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Brooklyn Rail | Enrico Baj: Alter Ego and Other Hypotheses

First of all, I loved the very idea of this central figure in the Italian neo-avant-garde indulging in his “passion for the eccentric” right here in our New York City, where we have, I daresay most of us, been known to have both a few passions and quite a few eccentrics. And how great to have been a leading member of something both neo and avant, like twice over militarily and pacifically. Indeed, as the accompanying text points out, the writings of Enrico Baj as well as his art influenced Dada, Surrealism, Art Informel, and CoBrA. Then also, he cofounded the Nuclear Art movement,and that real and realizable notion of starting up together seems massively important, indeed crucial in these so troubled days. The ennobling spirit of cooperation to the fullest appeals greatly to me, right now, as I am working with two great friends on a project roughly conceived as an investigation of the possible intertwinings of obsession, omission, and possession.


Goodness, Enrico Baj subverted conventions of all sorts, combining genres of all sorts: paintings, collages, sculptures, drawings, and objects (I am particularly given over to those objects of any kinds) and on top of that, the so-dreaded kitsch menacing and even ghosting the authentic whatever. In fact, heavens above! So of course, as an indeed impassioned partisan of Surrealism (just try me!) I could instantly fall for the figure of Enrico Baj, without having been able (of course) to meet him. Since, as I have happily admitted and repeated probably too many times and then some, I fell in love with Surrealism because of André Breton’s face far before his writings (!); my way of falling is just the reason I write about anything, let alone Surrealism. So I fell for this entire exhibition and on a personal note, because I firmly believe in personal criticism, I had to roll around in a walker so as not to fall physically, the visual and verbal objects had to be confronted closely and felt super-full of intensity. How not?


It is, gloriously, about two sorts of dialogue: one with the artists important to his own work, and another, wonderfully imagined, with the aftercomers of younger generations. Now that doubled dialogue enormously speaks to me, and I will utter only a few words as the later aftercomer I am proving to be.

Of course, we can see the mockery of the military grandiosity as that creepy-beyond-belief general rears himself up, and the direct links with other Milanese artists like the all-around fascinating Picabia of so many styles. Always interesting is Asger Jorn, and no less so is the accounting of their working together in that “Modifications” series with its revisions of some kitsch pieces. Of special interest, as is everything connected with Marcel Duchamp, is Baj’s close friendship with the mercurial artist, as the accompanying text points out. Their collaboration on Duchamp’s beyond-delightful L.H.O.O.Q. (1919) bridges most obviously his Dada and Baj’s Neo-Dada. Lots of other earlier and later associations abound, but for me what prevails in this just-the-right-size exhibition is a kind of super-Dada feel to the whole thing.


As you go from the room on the north side to that on the south, you might enjoy some trait of recognition of your own voyage—or as the New York Times piece of May 16, 2024 takes a two-page discussion to investigate the term, your journey of recognition from Baj-bewilderment to the actual enlivening presence still now of Dada.

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