Italian painter, linked to post-World War II movements (nuclear art, COBRA CoBrA, pop art) and crafter of marionettes for nearly a dozen productions staged with several companies. Baj’s oeuvre – painting, sculpture, and assemblages – presents large, grotesquely dynamic figures incorporating found objects (trimmings, medals, old watches, mirror shards, etc.). One of his seminal works, “Funerali dell’anarchico Pinelli” (The Funeral of the Anarchist Pinelli, 1972), which denounces a militant anarchist’s fatal fall from the window of the Milanese police station, was used in 1978 by the Marionetteatern of Stockholm, under the direction of Michael Meschke, to create The Pinelli Affair with flat figures based on Baj’s painting. In 1980, the Italian director Massimo Monaco asked Baj for designs that became the basis for puppets and set designs for a production of Pinocchio. Monaco also took up other great figures cut out of plywood for Guido Almansi’s Amleto il lunatico (Hamlet the Madman) in 1987. The same type of collaboration led to collaboration between Baj and the Teatro Gioco Vita, first for Igor Stravinsky’s L’uccello di fuoco (The Firebird, 1994), then for Orfeo ed Euridice (Orpheus and Eurydice, 1998).
Baj built marionnettes for Massimo Schuster and the France-based Théâtre de l’Arc-en-Terre, or at least sculpted more-or-less articulated figures. Five productions were created in this way. Ubu roi (1984), with Meccano® sculptures, marked the debut of a collaboration that lasted until the artist’s death; the production was presented at the Venice Biennale and toured for twelve years in thirty-five countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. Following this, with wooden sculpture-assemblages, were Iliade (The Iliad, 1988); Le Bleu-blanc-rouge et le Noir (The Red-white-blue and the Black, 1989), an opera by Lorenzo Ferrero based on a libretto by Anthony Burgess and co-produced by Milan’s La Scala; Roncevauz! (2001); and Mahabharata (2003). Massimo Schuster also drew on a series of images from several engravings by Baj for one of the panels of Charta (1993, toy theatre paper theatre), a production created in Sarajevo, then under siege.
The participation of an artist of Enrico Baj’s importance in puppet theatre, following in the footsteps of predecessors such as Bonnard, Schlemmer, Fortunato Depero and Joan Miró, contributed to a developing interest among a number of puppeteers for this type of artistic collaboration, opening the doors to other crossovers between the fine arts and puppet theatre.
- Enrico Baj – Ubu. Forty sculptures in Meccano for Ubu roi by Alfred Jarry. Centre culturel de Cavaillon and Centre d’art contemporain de Montbéliard, 1986; from the Milan edition, Studio Marconi, 1985. (In French, Italian)
- Monaco, Massimo J. Le avventure di un burattino di legno, ispirato all’opera pittorica di Enrico Baj [The Adventures of a Wooden Puppet]. Inspired by the work of painter Enrico Baj. Firenze: La Casa Usher, 1980.