Enrico Baj, Modificazioni, Photo AFC
Given the quantity of hipster alien art showing up in Williamsburg and Chelsea, I tend to be cautious about getting excited over extraterrestrials – often to the point of avoiding it all together – so certainly the Alien headshot by Enrico Baj on the Friedrich Petzel website wasn’t providing any compelling reasons to seek the work out. And it’s a shame, because to utter a phrase I hoped never to turn, Baj’s mixed media and sculptural works transcend popular representations of aliens.
Largely constructed in the early sixties, Baj brings together a mess of unusual materials including drapery, shag rugs, pipes, and perforated metal, to create a number of rather amusing figures. All of this was done with the end goal of destroying all forms of painting “isms”, and while we can point to success of neoexpressionist David Salle and observe that Baj unfortunately failed, we at least have a very contemporary looking exhibition to discuss.
Enrico Baj, Modificazioni detail, Photo AFC
At the time he drew from Surrealists like Max Ernst and Andre Breton, and created works based upon kitschy commercial paintings in order to push the idea of anti art, though today the approach is so commonly used that if anything it reaffirms a popular approach to art making rather than rejecting the notion. Not that this has any bearing on the quality of the work. What distinguishes Baj from contemporary art makers is his ability to find compatibility within diverse materials and surfaces. Take for instance the detail from the above Modificazioni paintings which features painted metal, felt, curtains/rugs, and painted surfaces. Very few artists would think to bring these materials together much less know how to organize them and create surfaces that work.
Several copper colored alien sculptures populate the back room, in addition to some excellent new wall mounted mixed media works. The figurative shape of said sculptures is overly predictable but given the strength of the rest of the exhibition I’m happy to simply look past this. Also, the artist died a year after making them at age 79, so some slack should probably be granted. Never say we aren’t generous over here at AFC.