from 19 May 2015 to 31 October 2015
Vincenzo Agnetti’s career marks one of the high points achieved in Italy in terms of the consistency and investigative élan of the conceptual trends that have been at work since the end of the seventies, delving into the very idea of art, of the dialectic relationship between object and concept and of cross-fertilisations between visual process and mental process. After he first started his activity at the end of the fifties, his experience of partnering with the magazine Azimuth (1959-1960), founded by Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani, projected him onto an international stage that thrust him ever more actively into the flow of European neo-avant-gardes, enabling him to cultivate – as we learn from his writings about the works of Manzoni and other artist friends of his – an investigation about art in the form of spontaneous interventions, where we already find early evidence of his intention not to separate creativity from criticism, despite starting from an environment transversal to that of the artist and the art critic. It is this transverse approach and the plurality of his fields of interest that was later to crystallise into a precise, constant approach moving in a direction counter to the specificity of idioms. For his work, to which he returned in 1967 after having abandoned it in two ways in 1962 – when he left both art and Italy to go to work in the field of electronic automation in Argentina – this meant developing an interchangeable and interconnected use of idioms, rather like when a mathematical code overlaps a literary or lexical one (or vice-versa, as in his 1968 work Macchina Drogata, or Drugged Machine), or when epigrammatic statements interfere with a visual image, creating contradictions, paradoxes and tautologies (as in the Bakelite pieces in the series of Axioms). Organised in partnership with Andrea Alibrandi’s Florence-based Il Ponte gallery, the exhibition at the Studio Visconti calls attention to the extent to which Vincenzo Agnetti’s research was articulated on the expansion of every form of language and idiom against the separation between and limitation of the disciplines and their apperception, favourable to cross-fertilisation between fields of knowledge and operating contexts, between exact sciences and the disciplines of the humanities. Yet if one of the reasons why Agnetti abandoned art in 1962 was because he had grown intolerant of the work of art as an object where the artist’s thought is materialised, or fossilised, he later overcame this anexpressive radical posture when he found a balanced circularity between the artistic product and its logical-discursive formulation, whose simple value of demonstrative visualisation the object can sometimes adopt. In other words, Agnetti found a way out of the rut that threatened all artists after the heroic era of the Informel, which had celebrated the ego as the subject, the “centre, author and creator of its own objects and of its own world”, as Louis Althusser put it. The refutation of the ego-referential “humanistic function” does not blossom here into Joseph Kosuth’s tautological radicalism, no more so than the pure theoretical speculation of the English group Art & Language restricted the discussion about art through articles, essays and public debates, but it flows into a reintegration of the objet d’art as a simple ‘reminder’ that is never stable once it has first been reset to zero, but always runs the risk of being overturned into its own opposite, as Agnetti himself pointed out when talking about the 1972 book Tesi: “The first part is an attempt to build a world without objects, a discourse without any objects. The second part is an analysis of this world without any objects, conducted by reviving the use of objects. The one is the overturned version of the other.” Since his research was so objective, then, he could afford to reincorporate into his discourse certain contents considered taboo by the more extremist conceptual trends, such as subjective, existentialist or nihilist implications, as in the case of his 1969 work Libri dimenticati a memoria (Books forgotten to memory), with erasures and denials brought to the surface by the Neg, an electronic instrument he had invented in 1970 that cancelled out sound to return it to silence, its exact opposite, highlighting pauses rather than the music, while the same thing happened in parallel with words being replaced by punctuation, or actually by graphs and dots.
In Vincenzo Agnetti’s work, whose principles are cohesive, while its manifestations are manifold, if the subject that desires is expunged, the same can never be said of an anthropological vision that, as Tommaso Trini pointed out, investigates what happens behind things, on their flipside, the negative and the alphabetic nonsense, because, as Roland Barthes would have it, once a book has died with its author, knowledge will travel under the surface: not in the evidence of rational daytime discourse, but in mankind’s biological and genetic memory, unconscious of itself, yet determining itself, so that it will never need to use the memory to remember, because it is already in the position of one who has used the memory to forget and of one who remains committed to a constant labour of demyfistication about the nature of art, its essence and its function.