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Plazzotta's animated stillness in bronze

"I'm calmer now." As we stroll among the bronzes in his elegant slant-ceilinged Chelsea studio, scultor Enzo Plazzota reflects on his career. He pauses before a rugged torso from an earlier period. "Movement is more sensational," he says, "but the calmness of a sculpture in repose . . ." -- gesturing to a recent life-size standing figure -- "somehow you live with that."

Mr. Plazzotta, whose work is on exhibition at New York's Wildenstein Gallery from Feb. 5 to March 7, has earned his calmness. Michelangelo and Rodin figure in his conversation. In an age when sculpture includes tree stumps, old rope, and welded car parts, he has clung to bronze. Through the years of the cubist and futurist legacy -- the excitements of pop art, op art, and minimal art -- he has kept his eye on classical renderings of the human form. Even his technique is traditional: Shunning clay and plasticene, he is one of the few who still model in wax. "It's got a magic to it," he says, almost reverently.

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His work has gone, roughly, through three stages -- although the development has not been strictly chronological. "L'Arrivee" (1965) is an armless and agonized male body, resembling a runner about to stumble from exhaustion. "Implosion III" (1969), a contorted torso, looks like something hacked from hard rubber with a dull ax. Both are powerful, tense.

This sense of movement next took him into a study of dancers. It resulted, in the early 1970s, in a melding of that earlier rough-cast energy with the grace and elan of ballet. With studies of Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Antoinette Sibley, and Anthony Dowell, and more recently, david Wall and Ivan Nagy, he has challenged the stability of bronze, capturing an instant of stillness amid motion ("Sur les Pointes," 1975) and freezing energy in midair ("Jetee," 1975).

He now favors dancers at rest and still figures. The serenity of simple moments dominates, as in some of his beautiful formed and suprisingly unsensual nudes -- and, in a different way, in several heads of jesus.

The result is a studied ability to compose forms which, saying little, simply are themselves. What sort of comment does this formal, classical work make on the world? Mr. Plazzotta, his benign North Italian features flickering into a smile, shrugs. "It is fruitless to become a messenger of a creed," he says. Recalling some earlier tortured studies named "Hiroshima" and "Warriors," he remembers that "i did go through a period when I wanted to make a comment." But even Picasso's "Guernica," he notes, hasn't changed the world. He now feels there is "no answer in terms of giving a direct pronouncement through one's work."

His philosophy sets him at right angles to many recent artistic thinkers -- yet brings him parallel to some others. As W. H. Auden said in his masterful elegy on William Butler Yeats, "Poetry makes nothing happen. It survives." It was a lesson that Yeats, who longed to reform Ireland through words, spent many years learning. In the end, he might well have agreed with Mr. Plazzotta's goal: "Simply to be true to onself and describe life as one sees it."


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