Mystery, tension and pleasure: Italian Enzo Cucchi’s exhibition at Culturgest

All roads lead to Rome, and those of Enzo Cucchi arrived in that city towards the late 70s, after leaving the small Italian village of Morro D’Alba to meet the large capital that would propel his career. He brought with him the countryside’s tales, myths, popular imagination and oral storytelling, and to this he added images and narratives from the Catholic Church and the Vatican. Enzo Cucchi built his work on this encounter between the mystical, the mythical, the image-oriented and the symbolic, now on show at Culturgest in Lisbon.

Skulls, animals and deformed bodies crowd the Mezzocane exhibition in sculptures and paintings, forming the Italian artist’s sensual, erotic and poetic vocabulary. In ceramic, bronze or plaster, the artist’s hand and fingerprints are present. He stresses the tactile and the handmade in works seemingly quite intimate and mysterious. They awaken curiosity whilst simultaneously delivering a somewhat enjoyable sense of bafflement.

Bruno Marchand, the exhibition’s curator, defines Cucchi’s work as a relevant alternative to the conceptual art thinking that gripped the art world from the 1960s onwards. “In the 80s, Enzo turned into this paradigm-breaking figure. It was all about dematerialising the object. Everything was about the idea. He reverted to manual work when it was very much frowned upon. He reverted to the object, to painting, to the artist’s hand. He reverted to the joy of doing. The joy of the body, of the artist’s individual expression. All the things conceptual art found abhorrent were exactly what he wanted to do,” explains the curator during an interview with UMBIGO.

Cucchi and other fellow artists such as Sandro Chia and Francesco Clemente were particularly attached to figuration, expression and imagination, leading curator Achille Bonito Oliva to describe the group as the Transavantgarde movement. “They offered an uncomplicated idea of what is beautiful, ugly and what it means to be beautifully done or poorly executed. Enzo is much more keen to bring forth a world imbued with symbolism and hinting than he is with the major principles of contemporary rationale,” Bruno Marchand continues. Cucchi’s works were exhibited at the Guggenheim in New York in 1982, and in 1986, aged 36, he opened a solo show at the renowned American museum.

Sensuality is also palpable at Culturgest with Cucchi’s exhibition layout, challenging the visitors’ bodies throughout the venue. He has built what Bruno Marchand dubs a “wall” between the first room and the hallway, transforming the passageway into a cramped exhibition site. A long, uneven table is the platform of works such as sculptures that seem to be creating scenes and characters, but are only half painted; quirky pieces that marry ceramics and painting; bodies expressing something halfway between pain and pleasure; and a conspicuous fallen bird holding two glass balls in its claws.

The other circular wall enclosing the building’s structural pillar is the foundation for works whose images involve anchoring, entrapment and weight. A third section, described by Bruno Marchand as a “forest of drawings”, hangs papers and canvases and keeps the exhibition alive with games of tension and re-imagination.

Cucchi never explains his symbols. And he leaves both his fingerprints on the intriguing mystery between tension and pleasure.

Enzo Cucchi’s Mezzocane is being held at Culturgest in Lisbon until June 30.

Julia Flamingo, a native of São Paulo, is a journalist and researcher specializing in contemporary art. Driven by a fervent commitment to making contemporary art more accessible, Julia established the digital platform Bigorna (@bigorna_art). She holds positions as the primary writer at the global network for art curators,, and as Curator & Writer of the Portuguese group Cultural Affairs. Julia has worked as an art journalist and critic at Veja São Paulo and contributed to celebrated cultural projects, including the Creative Europe-funded initiative 4Cs, the SP-Arte fair, and the São Paulo Biennial. She holds degrees in Journalism from Universidade Mackenzie, History from PUC-SP, and a Master's degree in Culture Studies from Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon.

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