Monday, September 28, 2020

Enrico Baj | Personaggio decorato

Enrico Baj
Personaggio decorato
Cologne, Germany: Edition Mat Mot, 1965
46 x 55 x 4.5 cm.
Edition of 100 signed and numbered copies

Enrico Baj made his New York debut in 1960, when Marcel Duchamp and André Breton included him in a group exhibition at D’Arcy Galleries titled “Surrealist Intrusion in the Enchanter’s Domain.” He was one of the last artists who Breton aligned with Surrealism. 

In a 1963 essay, Breton described Baj's series Generals (pictured below), which would remain the artists' best known work: 

"A quite recent period in Baj's work has singled out from this brutish regiment several incarnations of the 'general in full dress uniform', a category summed up unforgettably by Benjamin Péret as being 'the grossly glided, perfectly poverty-stricken' [....] Had it not been for Baj, I would have been less attuned to the sight of the goldbeaters'-skins bulging out from behind all this paraphernalia."

These absurdist military characters adorned with medals and military regalia, which the artist found in flea markets, first appeared in his work in 1959, and in the next two years he produced around forty of the 'generals'. He would periodically return to them throughout his career, until his death in 2003. 

They were also the basis for his contribution to the Editon Mat Mot Collection 65. Personaggio decorato (or "Decorated Figure", in English) became the subject of a debate about authorship and value within the Mat Mot series. 

Baj's gallerist, Arturo Schwarz, wished to handle sales of the work, and objected to their low cost, fearing it would undermine his gallery prices. The work, he argued, was too similar to Baj's larger practice and would undercut sales and impact market value. 

Presumably at his urging, Baj initially refused to sign the multiples. Daniel Spoerri (founder and co-editor of Edition Mat Mot) eventually capitulated and agreed to indicate that the works were fabricated by Spoerri, distinct from an 'original' (see above pink poster). This ran counter to Spoerri's goal with the series, which was to de-emphasize the hand of the artist. 

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