ENRICO BAJ, Untitled, 1972

Enrico Baj (Italian 1924-2003) is best known for his collages of ridiculous-looking generals made from shards of glass, scraps of flowery material and shells — as well as his eminent 1972 series of “Imperatores Romani,” Roman Emperors.

Baj graduated  from the renowned Brera art school in Milan before establishing himself as a self-styled libertarian anarchist who was rarely far from controversy.  In 1952 he published his manifesto of “nuclear” painting, against academia and geometric abstraction. In 1961 his “Big Antifacist Collective Painting”, a collective work critical of the war in Algeria, was confiscated by the Italian authorities and spent the next 25 years gathering dust in a Milanese cellar. Today the work is on display at Strasbourg’s modern art museum.

At the Venice Biennale of 1964, he responded to requests to cover up his generals’ offending chests by buying some black sticky tape. “I applied it in the shape of a cross on the censored parts,” the artist said. “The crosses immediately became (swastikas) in the eyes of the viewer, symbols of cultural oppression.”  Baj’s preferred targets were arrogance and violence, always aimed at with gleeful irony and satire.

“Baj’s playful and ironic side masks a constant and coherent engagement against all the forms of destructiveness and oppression that man inflicts on man.”                      Andre Breton.