Magazine article Artforum International

Nicolas Guagnini: Bortolami

Magazine article Artforum International

Nicolas Guagnini: Bortolami

Article excerpt

Nicolas Guagnini

Bortolami

"Who's screwing whom?" I wondered as I observed the slightly oversize ceramic conversation pieces that occupied the main space of Nicolas Guagnini's recent exhibition at Bortolami. Formed from an inventory of feet, noses, ears, and penises, these maudlin assemblages of appendages invert Deleuze's euphoric idea of a body without organs, offering heaps of organs without bodies instead. Handcrafted and doused in a series of variegated vitrified glazes--molten lava reds and drippy ectoplasmic greens--these works, like so much artwork today, insist on a deep interest in a kind of lo-fi materiality that borders on the naive and speaks to the decorative tendencies long repressed in advanced art; Rosemarie Trockel's silvered ceramics, Michaela Meise's clay faces, and Josh Smith's crafty tchotchkes, to name examples from three very different artists, come to mind as kindred spirits. Yet if the pleasure of craft was brought down to the crudest of levels, it nevertheless rested on a pillar of theory: Each save two of these polymorphously perverse objects sat upon an art book--whose subject might be Donald Judd, or Ad Reinhardt; one assemblage perched on the architectural tome Exit Utopia--that was itself placed atop an ink-dyed cedar pedestal (a shrouded reference to Carl Andre). Meanwhile, in a side gallery, two massive heads with proportionally sized penises protruding from their eye sockets surveyed the room. Terrible jokes about how a man sees and senses aside, they are rather convincing as works of art. I thought of the Colossus of Constantine; I thought of Thomas Schutte. But in contradistinction to these precedents, here was something truly, even wonderfully, grotesque.

If you find all this chauvinistic and absurd, you might be right, yet the show raised questions nevertheless. "How can an artist possibly get away with this?" I wondered. "Is this overperformance of masculinity and artistry 'masterful' or simply pathetic?" Guagnini offered some theoretical support" for his project with a long essay pasted on the walls of the main gallery that covered topics ranging from the Holocaust and slavery to fetishism and Egyptian corporal punishment. …

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