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Deep Fried Thoughts: Roberto Cuoghi “PERLA POLLINA (1996-2016)” at Madre Museum, Naples

 

One third of Italy’s team for the 57th Venice Biennale, Roberto Cuoghi (b. 1973) might be best known for masochistic performative feats like transforming himself at age 25 into a 67 year old, wearing glasses fitted with Schmidt-Pechan prisms that flipped his vision upside down, and letting his finger nails grow for 11 months so he couldn’t write the diary documenting it.

 

“PERLA POLLINA” (named from a ‘meaningless’ autocorrection) is a “mid-career retrospective” with seventy of Cuoghi’s works over two decades (accompanied by a sprawling 500-page catalogue). Cuoghi embraces the rejection of a single method preferring “doing without knowing how”. The show includes longeurs of documentation — diaries and sketches as the remnants of past conceptual and experiential acts — and a thrillingly present smorgasbord of idiosyncratic artefacts of ugly beauty.

 

Surgical instruments deep fried in batter look like bubbled and bloated Cthonian fish out of nightmares, or the remnants of a Chinese meal prepared by David Cronenberg. They accompany a course of Ritratti (Portraits) of colleagues that Cuoghi has mutilated and wounded (the portraits, not the colleagues — we hope). The Putiferio series of putrefied monster fish in vitrines, and sculptural casts of prehistoric crabs, are alien and abominable. Crabs invoke the Latin: cancer, our own cells invading our own cells.

 

In his text Il Tumore Liberato (”Tumour Set Free”) Cuoghi speculates on the evolutionary value of cancer, of errors and accidents. A brutal theodicy, it’s as much a description of his own punishing exploratory artistic evolution, a celebration of the mutilated, deformed forms that accompany experimentation and innovation, an expression of antagonism toward the sterility of our culture’s obsession with the beautiful and flawless.

 

“PERLA POLLINA (1996-2016)” at the Madre Museum, Naples, Italy until September 2017; Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany from October 2017 (curated by and previously exhibited at Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland)