In Astratto: Abstraction in Italy 1930-1980
This summer the Estorick Collection will present a survey of the myriad approaches to abstraction in Italian art between the 1930s and the early 1980s. The exhibition, on display from 27 June to 9 September 2012, comprises some 65 works, drawn from Liguria’s three principal museums dedicated to contemporary art, which in recent years have increased their holdings through the acquisition of several prestigious private collections.
Genoa’s Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Villa Croce houses the collection of Maria Cernuschi Ghiringhelli, wife of Virginio (Gino) Ghiringhelli, the painter and owner of the Milanese Il Milione gallery. Cernuschi began to acquire works of both Italian and foreign art during the 1930s and the collection now comprises 233 paintings, sculptures and works on paper, providing an overview of three decades of research into 20th century abstract Italian art.
In early 2000, the Centro Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (CAMeC) of La Spezia acquired the collection of Giorgio Cozzani, which offers an extensive and thorough documentation of the different expressive tendencies within 20th century Italian art. This has been fully integrated into the museum’s own collection, alongside works purchased by the city of La Spezia over the course of the various ‘Premio del Golfo’ exhibitions (1949-65). The latter was a prize inaugurated during the 1930s under the auspices of Futurism which continued after the war, thereby offering a series of important surveys of the major artistic currents of that period.
Finally, the works from the Pinacoteca Civica in Savona’s Palazzo Gavotti are drawn from the large collection donated by Milena Milani, a writer, journalist, visual artist and leading figure of Lucio Fontana’s Spatialist movement. The companion of Carlo Cardazzo, one of the most important gallerists of post-war Italy, Milani was herself a protagonist of a number of significant developments in contemporary art, often closely bound up with the cultural circles of Savona and Albisola.
The exhibition has a two-fold objective: firstly, to present this important artistic heritage to an international audience in order to promote greater awareness and to highlight the ways in which the individual collections complement one another; and secondly, to use this complementary character as a means of tracing a coherent route between the different phases of Italian abstract art.
Italian abstraction developed out of the pioneering experiments of Futurist artists such as Giacomo Balla from 1912 onwards, and developed through the activities of the many figures associated with the movement during the inter-war years. Their work proved to be incredibly varied, ranging from the geometric imagery of figures such as Mario Radice and Manlio Rho, to the singular and playful compositions of Osvaldo Licini and the dynamic, mixed-media constructions of Enrico Prampolini – all of whom are represented in this exhibition. It also formed a bridge to the experiences of the post-war period, being developed further by artists belonging to associations such as Forma, including Giulio Turcato, Piero Dorazio and Achille Perilli, as well as through the works of Oreste Bogliardi, Ghiringhelli, Alberto Magnelli and Mauro Reggiani.
A more rigorously geometric approach was adopted by those artists associated with the MAC (Movimento Arte Concreta, or Concrete Art Movement), founded in 1948 in Milan by Bruno Munari and Atanasio Soldati, among others. The activities of this group developed nationally through a network of local associations, including those of Liguria, to which Giuseppe Allosia, Plinio Mesciulam and Martino Oberto belonged. ‘Concrete’ painters aimed to create an art that would be free of any allusions to the forms of external reality, being grounded in the harmonious arrangement of geometric planes and colours.
In contrast with, and as a reaction to, this movement, Italian artists such as Renato Birolli, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Emilio Scanavino and Emilio Vedova adopted a more painterly approach during the 1950s in line with the Europe-wide aesthetics of Art Informel, and its distinctive emotional and expressive character. In a manner somewhat analogous to American Action Painting, these qualities were communicated by means of an emphasis upon the gestural component of the artwork, and its artists eschewed any dogmatic subscription to a particular vocabulary.
Around this time, certain key protagonists of Italian abstraction such as Fontana and Piero Manzoni paved the way not only for the expressive tensions of conceptual art but also for novel approaches to the construction of the artwork. Like the former’s slashed canvases and the latter’s mixed-media Achromes, throughout the 1960s the work of figures such as Enrico Castellani, Agostino Bonalumi and Paolo Scheggi manifested a desire to challenge and transcend the restrictions of the wall-mounted artwork, blurring the boundaries between the two- and three-dimensional by means of the shaping, stretching and layering of canvas.
Also during the 1960s, emerging neo-concrete and gestalt-influenced trends resulted in optical/perceptual experimentation, such as that found in the work of Gianni Colombo, Franco Grignani and Dadamaino. The work of the latter has close similarities to the contemporaneous exploration of optical illusions by artists such as Bridget Riley. Subsequently, in the late 1960s and early 1970s artists began to rediscover and promote the value of painting, which had been seen as somewhat outmoded following the experiences of conceptual art and Arte Povera. Through their work, the proponents of so-called ‘Analytical Painting’ such as Marco Gastini, Claudio Verna and Gianfranco Zappettini could be said to have taken Italian abstraction full circle, rediscovering a fascination with the autonomous aesthetic qualities of pure form and colour.
Curated by Matteo Fochessati and organised by the Scientific Committee of the Regional Centre for Contemporary Art in Liguria (CRAC), the exhibition will be divided into six thematic and chronological sections: Historical Abstraction; MAC and ‘Concrete’ Research; Art Informel; Towards the Conceptual; Optical-perceptual Research and Analytical Painting-New Painting.
Following the success of the recent Alberto Burri exhibition at the Estorick Collection, In Astratto: Abstraction in Italy 1930-1980 will offer visitors a rare opportunity to explore the work of artists who likewise sought radically to redefine and extend the range of expressive means open to artists in the second half of the 20th century.
After this London debut, the exhibition will travel to CAMeC (Centro Arte Moderna e Contemporanea) in La Spezia where it will be on view from 20 October 2012 to 24 March 2013.