- From the 1950s onward, Enrico Baj (1924-2003) played an important role in the international avant-garde, and was a prominent voice in Italy’s intellectual and artistic climate.
- This is the first major exhibition of Enrico Baj’s work in the Netherlands since his 1974 presentation at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen.
- This large-scale exhibition includes nearly 100 works from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
- The impetus for the exhibition lies in the playful and socially critical aspects of Enrico Baj’s work, which still seems so relevant today, as well as certain visual parallels with Cobra, and his collaborations with Cobra artist Asger Jorn.
- Enrico Baj: Play as Protest shows how Baj’s playful strategies, satire and conscious irreverence were employed against a world that seems perpetually capable of destroying itself.
Enrico Baj and Cobra
‘Dear Comrade, This is the first relation I am undertaking since my years of isolation. It will be a pleasure to work together with you.’ - Asger Jorn, a founder of Cobra, in a letter to Baj in 1953.
Play as Protest
Enrico Baj was an influential avant-garde artist throughout the second half of the 20th century. He was from a wealthy Milanese family. At a very young age he already expressed a healthy disrespect for authority, for instance when he publicly ridiculed a fascist parade. To avoid serving in Mussolini’s army during WWII, he fled to Switzerland after which he attended the celebrated Brera Art Academy in Milan.
Unfortunately, these are all threats that we still face today. The art of Enrico Baj has therefore lost nothing of its timeliness and relevance, and can still be an inspiration for protest in our times.
Enrico Baj: Play as Protest investigates how Baj’s playful strategies, satire and irreverence were employed against a world that seems perpetually capable of destroying itself.
The pleasure of creating is immediately evident in all of Enrico Baj’s work. As did the Cobra artists, he loved experimenting with materials. The exhibition includes not only paintings, but also ceramics, Meccano sculptures, assemblages, publications and manifestos.
Play as Protest follows the major evolutions in Baj’s work. Via the Movimento Arte Nucleare (Nuclear Art Movement), we arrive at the ceramics get-together in Albissola. Then through Baj’s contacts with Asger Jorn, with whom he corresponded extensively for many years, we arrive at the so-called Interplanetary Art of the late 1950s, motivated in part by Baj’s interest in science fiction, which Jorn shared.
Later in the exhibition, we discover works that Baj created from Meccano parts, including his large robots, a commentary on the indiscriminate use of technology and the robotization of people in society. Smaller figures, commissioned by the puppeteer Massimo Schuster, made up the characters and set of the famous Ubu Roi, a theatrical play from 1896 by Alfred Jarry. Baj’s Meccano theatre was presented for 12 full years in more than 30 countries.
The majority of the works in the exhibition were generously made available from the Archivio Enrico Baj, Vergiate (Enrico Baj Archives) and the Fondazione Marconi in Milan. These are complemented by invaluable loans from private collections, as well as from the SMAK in Ghent and the MART in Rovereto.
Enrico Baj: Play as Protest is curated by Carrie Pilto, in collaboration with Luca Bochicchio as research consultant, and Archivio Enrico Baj. A publication will accompany the exhibition, designed by Richard Niessen and published by the Cobra Museum.
Enrico Baj: Play as Protest
Saturday 4 February-14 May 2017
Opening Sunday 5 February, 4:00 PM