ENRICO BAJ: DAME IDRAULICHE
Gallery Isabella Bortolozzi | 10785 Berlin | Schöneberger Ufer 61 | 2020
Enrico Baj: Surrealismus 3.0
Review by Christina-Marie Lümen
Copernicus Meets Machine Age. Enrico Baj's (1924-2003) works at Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi take the spirit of classical modernism further and translate it into the language of the 21st century. Mysterious and absurd, they inspire a not-too-serious contemplation of the present, revealing their poetic-philosophical depth.
Installation view, Enrico Baj, Dame Idrauliche, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, 2020, Courtesy Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin. Photos: Roman März.
Upon entering the gallery rooms, I immediately feel transported back to the flair of the classical avant-garde, a mixture of Dadaism and Surrealism: In the first room, a multitude of smaller and larger sculptures made of machine parts of bygone times, pumps, valves, pipes (greet). All works give an impression of scientific models, only the meaning remains unclear. Some of the names give distant hints: "Eraclito" ("Heraclitus", 2002), "Talete" ("Thales", 2002) - hard physical stuff. Regarding the work "Monumento a Erone di Alessandria" ("Monument to Herone of Alexandria," 2003): Astronomy meets machine meets phallus. The action seems somehow enraptured and at the same time absolutely orderly. An atmosphere between laboratory, cabinet and museum. The ambience of the gallery rooms complements this impression perfectly, the dark wood of the floorboards forms a beautiful color interplay with the dark red velvet of some works and the copper, bronze as well as silver of the machine parts. Time seems to be stopped, slightly eerie
Enrico Baj, Monumento a Erone di Alessandria, 2003, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, 2020, Courtesy Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin. Photos: Roman März.
In the second room it becomes more material, more human. Seven large-format collages made of heavy fabric, cords, and again machine elements are presented. Faces and figures can clearly be recognized in the arrangements, but due to their materiality they point more in the direction of "Alf" or Cookie Monster, rather than seeming to conceal people in them. Interestingly, the titles - "Señora Saona" (2002), "Madama Struma" (2002) - suggest a female identity of the depicted; the first associations of the female author, however, are clearly male. The clash of materials is held together only by the fact that the objects in turn seem to refer to a different time. And by their prominent arrangement of the artist.
Installation view, Enrico Baj, Dame Idrauliche, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin. Photos: Roman März.
Enrico Baj was born in Milan in 1924 and was one of the - few - Italian artists of the international avant-garde of the second half of the 20th century. In the 1960s he exhibited with the French Surrealists (second generation) around André Breton, he also joined the "Collège de Pataphysique", an absurdist concept of philosophy and science, which dealt with modern theory and science education in a parodic way. In 2002, he was elevated to the rank of "Transcendent Satrap," an honor that Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst, for example, had enjoyed before him.
Enrico Baj, Sciura Schelda, 2002, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, 2020,
Courtesy Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin. Photos: Roman März.
The works in the exhibition actually seem to date from the 1960s, but Baj made them shortly before his death, in 2002-03. Where he took his materials from remains a mystery; household liquidations, factory demolitions, flea markets? Some metal elements give clues like "Excelsior Pompe Como" or "F.Lli Frattino" to Italy as a possible place of origin. The work "Isaac Newton 2" is simplicity at its best and at the same time conveys the ironic-parodic spirit that runs through almost all of Baj's works and refers back to the "Collège de Pataphysique".
Enrico Baj, Isaac Newton 2, 2003, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin. Photos: Roman März.
Leaving the gallery, I first have to get used to the cars on Schöneberger Ufer, the construction sites, the year 2020. Despite the remoteness of the experience, the question of "Why?" is not asked, it does not arise before the works. Each seems perfect in itself, in the sense of a perfection and necessity of visual arrangement. The meaning is inherent. So is intellectual entertainment and visual pleasure. "If you seek truth, be open to the unexpected, for it is hard to find and confusing when you do." - Heraclitus seems to have anticipated Baj's work.