Critical Essays and Books
Supermarket and mass culture — which is the same thing — indicate that it’s necessary to immediately cancel one of the grand surrealist projects: art everywhere and belonging to everyone.
Even though considering Surrealism as the greatest artistic movement of the century, and the most fortunate joint venture of poets, men of letters and artists; while having the highest esteem for my friend Andre Breton and his battle for safeguarding of political and poetic freedoms; and notwithstanding the fact that I completely share the inclination and — I would say — love for anarchy, I’m forced to believe that the proposal of “all of us are artists” (in short, that art can be done by everybody) is a harmful utopia.
Harmful because at this rate anyone feels authorized to do everything and this is what the waste, smash up and glut society wants. [At this rate anyone could be a doctor or a surgeon — and aren’t those ones who have graduated from university not dangerous enough? — given that also medicine is an art and, on the contrary, that art is a therapy: one of the most important therapies this deranged and neurotic world of ours.]
Here we affirm that the artist is the person who declares this in a decided way, giving proof of it by way of his or her own activity and involvement. The involvement has to be complex and totalizing, as for a Michelangelo, a Leonardo or a Picasso.
An artist is also the person who decides to elevate whatever kind of object to the status of art — and who ‘autographs’ it. Provided — as in the case of Marcel Duchamp and irrespective of the irony and the gesture — that the operation is the fruit of a determinate form of behavior and of a significant way of expressing oneself within the context of the artistic dialectic of one’s own times.
In this way “Fountaine”, of 1917, is valid within the context resulting from and following the Armory Show. It loses value, instead, in the involuted and hair-splitting discussions of contemporary criticism.
In the present-day situation of profound depression that is being suffered by formal art there are those who insists on self-promotion and on the control and increment of their own quotations at the ‘stock exchange’ of Sotheby’s and Christie’s (this being a financial activity in which many artists are real experts). In my opinion, an artist has to aim much higher than the price of a Van Gogh. The artist has strength — as also to an immunizing complex for everybody — against the syndrome of disappearance and destruction. The artist has to use art as “a combat weapon” (as Pablo said) and consider it as the antidote to the viscous poisons of that tentacular octopus with its flaccid belly of liquid silver, evoked by Le Comte de Lautreamont, Isidore Ducasse. And finally, the artist must make his or her work the armor and shield in protection the imaginary and of the contemplation of the world. We — here and now — are not free to contemplate the firmament, and not even a work of art. We can only look at Coca Cola and Campbell’s Soup.
According to Calderon life is a dream, not a skyscraper with steel guts. And the work of art is a materialization of that dream. It is an object that you can contemplate, touch and penetrate.
Shalom knows — and has known for a long time — that the situation is a toxic one. In the state of things he conceives his own, peculiar multimedial Fusion Art which is a critical projection of our Paradise of goods, of shit in tins and of the media: that is, of our Toxic Paradise.
LSD, mescaline, cocaine, heroin, crack, ecstasy, cat, etcetera, are sold and consumed retail. They constitute precarious evasions from that prison which the system of symbols builds around our consciousness/awareness. Although Shalom is the bearer of the historical memory and testimony of persecutions, of the Gulag, of the fragility of being and of its disappearance. As an artist, in order to escape from the concentrative global village, Shalom integrates his own self within territories that are vaster, more exotic, infinite inside his own being. It is a difficult journey, the one within; much more difficult than navigation in space, as Carl Gustav Jung warned It is a journey inside the myth, lying outside the normal space-time parameters, in the search for cultural archetypes as Octavio Paz did in the heart of the ancient pre-Columbian civilizations.
I met Shalom on the Lower East Side in May of 1989. He gave me a small painting in which a man —in relief—is looking at a naked woman stretched out on a bed. Here the perspective serves to introduce the self of the artists (and also the self of the onlooker) into that room, that self which according to Duchamp has to complete the work. The presence of the nude indicates the reference to a situation that is private, reserved, probably intimate. The work makes up a small installation measuring 14 x 9 inches.
We have another work that is collocated in a situation contrary to the one described above. I’m referring to Big Dick, a grotesque character with a “swelled head” mounted on bicycle wheels (which were also those that Marcel sent to the Armory Show).
The Head of Big Dick is full of mechanical parts, lights, voice-activated controls, remote controls and sound chip pieces of humorous and cryptic dialogues.
Between Stanton, Orchard and Rivington we find Shalom’s daily territory. Although, effectively speaking, he is elsewhere, among chromatic, extremely luminous and alchemical horizons. A sort of Far West of painting where the phantasma landscape is the metaphor of that paradise created by a Chromo Addict Super Self. These peculiar images are based on scanned photos manipulated in Photoshop. The larger pieces represent a fusion of painting which creates the illusion of 3 dimensional spaces with sculptural elements and samples of everyday disposable detritus, as well an ironic homage to the hyper-macho mindset that is easily marketable, consumable and disposable.
In T.A.Z., Hakim Bey, in treating the problem of ontological anarchy, addresses the heart of todays expectation of apocalypse when he writes: “One of the signs of that End Time so many seem to anticipate would consist of a fascination with the most negative and hateful detritus of the time (“N.Y.C. a paradise of detritus”; and Shalom says: “I’m tired to be surrounded by noise and garbage”) … Now the End of the World is an abstraction because it never happened. It has no existence in the world. It will cease to be an abstraction only when it happens — it if happens”. Which if this really happens — we can add — the word END would lose whatever semantic value and the uselessness of the abstraction as a form of futurist terrorism would be demonstrated once again.
Big Dick is not abstract or unreal, it is not pure form, because it is a solid object, turgid due to the erection, vulgar and attractive at one and the same time.
Irrespective of the scurrilous paronomasia, in the first place Big Dick is the representation of Orwell’s Big Brother: he who orders \and submits the whole world by means of a remote control of minds.
Big Dick is the synthesis which evokes technological attraction and human repugnance, beauty and disgust. The spectator is in this way goaded into that field of opposed judgments and events that make up the system of contradictions. According to Edgar Morin, this system gives rise to the dialogue of the antagonisms and of the thought of opposites. In its turn, the idea of the contemporaneity of opposites and of their equivalences gives rise to the critical investigation regarding the mystery of where, from amongst others, we encounter Heraclitus, Pascal, Hegel, Niels Bohr and the erotic pataphysicist, Bart Plantenga.
It is precisely thanks to the last author mentioned — Bart — that we arrive at the second hypothesis: this hypothesis immediately presupposes a denial.
Big Dick is not Big Brother but is — wonder of wondere! — the new American Ibu, the most up-to-date reincarnation of the very famous King Ubu, King of Poland and Aragon, inventor of Pataphysics, the science “which we have invented because one felt a great need for it”.
What does Ubu represent? All the vulgarity and arrogance of power. Although not only this. Ubu-Dick is an expressionist figurative machine which expresses, which communicates with expression: this machine which expresses, which communicates with expression: this machine-king-boss makes itself the guarantor and repository of all of the Absurd, of all Irony, of the entire caricature of this adorable and repugnant fin de siecle of ours. Ubu-Dick presents the winning paradox of an alogical reality, where man still plays at believing in conventional and formal values such as Money, Time, (time is money), Justice (one needs the electrolytic chair), God (there’s one available for every clan) and Humanity (the American way of life).
The absurd, irony, the paradox and satire which are continuously materialized in Shalom’s work constitute the best strategies that we can prepare in order to safeguard our temporary autonomous zone and our psychic equilibriums, overwhelmed and swept away in the chaos of contradictory complexity.
Effectively speaking, by way of Shalom’s work one reaffirms the present-day
(translated by Howard Rodger MacLean)
Enrico Baj was one of Italy’s most important contemporary artists. Baj had a decisive role in shaping the avant-garde of the 1950’s. Baj founded the artistic movement “Movimento Nucleare” in 1951 and, together with Asger Jorn, announced “Le Mouvement international pour une Bauhaus Imaginiste” in 1953. These artistic movements set themselves against the rationalization and goemetrization of art. Along with Jorn and other artists of the group COBRA, Enrico Baj maintained an intense artistic exchange with others on the cutting-edge of art history establishing close ties with Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, E. L. T. Mesens, Fontana, Manzoni and Yves Klein.
Baj’s images, with their mushroom clouds and devastated landscapes, had obvious political and social relevance. This is reflected in the Arte Nucleare (Nuclear Art) movement which he founded with Sergio Dangelo in 1951. His deep interest with all things nuclear led him to apply the term “heavy water” to the emulsions of enamal paint and distilled water that he used in the late 50s. A recurrent feature in his work is the use of incongruous backgrounds made from fabrics. His work also featured found objects such as buttons, belts and military medals.
Baj was very close to the pioneers of Dada and Surrealism. Like the Surrealists he was attracted to pataphysics, “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments” as defined by Alfred Jarry. It is a parody of the theory and methods of modern science and is often expressed in nonsensical language. Baj founded the Pataphsyic Institute of Milan in 1963 with Man Ray and others. His friendship and collatoration with Marcel Duchamp resulted in a provocative version of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Convinced that mass consumption had produced a culture in which artistic invention was replaced by repetition and kitsch, Baj created numerous works using motifs of other artists from Seurat, Picasso, and De Chirico.
Baj continued to create works that savaged political and cultural orthodoxy and expressed his horror at the corruption and environmental degradation of the planet. In his visual works, including paintings, drawings, collages, objects, and sculptures, Baj developed his own grotesque figure world, using it against bourgeois conventions and societal and political misunderstandings. Baj also showed a strong orientation toward literature. He illustrated several books, co-authored various books on artists, and was himself active as a writer. Ever since his participation in the Biennale in Venice in 1964, many European museums have dedicated exhibitions to Baj’s works. His works have been exhibited in the world’s leading galleries and museums.
Enrico Baj died in Verigiate, Italy on June 16, 2003.
Enrico Baj's essay about Shalom Neuman published in the book SHALOM NEUMAN - 40 Years of Fusion Art, 1967 - 2007