ENZO CUCCHI (b. 1949)
ENZO CUCCHI (b. 1949)
ENZO CUCCHI (b. 1949)
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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann
ENZO CUCCHI (b. 1949)

Eroici Mari Rossi

ENZO CUCCHI (b. 1949)
Eroici Mari Rossi
signed, titled and dated '1981 Enzo Cucchi EROICI MARI ROSSI' (on the reverse)
oil and collage on canvas
78 3⁄4 x 102 3⁄4 in. (200 x 260.9 cm.)
Executed in 1981.
James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
P. Igliori and D. Cortez, "Making Sense of Enzo Cucchi," Interview, May 1986, pp. 104-105 (illustrated).
D. Waldman, Enzo Cucchi, New York, 1986, p. 43, no. 21 (illustrated).
art. Das Kunstmagazin, November 1986, pp. 26-27 (illustrated).
"La Trans-avant-garde italienne. Sandro Chia, Enzo Cucchi, Francesco Clemente, Mimmo Paladino," Artstudio, no. 7, 1987-1988, p. 72 (illustrated).
New York, Museum of Modern Art, An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture, May-August 1984, p. 98 (illustrated).
Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Von Twombly bis Clemente, Ausgewählte Werke einer Privatsammlung, July-September 1985, no. 71 (illustrated).
Lausanne, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Nature. Création du Peintre/ Natur. Schöpfung des Malers, April-May 1991, p. 132, no. 63 (illustrated).
Rome, Castello Colonna, Centro Internazionale per l'Arte Contemporanea, Genazzano, Enzo Cucchi, June-September 2002, pp. 16-17 (illustrated).
Locarno, Pinacoteca Comunale Casa Rusca, Sandro Chia, September 2018-January 2019, no. 51 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Michael Baptist
Michael Baptist Specialist, Head of Sale

Lot Essay

Enzo Cucchi’s paintings imagine new worlds filled with dark humor, sensuality, texture, and dreamlike narratives. He is a key member of Transavanguardia, a group of young Italian painters, including Francesco Clemente and Sandro Chia, who revitalized Expressionism and gave new life and urgency to figurative painting. His Eroici Mari Rossi, painted in 1981, translated to Heroic Red Seas, is a large-scale masterpiece at eight-and-a-half feet by six-and-a-half feet, awash in affecting colors and precise, but emotive, brushstrokes. It presents a visually arresting, epic scene: a boat caught in turbulent waves, which become analogous with paint itself, and surrounded by beautiful maroon fish, themselves brushstrokes of sorts. The painting’s visual power has been widely recognized. It has been included in a number of important exhibitions, including the major international survey and landmark in the history of Neo-Expresionism An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1984 and other important group shows at the Kunsthalle Basel, 1985, and the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, 1991. It was also featured in Cucchi’s 2002 solo exhibition at the Castello Colonna Centro Internazionale per l’Arte Contemporanea Genazzano in Rome. Eroici Mari Rossi is a seminal work in the artist’s oeuvre, and demonstrates Cucchi’s central role in the renewal of painting that  took place in the 1980s.  

It is no mistake that Cucchi cites Masaccio, Caravaggio, and El Greco as major influences, with their mastery of paint, grand ambitions, and attention to detail. With the simultaneous tenderness and ferocity of the master painters of the sea, like J.M.W. Turner and Winslow Homer, Cucchi taps into the sublime and presents the sea as wild and beautiful. A steamboat is caught in rough tides, but it is almost cradled by the destructive waves, creating a tableau that lends a seamlessness to the image. They are united by the artist’s continuous, effortless application of black and white paint, resulting in a heroic parity between between man and nature. A yellow cuttlefish-like creature emerges from the darkness, creating an arresting pop of color from within the sea. Likewise, red fish, rendered gently and impressionistically with a couple marks and white dots for eyes, become less foreboding creatures than whimsical, abstract avatars for the painter’s skill for creating whole ecosystems from simplicity, even spareness.

For Cucchi, the enduring power of painting is likewise an everyday certainty. In a discussion with curator Diego Cortez in Interview, wherein Eroici Mari Rossi is prominently illustrated, Cucchi argues that leaving the expressiveness of paint untouched is of paramount importance, “There is the form, the matter, and that’s it…Artists have materials in order to transcend them, to intervene in the materials; for me the idea of intervening in the materials is unbearable. I am interested in their presence, like a creature which is there where the light falls” (E. Cucchi quoted in “ D. Cortez, “Making Sense of Enzo Cucchi,” Interview, May 1986, pp. 105). The fish in Eroici Mari Rossi, red and yellow against a backdrop of black, grey, and white, are the creatures where the light falls, unexpected moments of materiality, and even fun, within a grand, emotionally replete scene.
While Eroici Mari Rossi is certainly noteworthy for the heroic scene it depicts, what is equally important is how Cucchi uses details within the epic scale in order to offer moments of surprise, rest, and intimacy. In doing so, he connects with the viewer not by overwhelming them with scale or visual force, but rather by allowing the viewer to find themselves within the painting, to connect with smaller moments before and after being in awe. For Cucchi, within heroism there are always little stories that are equally important to the history of painting.

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