“Enrico Baj was ingenious, curious, acute, he stayed naive, he did not take himself seriously but he took his ideas seriously – this is the genius of being ingenious.” – Francesco Bonami, curator and writer, speaking at the opening of the Enrico Baj show.
Contentious, original and strikingly prescient, Italian artist Enrico Baj (1924-2003) was a pivotal artist and cultural presence of the European avant-garde. In this first American survey of his early paintings, Luxembourg and Dayan present major bodies of knock out work. The show has been organized with close collaboration of the artist’s widow, Roberta Cerini Baj, and longtime dealer Giorgio Marconi.
The viewer first encounters a monumental twenty foot mural “The Double Grande Jatte” (1971), made of rope, buttons, ribbons, tapestry and acrylic paint. Based on Seurat’s masterpiece, Baj recreates the painting as social commentary, with a goofy symmetry and appealing cartoonish figures.
Divided into series, the rarely seen “Furniture” is especially appealing. Wooden furniture scraps, collaged on board with knobs and veneer look coolly contemporary. “Modifications” from 1959 depict Italian starlets sharing the spotlight with weirdly cute humanoids. Here, Baj appears as Jim Shaw’s ancestor, embellishing kitschy found paintings with adorable monsters, collage, fabric and trimmings.
Baj, a lifelong anarchist, created assemblage series throughout the sixties of ruling class characters. The raw, brutish figures of “Generales and Picabaj” with wallpaper details and faded army decorations present ironic portraits of military corruption. Their female counterpoints “Ladies” made of either oil or acrylic, with padding, trimmings, found objects, depict female aristocrats, both farcical and strangely fashionable.
Encompassing art, literature and political writings, Baj was a vital figure in both the Dada and Surrealistic movements, and a member of the post war CoBrA movement. He maintained creative dialogues with peers Lucio Fontana, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and Yves Klein. In his last years, Baj’s paintings protested the election of Silvio Berlusconi.
Enrico Baj embraced his own idiosyncratic figuration, while maintaining a subversive defiance of bourgeois taste. Pataphysicist (an adherent of the absurdist pseudo-scientific movement invented by French writer Alfred Jarry), painter, poet and political dissident, Baj’s work is imbued with curiosity and compassion. His compatriot Bonami ended his gallery introduction with one truism; “We miss these kind of artists today.”
Words: Ilka Scobie photos Luigi Cazzaniga Luxembourg and Dayan until Dec. 23 – 64 EAST 77TH STREET NEW YORK NY 10075