Enrico Baj's Biography
He was born in Milan in 1924. He attended the Brera Academy, simultaneously obtaining a degree in law. In 1951 he held his first solo show at the San Fedele Gallery in Milan, where he exhibited informal works; in the same year he promoted with Sergio Dangelo the “Movement of Nuclear Painting“. In 1953 he met Asger Jorne and together they promoted the “Mouvement International pour une Bauhaus Imaginiste” siding against the excessive rationalization and geometrization of art in open controversy with the new Bauhaus and Max Bill’s School of Ulm. In 1954 the two artists gave life to the International Meetings of Ceramics in Albissola Marina at the Ceramiche Mazzotti, in which Lucio Fontana, Emilio Scanavino, Karel Appel, Guillaume Corneille, Roberto Matta, Aligi Sassu, Édouard Jaguer and others participated.
In the 1950s he collaborated with the avant-garde magazines Il Gesto, Boa and Phases. Over the years, the passion for writing increased, leading him to the publication of numerous books, including Pataphysics (1982), Automitobiography (1983), Let’s learn painting, Fantasy and reality with Guttuso, Ecology of art
In 1957, in collaboration with numerous artists, writers and critics including Arman, Dangelo, Hundertwasser, Arnaldo and Giò Pomodoro, Pierre Restany, Yves Klein, Baj published the manifesto “Against Style“, which affirms the unrepeatability of work of art against any stereotypical repetition and in the same year and held the first solo show abroad, at the Gallery One in London; in 1959 he joined the “Manifeste de Naples“, to which, among others, Lucio Del Pezzo and Guido Biasi adhere, against Abstractionism. In 1962 he participated in the exhibition The Art of Assemblage in New York, where he met Duchamp.
Between 1963 and 1969 Baj spent long periods in Paris and joined the Collège de Pataphysique of France and founded the Institutum Pataphysicum Mediolanense (1964) with the participation of Farfa, Raymond, Raymond Dagnino, Man Ray, Virgilio Dagnino, Arturo Schwarz, Roberto Crippa, Paris Accept, Alik Cavaliere.
In 1964 he obtained a personal room at the Venice Biennale and in the same year he exhibited at the Milan Triennale.
In 1972 he made the great collage “The funeral of the anarchist Pinelli“, where he resumed his figures inspired by Guernica and his own grotesque and parody characters. The painting must be exhibited at the Royal Palace in Milan, but on the day of its inauguration, scheduled for May 7, Commissioner Calabresi – involved, as is well known, in Pinelli’s death – was assassinated. The exhibition was censored and never opened again, but the painting, in the following years, was exhibited in many museums in Europe. After 40 years, the work was exhibited at the Palazzo Reale in Milan in the summer of 2012.
In 1973 the publisher Bolaffi of Turin published the catalogue raisonné of Baj’s works, edited by Enrico Crispolti and, for the American edition, by Herbert Lust. In May 1983 he organized the exhibition “Jarry and the Pataphysics” at the Palazzo Reale in Milan which with paintings, documents, books and autographs covers the literary and artistic period that goes from the symbolist era of the end of the 19th century to the simulacra of modernity: orders, artificial memories and computers. With the Teatro dell’Arc en Terre directed by Massimo Schuster he worked, in 1984, on a new edition of “Ubu Roi“, making about 40 puppets with Meccano elements, which he used since 1963 and painting numerous canvases depicting the stories of Ubu.
The Municipality of Milan dedicated to him, in January 1987, in Palazzo Dugnani, a “Spazio Baj” for the permanent exhibition of engravings and multiples. For the occasion, the Electa publishing house publishes the “General catalogue of original prints” comprising 640 works. Baj has always integrated his work as an artist with writings of various kinds: posters from the 1950s, correspondence with artists and writers, presentations in catalogues or other publications by painter friends, collaborations with newspapers “La Stampa”, “Il Sole 24 Ore”, “L’Espresso”, “Panorama” and above all the “Corriere della Sera” with which he began to collaborate in 1969 at the invitation of Buzzati.
As already mentioned, Baj has joined, in the course of his life, various artistic movements that have made the history of the twentieth century: the Nouveau Réalisme, Surrealism, Pataphysics, the Nuclear Movement. From these choices immediately transpires the soul of this artist and his ability to eviscerate reality down to the atomic dimensions, developing a completely personal interpretation of it. With the use of the most disparate materials, such as wood, fabrics, mechanics, hydraulic pipes, Baj has given us a monstrous vision of the world, through fashion as a degraded form of art and through the uncontrollable progress of technology: by now queen of the human race, responsible for its robotization and of the modern prevalence of form over substance.
Skilled engraver, Baj has worked on the texts of poets and writers – of antiquity and contemporaries – accompanying the books with prints and multiples – from Lucretius, Martial to Tacitus and authors gradually more recent, including Lewis Carrol, John Milton, André Breton, Edoardo Sanguineti, Roberto Sanesi, Umberto Eco, Alda Merini.
Baj used different techniques, from dripping to collage, sometimes together with inlay and veneer, as in the Modifications (1959-1960). In the 1967-1968 in the Ties he used plastic materials. The Apocalypse of 1978 is a three-dimensional puzzle that led him again to approach the theatre after the experiences of the Sixties. Surrealism and Dadaism deeply marked his work; the collages made of different materials (medals, buttons, trimmings, mixed with painting) are close on the one hand to the work of Kurt Schwitters and Francis Picabia, on the other they reflect the spirit of Alfred Jarry with his Ubu Roi.
His works are always interpreted through a strong irony, a grotesque effect, an amused look. The polychromatic and multi-material collages pervaded by a playful and ironic vein, constitute the icon of the Milanese artist’s satirical vein: the dismemberment of forms to express the explosion of matter and image. The playful sense of his art then leads to sarcastic protest and strong civil commitment through the “generals“, the “military parades” of the Sixties and the three great works of the Seventies: I funerali dell’anarchico Pinelli (1972), Nixon Parade (1974) and the Apocalypse (1979). From here on, his critique of contemporaneity becomes stronger and stronger, as in Epater le robot (1983), with an analysis of the indiscriminate use of technologies, and in I mainchain (1984-87), where faceless figures are clear references to the “robotization” of the human being. He does not hesitate to attack consumerism and slavery dictated by industrial products. Subsequently, with the works Metamorphosis and Metaphors (1988) and Mythology of Kitsch (1989), and “The garden of delights” he denounces the corruption of taste generated by the culture of industrial products and develops an imaginary dominated by kitsch, the only style that according to artist manages to represent today’s culture. In 1993 begins the cycle of “Tribal masks“, “Felts” and “Totems” which want to express a modern primitivism by recycling everyday objects. In 1999 he created 164 portraits taken from Proust’s Recherche and inspired by the Guermantes and that refined, decadent and often grotesque world. In January 2003, the artist’s “hydraulic” works are exhibited at the Giò Marconi Gallery in Milan: taps, pipes, siphons are applied to small sculptures and to collage ladies.
Enrico Baj died in Vergiate (Varese) on June 16, 2003.