The Italian people are no stranger to political turmoil, and as the ruling against Silvio Berlusconi’s in office immunity shows that the tide is likely to change at any time. This turbulent political atmosphere reaches all the way back to Italy’s unification in the last quarter of the 19th century and has manifested itself in many unique artistic forms. The Futurists of the early 20th century embraced the unsettled nature of Italian society and wed it with the new technological improvements of the day. This union lead to a violent and destructive disposition that nearly ended in their willing participation in World War I. Many of those who survived Italy’s brief wartime experience became artists in service of the Fascist regime, leaving a dark spot on the legacy of the Futurists, one that scholars debate to this day. Although activists against the government were always present, the post war climate was much more accommodating to their dispositions and fostered a golden age of design and film-making.
Many artists of the period following World War II found themselves deeply traumatized by the conflict and acted out against any form of militant rhetoric. As the dust from the Second World War settled the superpowers settled into the Cold War, drawing the ire of artists internationally. Enrico Baj was one of these artists, an artist who would spend a great deal of his life combating the new militancy of the day. Born into a wealthy Milanese family, the artist exposed his dissenting nature at a young age, mocking a fascist official as a child and fleeing to Geneva in order to avoid conscription in 1944. These adolescent episodes would culminate in an artistic voice that found itself at odds with many political decisions and leaders of his lifetime, including the aforementioned Berlusconi.
Baj’s artwork eventually evolved to a point in which these strong political feelings became the driving motivation behind his artwork. Initially influenced by the work of Matisse, in 1951 Baj founded ARTE NUCLEARE with fellow artist Sergio Dangelo. This movement sought to revive the avant-garde and illustrate the delicate post war situation. This commitment was coupled with his developing interest in impasto and texture in his art. Baj eventually began regularly attaching three-dimensional objects including medals, glass, ribbon and paper to his canvases.
Baj never lost sight of the politically charged artwork of previous generations and spend his later years recreating them and making them current. He created large-scale replications of Picasso’s Guernica and refashioned Carlo Carra’s inflammatory Funeral of the Anarchist Galli into his updated Funeral of the Anarchist Pinelli. This updated criticism of the death of yet another anarchist at the supposed hands of authorities drew attention from Berlusconi himself and he was not allowed to exhibit the piece because of the sensitive nature of the affair.
Enrico Baj’s Generals series brought him a great deal of attention in the art world, specifically from Surrealist figures such as Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp. Two examples of this unique series can be found in Chicago. The first, housed at the Museum of Contemporary Art is titled War Hero and illustrates a physically disproportional general with actual military insignia attached to the surface of the piece. The second, Archduke Charles, is housed at MIR Appraisal Services and is a limited edition print featuring a comic, disoriented and highly decorated general who shares more in common with Ralph Wiggum than he does with Giuseppe Garibaldi. It is yet another example of how Enrico Baj successfully critiqued the post war condition with a simple yet profound statement about society.
If you wish to see this piece or any other in the collection visit MIR’s website or schedule a visit to our downtown Chicago office.
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
Masters, Christopher. “Enrico Baj: An Italian artist Savaging Political and Cultural
Orthodoxy,” in The Guardian 9 July 2003.
Weintraub, Laural. “Baj, Enrico,” in Oxford Art Online.
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