Carlos D’Ercole

The design of words

“All the books in the world are waiting to be read,” wrote Roberto Bolaño, but this could also be the motto of Carlos D’Ercole.

“All the books in the world are waiting to be read,” wrote Roberto Bolaño, but this could also be the motto of Carlos D’Ercole, a forty-year-old lawyer with an inclination that the lingo of Domus would describe as “design” (of words), but also as “architecture” (of passions). And yet, architecture, design and art – the alchemical triangle upon which Gio Ponti and Gianni Mazzocchi nurtured the conceptual universe of their fruitful experiences – have a lot to do with D’Ercole.

Madrileño y madridista, and, therefore, savage and sentimental as Javier Marías would say, D’Ercole was born into a family that, today, we could call globalised – his mother Beatriz, who grew up among legal experts and academics from the Calle de Serrano, and his father Stefano, a prestigious lawyer from Lecce who established himself in Rome. A globalised conjuncture, which up until yesterday was bourgeois, where the aesthetic dimension remained within the confines of how more than what, and thus homes, objects, sentiments and details.

“I was born in Madrid, but I grew up in Rome, right near the Teatro Valle, which I was lucky to know “from the bottom”. Doormen, electricians, stage hands were my friends; they’d let me into the dressing rooms of Vittorio Gassman, Paolo Poli, Vincenzo Cerami and other gurus who’d play with me before going on stage and autograph my books. That’s where I understood that theatre is anything but representation.” But especially, this is where D’Ercole understood that, if his destiny was law, it would not have the rhetorical dimension of codes. After graduating from La Sapienza and a specialisation in Business Law from the Cattolica university, he enrolled in a Master’s at the University of Chicago, where he met and befriended Douglas Baird, who would become Barack Obama’s mentor, and followed classes by Richard Posner, the pioneer in Law and Economics, perceiving them as a path in the footsteps of Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, who also studied in Chicago. All the while, he kept boxing his heart out.

Given this intro, you’d expect a monograph à la Guido Rossi or Piergaetano Marchetti. Instead, in 2014, D’Ercole debuted with a biography on Enzo Cucchi, an oral story where the relationship between art and space is already present and calls to mind The Savage Detectives, by Bolaño.

“On my solitary walks, I constantly reflect on the conflict I feel between law and literature, convincing myself that in order to rectify it, there’s only that particular design of emotions which is art. My encounters at night with Enzo Cucchi, a great family friend who for me has always been a Schifano minus the bad habits, were like a bolt of lightning”.

Encouraged by his success among critics, above all his family inner circle, made up of gallerists, painters and musicians who live and work in New York, Madrid and Rome, Carlos explored the culture of Benedetto Croce inherited from his uncle, Vittorio Aymone, one of the most illustrious criminal lawyers in the South, and his mom’s love for bullfights. The result was Dizionario Gonzo, the autobiography of a book fanatic, which some call “anarchic, erotic and libertarian”, but which in reality corresponds to  Munari’s idea of literature, and not by chance was published by Aldo Tanchis, one of the last pupils of this Milanese master of games and perspectives.

“Indeed, Gonzo is a book that Bruno Munari would have liked, because it narrates my livre de chevet photographed in particular places in my home. So it’s not just a book; it’s also a staging and design project, animated by an artistic and architectural spirit rather than a literary one. A project of 38 books that in Spanish would be called raros and in English, weird. Books that express a nomadic index of my life, but also of my home. A book where visual power becomes evocative and transforms into a map, or more precisely, a rendering of passions”. The fact is the Spanish artist Miguel Barcelò, with whom D’Ercole shares a yearly appointment at the bullfights, suggested his third literary redesign project: a re-proposal of the forgotten Bullfight by Jean Cau, but not before Carlos was able to republish a book he proudly edited, Albert Spaggiari’s memoirs, Le fogne del paradiso, the autobiographical story of a robbery perpetrated “without guns, without hate, without violence”, as was written on the walls of the Société Générale’s vault emptied out by a group from Marseilles masterminded by Albert Spaggiari who, once arrested, was able to evade authorities and live free until his death. “The Spaggiari incident goes beyond any legal and moral dimension, acting as a testimony to a life in the name of aesthetics, precisely like Cucchi’s or my friend Barcelò’s, perhaps the greatest Spanish artist alive. But above all, it is a detailed study of architectural plans, working plans and urban scale that would be the key to the success of what is seen as the greatest heist of the century”.

The first post-pandemic coffee is over, but the ceremony of salutations seems like leaving the theatre, which D’Ercole learned at eight years old is more important than a stage debut. “For me, literature is the architecture of words; it’s the design of emotions. A family influence, but I think it also has to do with something Bruno Bischofberger – the Swiss art dealer who launched Warhol, Basquiat and Clemente – once told me. Bruno asked Ettore Sottsass to design his home in Geneva, and many things seemed they had been made by other designers. So Bruno asked Ettore if his impression was wrong. Sottsass replied: ‘Great artists don’t copy, they steal’. Actually, those words weren’t by Sottsass, but Picasso. Jeff Koons said this to me, at my wedding. And I hope I’m able to pull it off, too, one day”.

Born in Madrid in 1978, Carlos D’Ercole is a lawyer and collector. He is the author of two books: Vita sconnessa di Enzo Cucchi (Quodlibet, 2014) and Dizionario Gonzo (1000 e una notte, 2018). He edited Le fogne del paradiso by Albert Spaggiari (Oaks Editrice, 2016) and Bullfight by Jean Cau (Iduna, 2019). 

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