphic or fashion designer. Everything is extremely precise—except the overall sense of the narrative. In the end, his is a variation on the poetics of the fragment, in which a reductio ad absurdum only demonstrates the futility of any attempt to construct the “grand narratives” of modernity. Journeys can only be individual; stories are always microstories; and if contact can exist between artist and public, it should be sought in the chance sharing of sensations, images, and impulses, or in the construction of paths simply stimulated by one of these elements not in any intellectual superstructure.

Paradoxically, during the years when Baruchello emerged onto the scene (more or less the period leading up to and away from the rebellions of 1968), his kind of absolutely individualistic stance, that of a flaneur among images, became emblematic of a patently political position that the artist employed, perhaps despite himself, to suggest a new way of looking at reality—of necessity, an anarchic one. One grasps this above all in his illustrations for the magazines of the counterculture; less refined but perhaps more authentic than his more formal works, they stay close to his observation that, since the world has been atomized into millions of personal stories, to try to give them all a unified meaning would be perhaps useless and even damaging. It would be sufficient to give meaning to each of them separately.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.