Posts Tagged ‘Milan’

Design | Everything Ponti

Friday, October 12th, 2018

Pirelli Tower,
Milan,
1960
© DR



Tutto Ponti,
Gio Ponti Archi-Designer
Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Paris | France
19 October 2018 >
10 February 2019



Living Room at Villa
Planchart, Caracas, 1957
Photo Antoine Baralhe.
Fondation Anala
et Armando Planchart



In Italian, Gio Ponti’s surname, means, appropriately, ‘bridges’. Over the course of a career that spanned more than 50 years, during which time he became the most important and influential designer/architect in Italy, his talents traversed everything from glassware design to ceramics; he created chairs, lighting, fabrics and cutlery, screenplays for cinema, as well as stage sets and costumes for La Scala. He established his architecture practice in 1921 and built private villas in Paris (1926), Eindhoven and Caracas (Villa Planchart 1953 > 1957), company headquarters, such as Milan’s landmark Pirelli Tower (1957) – at 127 metres, Europe’s tallest building at the time, that was a symbol of Italy’s post-war ‘miracolo’ reconstruction period – and public buildings, including Taranto cathedral (1970) in southern Italy and the Denver Art Museum (1974).

La Cornuta coffee
machine for Pavoni, 1948
© Photo Gio Ponti
Archives, Milan



Glass lamp 0024, 1933
© Photo Gio Ponti
Archives, Milan



Superleggera 699,
for Cassina, 1957
© Photo Gio Ponti
Archives, Milan



Drawing his earliest influences from the Venetian villas of Andrea Palladio, Ponti celebrated the machine but, unlike many 20th century modernists, never rejected classicism and craftsmanship. In collaboration with his protogeé, Piero Fornasetti, he took pleasure in creating decorated furniture designs flouting modernist conventions that dictated the abolition of applied ornament. An enemy of dogma, whose work never conformed to any particular ‘ism’, Ponti’s tenet was that styles corrupt and [if we conform to them] our ideas become corrupt themselves.

His design and architecture became synonymous with Italian ‘cool’ of the 1950s and 1960s. He was the designer behind Pavoni’s iconic La Cornuta coffee machine (1948) that would dominate the bars of cafés throughout Italy, in London and in New York, where customers might also find themselves sitting on one of his Superleggera – ‘super-light’ – chairs (1957).

Taranto cathedral,
1964 > 1970
Photo Luca Massari



While Gio Ponti’s work is admired today by enlightened design enthusiasts and highly coveted by collectors it remains little known in France. Despite the big Gio Ponti exhibition held at London’s Design Museum in 2002, the situation in the UK is similar. Including some 400 items, as its title suggests, Tutto Ponti, Gio Ponti Archi-Designer at Musée des Arts Décoratifs, is a major retrospective exhibition, bridging every aspect of Ponti’s multi-faceted career, with the aim of introducing the wider public to the work of this creative genius of the Italian design scene.

All images courtesy Musée des Arts Décoratifs


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Art | Theaster Gates: Back to Black

Friday, September 14th, 2018

Photographs by Isaac Sutton



The Black Image Corporation

Osservatorio
Fondazione Prada
Milan | Italy
20 September > 14 January 2019



Chicago’s Mayor has called the artist, Theaster Gates, ‘…a civic treasure on a par with Chicago’s skyline and downtown museums.’ Quite an accolade for the son of a roofer whose father bequeathed him his tar kettle – a gift not lost on Gates, for whom tar has become a key element in his painting and sculpture work, as in the centre-piece of his Black Madonna exhibition, currently on show at Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland.

Having studied urban planning and city design, as well as religion and ceramics, Gates spent 15 years making pots, an activity through which, he says, ‘you very quickly learn how to make great things out of nothing … [and] start to learn how to shape the world.’

Gates, whose Rebuild Foundation bought up condemned buildings in the deprived, predominantly African American South Side district of Chicago and refurbished and repurposed them as community facilities: apartments, a library, workshops for artists, a black cinema – he financed each project by selling artworks made from the scrap material from the previous renovation – led Art Review to refer to him as, ‘The artist who does more outside the gallery than within.’

Photographs by Moneta Sleet Jr



Adept at turning preconceived ideas about himself and his work on their heads, for his show at Fondazione Prada Osservatorio Theaster Gates has created a time-capsule of a seminal period in black magazine publishing, within the gallery space. Having dug deep into the Johnson Publishing Company’s 4-million-strong image archive from its ground-breaking Ebony and Jet magazines, that includes photographs of positive everyday events and of the complex realities black Americans faced in the USA during the post-war years, Gates displays his emotive selection on an interactive structure. Elsewhere, furnishings and interior design elements from the company’s mid-century modern Chicago offices, known as the Ebony/Jet Building – a designated Chicago Landmark – are arranged as a comfortable environment, where visitors can browse through original copies of Ebony and Jet.

Former deputy sheriff Isaac Sutton (1923 > 1995), who photographed the first group of images above, became a staff photographer at JPC, and worked there for 42 years, developing intimate friendships with some of the most famous names in show business.

Moneta Sleet Jr (1926 > 1996), whose images appear immediately above, who began working for Ebony magazine in 1955, was the first African-American man to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 – for his photograph of the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. Among many others, he photographed Muhammad Ali, Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, and Billie Holiday.

Appropriately, The Black Image Corporation is on show at Milan’s Fondazione Prada Osservatorio, located within the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, built between 1865 and 1967, which was damaged by bombing in 1943 but is now fully restored.

Photos Moneta Sleet Jr and Isaac  Sutton, courtesy Fondazione Prada Osservatorio


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Art | Edward Kienholz: Five Car Stud

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Edward Kienholz
Detail of Five Car Stud, 1969 > 1972
Mixed media tableau
Dimensions variable
© Kienholz
Courtesy L A Louver, Venice, CA
Photo © Tom Vinetz 2011



Kienholz: Five Car Stud
Fondazione Prada
Milan | Italy
19 May > 31 December 2016



Edward Kienholz
Five Car Stud, 1969 > 1972
Mixed media tableau
Dimensions variable
© Kienholz
Courtesy L A Louver, Venice, CA
Photo © Tom Vinetz 2011



The American artist Edward Kienholz died in 1994 and was buried in a 1940 Packard coupé. The forthcoming presentation at Fondazione Prada of his ghoulish Five Car Stud installation feels something like an exhumation. The artwork, produced between 1969 and 1972, having been first exhibited in 1972 at Documenta 5 in Kassel, and the subject of great controversy at the time, barely shown in public thereafter, was buried deep within a private collection in Japan for almost forty years.

Five Car Stud is a life-sized reproduction, complete in every harrowing detail, of a night scene of brutal racial violence. Lit by the headlights of four cars and a pickup truck, set in an isolated location, a black man portrayed with a double face – one expresses sadness and resignation, the other terror and rage –  has been knocked to the ground. Four white men wearing gruesome masks, pin him down as another prepares to castrate him. While his terrified son looks on from the passenger seat of his car, a sixth masked man stands guard with a shotgun. Shocked and powerless, a white woman – the victim’s date – is forced to witness his ordeal.

Everyone has heard of the beat generation writers – William S Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac – but beat generation artists such as Edward Kienholz (1927 > 1994), who shared the literary movement’s ideals of rejecting materialism and the creation of explicit portrayals of the human condition, are perhaps less familiar. Kienholz grew up in Washington State and never attended art college. By working at various times as a nurse, bar-owner, car dealer, handyman (his truck carried the inscription Ed Kienholz – Expert), he gained experience and insights that would provide invaluable inspiration for the ‘art of repulsion’, based on realistic, re-imagined situations, he wanted to create.

Having relocated to Los Angeles in 1953, adopting assemblage as his medium Kienholz embarked on a creative route that led him to make small-scale ‘tableaux’ such as O’er the Ramparts We Watched, Fascinated (1959), which is included in this exhibition. Not included, but as forceful, visceral and grimy as Burrough’s prose, Kienholz’s The Beanery (1965) forms part of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum collection, and is a life-sized reconstruction of a decaying bar on Santa Monica Boulevard. The artist applied a special paste – a mixture of beer, rancid fat, urine, mothballs and cigarette ash – to his creation to give it the authentic stink. In terms of ambition it can be seen as a portent to Five Car Stud.

Edward & Nancy Reddin Kienholz
The Bronze Pinball Machine with Woman Affixed Also, 1980
Mixed media assemblage
© Kienholz
Courtesy L A Louver, Venice, CA



Edward & Nancy Reddin Kienholz
Jody, Jody, Jody, 1993-94
Mixed media tableau
© Kienholz
Courtesy L A Louver, Venice, CA



Like many of the later twentieth century art genres, assemblage had its roots in cubism and dada. Indeed, Kienholz’s work first gained national exposure when it was shown alongside that of European artists Picasso, Kurt Schwitters and Marcel Duchamp, among others, in The Art of Assemblage at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1961, after which he began to gain international recognition. However, in terms of content and treatment, Kienholz’s approach had more in common with the German Neue Sachlichkeit artists’ Otto Dix and George Grosz’s unforgiving depiction of Weimar Society and the First World War. By 1970, his 11+11 Tableaux exhibition was being presented in Stockholm, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, Paris, Zürich and London.

From 1972 onwards, Kienholz worked in exclusive collaboration with his wife, Nancy Reddin Kienholz. Constantly travelling between their homes in Hope, Idaho and Berlin, and later Texas, the couple produced shockingly thought-provoking pieces such as in The Bronze Pinball Machine with Woman Affixed Also (1980), in which a woman’s spread legs and exposed vagina cast in bronze are attached to a pinball machine, the female body relegated to an object of sexual entertainment. The artwork Jody, Jody, Jody (1994), inspired by a single real life event, is nevertheless a comment on general attitudes toward child abuse. Both pieces (shown here) will be shown in Milan.

Their human scale, and composition – leftover bits of mannequin dummies, threadbare clothing, or plaster casts of real human bodies, and real wristwatches – render Kienholz’s installations unnervingly realistic. The viewer may experience repulsion or sympathy but is instantly transformed into a voyeur, participation is mandatory and unavoidable.

Following restoration Five Car Stud appeared in 2011 and 2012, first at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and then at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. Today it is part of the Prada Collection, and is being shown for the first time ever in Italy in this eponymously titled show at Fondazione Prada.

All images courtesy Fondazione Prada


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The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier


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Art | Back to Front

Friday, November 27th, 2015

Giulio Paolini
Senza titolo, 1964
Paper, masonite board
Photo Giuseppe Schiavinotto.
Archivio Luciano Pistoi



Recto Verso
Fondazione Prada
Milan | Italy
3 December 2015 > 7 February 2016



Daniel Dezeuze
Chassis avec feuille de plastique tendue, 1967
Wood, plastic
Courtesy Galerie Bernard Ceysson



Question. Take nothing at face value. Nothing is ever quite what it seems, especially in terms of art. Even Kazimir Malevich’s groundbreaking and uncompromising Black Square, 1915 – the first non-objective or abstract painting – was this year, when Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery examined it for the first time with x-rays, discovered to have two earlier paintings hidden beneath it’s surface.

While historical precedents occur in Byzantine art – two-sided icons bearing representations of the virgin and child on one side and the crucifixion on the other – and elsewhere, perhaps the multi-facetted Marcel Duchamp (1887 > 1968) was one of the earliest modern artists to play with the concept of recto/verso, in which the flip-side of a piece of art is given equal and serious consideration, along with the front. By 1915, he had already conceived of and started working on his complex, monumental work, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even / The Large Glass, (1915 > 23), a free-standing glass construction, almost three metres tall by two wide, which was specifically intended to be viewed from both sides.

Malevich (1879 > 1935) had said, ‘It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins,’ and it was the Zero group of post-World War II, originally European, artists, who would seek to annihilate all forms of representation within art. To celebrate the possibilities inherent in ‘nothingness’, and attempting to penetrate the mysterious concept of the fourth dimension, they began examining the canvas itself and the frame around which it was stretched, with a view toward breaking through its confines. Lucio Fontana would famously slash his canvases, while other Zero artists would turn them to face the wall so as to better appreciate their construction, and to suggest that what happens on the hidden, or reverse side of a work of art is just as worthy of consideration as what happens on the more normally exposed ‘front’.

Thomas Demand
Lightbox, 2004
C-Print / Diasec
© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / SIAE, Rome.
Courtesy Sprüth Magers



Giulio Paolini
Decima Musa, 1966
Three triangular canvases.
© Giulio Paolini
Photo Attilio Maranzano.
Private Collection, Bari



Roy Lichtenstein
Stretcher Frame with Vertical Bar, 1968
Oil and magna on canvas
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein / SIAE 2015



Leading exponent of arte povera in the late 1960s, Italian painter and sculptor, Giulio Paolini (b 1940), who trained as a graphic designer and countered what he considered to be the ‘picturesqueness’ of France’s art informel, abstract art movement of the 1940s and 50s, by concentrating on the basic components of painting – canvas, frame, paint of a single colour – or even the abolition of paint in favour of a completely bare surface. And, in the year that pop artist Roy Lichtenstein produced his own stripped-down recto / verso paintings, the cataclysmic events of May 1968 in Paris implanted the idea in a generation of French youth that it was their task to dismantle every form of received structure, including those in contemporary art. They were to embark on a radical deconstruction of accepted mediums. The support/surfaces group of artists, that emerged in France, that included, among others, founder member Daniel Dezeuze (b 1942), rejecting the often unwieldy, modular constructions of American minimalism – the established avant garde art of the period – sought lightness and physical freedom. They considered the portability of art and the use of basic and cheap materials, such as strips of newspaper, bed-sheets, dish-cloths and scraps of canvas they used to make it, as important, which led some to re-assess the simplicity of the canvas-based painting. However, by 1970, they were insisting that painting could ‘exist only through the systematic elimination of all subjective practice,’ via the rejection of the brush, but, interestingly, not the painting. In some of the resulting works, the picture plane vanished completely, and all that remained was the support material.

Recto Verso, at Fondazione Prada presents artworks by artists from different generations and across a range of genres, all of which consciously push the hidden concealed or forgotten phenomenon of ‘the back’ firmly into the foreground.

All images courtesy Fondazione Prada


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The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier



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Photography | Photographing the Future

Friday, July 10th, 2015

Spettralizzazione dell ‘Io, 1931, Maggiorino Gramaglia
Photomontage. Museo Nazionale del Cinema collection, Turin



Fotografica Futurista / Futurist Photography
Galleria Carla Sozzani
Milan | Italy
Curated by Giovanni Lista
Until 1 November 2015



Portrait of Anton Giulio Bragaglia, 1913, Gustavo Bonaventura
Private collection



Already late for a new century that was desperate to put a lid on its predecessor’s old-fashioned ideas about art, Picasso’s celebrated painting Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) is generally accepted as the first cubist work. It signalled the future and was to trigger a revolution. Two years later, sick and tired of Italy’s oppressive culture that was particularly dependent upon its ancient past, Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published his Manifesto of Futurism on the front page of the Paris newspaper Le Figaro, in which he announced, ominously, ‘…we will free Italy from her innumerable museums, which cover her like countless cemeteries.’

Shoe, 1940, Elio Luxardo
Archivio Fotografico Fondazione 3M, Milan



Speed, 1930, Italo Bertoglio
Fondo Italo Bertoglio, Turin



Futurism had significant influence on constructivist, surrealist, dadaist and vorticist painting and sculpture, but whereas these were already established art forms, it would radically alter the course of photography, which had so far been little more than a pastime for those who could afford to play around with it. Taking hold of the illusion of the ‘natural’ that was prevalent in much nineteenth photography, that purported to reflect nature but was actually based on studio constructions and classical composition, it stripped away the artifice, often humorously exposing the old techniques to the viewer. The futurists doubled or split images to capture a sequence, and as a method of freezing movement. They invented ‘fotodinamismo’ or the photography of movement as energy, and explored the possibility of the medium to fix a sudden gesture, or to capture the light trail drawn by a moving body.

Self-portrait with cigarette, 1915, Fortunato Depero
Photo-performance with graphic intervention.
Mart, Archivio del ‘900, Fondo Fortunato Depero



From light to darkness, 1931, Piero Boccardi
Photomontage. Giorgio Grillo collection, Florence



With over one hundred original photographs, representing the work of over thirty photographers, from both private and national collections, Fotografia Futurista at the Carla Sozzani Gallery demonstrates how over a fifty year period the futurists took possession of the photographic language and used it as a medium to capture the pulse of life at the time. In so doing, the futurists transformed photography into the dynamic, potent and multifaceted force it became in both art and commerce in the twentieth century, that continues in the twenty-first century, and will doubtless continue into the future.

All images courtesy Galleria Carla Sozzani, Milan, Italy


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The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier



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Art | Andrew Wyeth in China

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Andrew Wyeth in Beijing & Hong Kong
Yuan Space, Beijing, China
14th April – 12th May, 2012
Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center
24th – 30th May, 2012
Christie’s, New York, USA
Date to be announced, September, 2012

When Snoopy’s dog house burned down in November 1966, sadly his Van Gogh was destroyed along with it, but the strip’s cartoonist, Charles M Schulz, saw to it that the painting was quickly replaced with one by the artist Andrew Wyeth, of whose work he was a great admirer. In 1977 Wyeth was the first American artist since John Singer Sargent to be elected to the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. A Wyeth retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006, running over 15 weeks, drew more than 175,000 visitors, the museum’s highest-ever attendance for a living artist. In 2007 he received the National Medal of Arts from George W Bush and in the same year, in the Springfield Up episode of The Simpsons, Mr Burns has a painting of Wyeth’s iconic Christina’s World, 1948 – MoMA Collection, bought in 1948 for $1800 – in his den, except that in his version Burns lanky body replaces the more shapely female figure. The entire neighbourhood of Thunder Hill in the village of Oakland Mills, Columbia in Maryland has street names derived from his paintings. But although Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) was one of the most popular and revered artists in the history of American art, perhaps it was for this very popularity that he was also one of its most criticised, especially within the art world. According to Michael Kimmelman, who wrote Wyeth’s obituary in The New York Times: ‘Because of his popularity – a bad sign to many art world insiders – Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject. ‘Kimmelman went on to say that art critics mostly heaped abuse on Wyeth’s work, saying he gave realism a bad name. Hopper’s realism was okay, apparently, but Wyeth’s wasn’t. Some experts regarded him as a facile realist, not an artist but merely an illustrator. Lashing out in all directions and perhaps further isolating himself, Wyeth expressed general disdain for the abstract expressionists. And so the antagonistic situation festered and boiled throughout the latter part of his life.

Andrew Wyeth was born into an artistic family in Chadds Ford, a small town in Pennsylania, about 30 miles from Philadelphia. His father NC Wyeth was a well-known illustrator, whose fame and talent in the 1920s attracted the attention of celebrities such as F Scott Fitzgerald who would come to visit him. NC drove his frail and ailing son – too feeble to attend school – hard, pushing him to develop drawing skills at an early age with the obsessive goal of making him follow in his father’s footsteps and become an illustrator. But Andrew resisted, preferring to paint the deserted landscapes he discovered on his wanderings. He liked the idea that figures could be implicit in his paintings but nevertheless went on to include in them his friends, a black handyman (A Crow Flew By 1949-50), and neighbours Karl and Anna Kuerner. Although he adapted portraits of others to include details of his father, who died in 1945, Wyatt never painted him. His ‘Helga‘ series of more than 200 paintings and sketches came with a whiff of scandal – he didn’t tell his wife about them until they were finished in 1985 – and received national publicity, travelling to major cities throughout the USA. These intimate studies – many of them full figure nudes – of neighbour Helga Testorf, made him very rich.

In Wyeth’s style of painting, that became known as ‘Magic’ Realism, everyday scenes are imbued with a dream-like air of mystery, coupled with barely concealed melancholy. He recorded the arid Pennsylvania and Maine landscapes, rural houses, and rickety shacks with great detail, painting in each tiny blade of grass, individual strands of hair, and every subtle nuance of light and shadow. The Brandywine River Museum, in Chadds Ford houses much of the Wyeth collection.

Wyeth’s work was as rural as Warhol’s was urban, his nudes as earthy as Warhol’s girls (and boys) were dirty, but while the rural can easily look picturesque to the city dweller, and might appear to pander even unintentionally to wide appeal, urban art is by nature of its situation radical and intended for a strictly limited, edgier audience. Ubiquity and the passage of time can render almost any image passé – The Mona Lisa, The Hay Wain, Van Gogh’s SunflowersThe Scream – and perhaps Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World has fallen victim to the same fate. But Warhol’s once iconoclastic Marilyn Diptych has, too – so far to a somewhat lesser extent – and The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone LivingDamien Hirst’s shark – will not be immune.

It’s not so surprising, then, that Wyeth’s work as opposed to Warhol’s and Pollock’s was deemed acceptable to the powers that be in 1980s China, where it became immensley popular. The press release for the forthcoming Andrew Wyeth in China exhibitions contains the following quote from Li Xian Ting – often called the godfather of Chinese contemporary avant-garde – academic consultant to the exhibition, who on this occasion may well be toeing the party line: ‘When Wyeth’s work first caught the eyes of artists of this generation, we were mainly under the influence of Socialist Realism from the 40s and (Russian) Peredvizhniki art in which the relation [sic] between the narrative and ideology featured heavily. Historically, young Chinese artists’ classical training was figurative and representational. At the time, the only way to rebel against Social Realism was to embrace Modernism, entailing a complete abandon [sic] of representation. This would have implied, starting from zero to reincarnate a new self under the banners of Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. And just as artists found themselves at this impasse, Wyeth’s works appeared. They were melancholic, poetic, but at the same time they developed on the skills and possibilities of representation. This deeply moved the burgeoning Chinese artists and inspired many to ask themselves the question: is it possible for us to hold on to the artistic training we grow up with, and still create something new that is different from Modernist art? And obviously, Wyeth provided them with such a possibility.’ Perhaps Chinese conservatism isn’t so far removed from Middle America’s. Meanwhile, Chinese conceptual artist, architect, designer and activist Ai Weiwei’s first solo exhibition in Italy wow’s the West at the Lisson gallery in Milan until 25th May, 2012.

Paintings from top
Study for ‘Lovers’, 1981
Drybrush and watercolor on paper
© Andrew Wyeth

Citizen Clark, 1957
Drybrush and watercolor on paper laid down on board
©Andrew Wyeth, Private Collection

Faraway, 1952
(Portrait of the artist’s son, Jamie)
Drybrush on paper
© Andrew Wyeth

The Works of Andrew Wyeth is organized by Yuan Space in cooperation with Christie’s and Adelson Galleries

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Show & Auction | Lucio Fontana, The Last Futurist

Friday, November 18th, 2011


Modern & Contemporary Art and Identita’ Italiana

Sotheby’s Milan, Exhibition until 22nd November, 2011
Auction 22nd & 23rd November, 2011

‘And what is there to see in an old picture except the laborious contortions of an artist throwing himself against the barriers that thwart his desire to express his dream completely?’ – Extract from The Futurist Manifesto, first published in France’s Le Figaro in 1909.

Much as the Italian Futurists, whom he would have been aware of in this youth, Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) was perhaps seen as getting rather carried away by his own enthusiasm when in the 1950s he declared: ‘I make holes; infinity passes through them; light passes through them, there is no need to paint.’

This is the man who slashed his own canvases and slit open his sculptures. I’d like to use the occasion of this Sotheby’s auction in Milan, in which six of his works go under the hammer, alongside paintings and sculpture from many of Italy’s most revered 20th century artists, among them: Giacomo Balla, Arturo Martini,Giorgio de Chirico, Massimo Campigli, Mario Sironi, Alberto Savinio, Renato Birolli, Luigi Ontani, Gastone Novelli and Domenico Gnoli, to extrapolate a theory I have developed concerning Lucio Fontana.

Fontana, was born in Argentina of Italian immigrant parents, his father being a sculptor. He was in Italy studying engineering when WWI broke out and fought in it. Afterwards he studied sculpture in Milan but soon returned to Argentina before settling once more in Italy. Despite having, with some Italian artist friends, gone to Paris – like de Chirico had, more than a decade before – to join one of the many factions of modern artists there – the Abstraction-Création group – contradictorily, his first one-man abstract art show having happened the year before, Fontana’s sensitive, equine, figurative bronze Bozzetto per i ‘Cavalli che seguono la Vittoria’, 1936, (above middle, and included in the sale) dates from this period. It’s interesting to note, though, that these horses are moving, not static, and the younger one is a little ahead of its parent. 1939 finds Fontana back in Argentina where he founds a private academy and with some of his students writes the Manifesto Blanco, demanding the synthesis of artistic genres and the renunciation of traditional art materials. It recognised that: ’We live in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and upright plaster no longer have a reason to exist.’ In their place, his idea was to merge technology and art to create something entirely new and more suited to the time. Back in Milan in 1947 he wrote another manifesto: Primo Manifesto dello Spezialismo, demanding a new form of space-oriented art. At the time his concept would have seemed improbable and grandiose: to synthesize space, sound, colour, movement and time into a new kind of art.

In 1949, his fiftieth year, Fontana punched holes through painted canvases and created his first spatial environment: an experiment with shapeless objects painted in fluorescent colours illuminated by ultra-violet light to be viewed in a darkened room. Seemingly manifesto-mad, in the 1950s he wrote another three of them and continued to conduct further experiments, slashing and perforating his paintings and sculptures, and even including neon lights, memorably at the 1966 Venice Biennale where he installed an ultra-violet light-room and a violet neon-room. His uncompromising Concetto spaziale, Attesa,1964 (above top, and in the sale), is perhaps the most bald and direct of his attempts to shock the viewer into the realisation that he is not looking at a flat plane. In slashing the canvas he attempts to bring the background – the wall behind – into the painting, giving it another dimension, making the painting into an object or sculpture. Earlier in the century, the Cubists had of course already experimented with this idea but Fontana wanted to push it further. Around about this time, many of his pieces were named Concetto Spaziele, the pierced sculptural form (above bottom, and in the sale) is one of them; here his object is to blur the difference between a solid, rounded, bean-shaped object and a hollow one, thus allowing the inside as well as the outside surface to have a presence.

Looking beyond the limits of the picture, exploring space and science fiction to connect the new art to the dramatic technological and social changes taking place in the middle of the 20th Century, Fontana’s outlook was enormously influential. Ahead of his time, with so many vague and unformed but interesting ideas, it is fair to say that his spatial concept foreshadowed installation and environmental art and his promotion of gesture as art prompted performance as art. A long list of artists emerging in the 1960s and later all owe him a great debt, among them: Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Jenny Holzer, James Turrell, Laurie Anderson, Bill Viola, Christo, Fiona BannerMartin Creed

We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicoloured, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervour of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd. Extract from The Futurist Manifesto, 1909.

Lucio Fontana may well have been the last Futurist.

Works from top
Concetto spaziale, Attesa, 1964
Bozzetto per i ‘Cavalli che seguono la Vittoria’, 1936
Concetto Spaziale, Undated


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How Long is a Piece of Spaghetti?

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

To Bologna and back (eventually)

Have you ever been to Bologna? No, neither had we but our daughter had paid a visit there last year and loved it, so we thought we’d give it a go. Our budget was limited but by booking a modest hotel and flights on-line, well in advance, the outlay was relatively small. Our stay over, in the taxi on the way from our hotel to the airport, we congratulated ourselves after having had a great time in the city. The hotel was great. The weather was great. The predicted rain and high humidity never materialised; on the contrary, much of the time it was sunny but cool; sometimes, especially in the evening, a chilly wind blew up that nudged us toward pulling on an extra layer but couldn’t deter us from exploring the city on foot. Our spirits might have taken a knock at the airport had the taxi driver, whom we’d given a generous tip, not caught us up, honked his horn to attract our attention then leaned over to hand my wife, Lesley, her favourite scarf, which she’d left behind on the back seat. It was Sunday; when the automatic doors opened ushering us inside we weren’t surprised to find the airport building quiet.

Earlier, waltzing out of the hotel toward the waiting car we overheard an elderly woman, who we mentally dismissed as an old fuddy-duddy, ask the receptionist whether she’d mind calling the airport to make sure her flight would be leaving on time. The last we’d heard of the Icelandic volcano’s continuing eruptions and ominous, wandering ash cloud was that it was causing problems on the Iberian Peninsula’s western seaboard. The week before’s general election and its aftermath was all the news we’d bothered to keep up with.

Save for a few that were heading for more southerly destinations, the word CANCELLED appeared against every flight on the airport monitors. Evidently, the ash cloud had drifted in our direction; all northern Italian airspace was closed until 1400 hours. We managed to find a Ryan Air desk manned by two bored-looking, uniformed staff, who informed us that we would be eligible for a refund of the full cost of the flight. One of them handed us a hastily printed A4 handout filled on both sides with bullet-pointed text explaining the company’s, and our own, position. ‘Oh,’ said the other, helpfully, ‘you might like to know that Ryan Air has cancelled all fights until Tuesday.’ We needed to get back to London and besides, Bologna is really only worth a three-day visit; staying two extra nights in a hotel would mean laying out a lot of extra cash, which wasn’t on our agenda.

The following morning, stumbling out of the couchette, in which we’d spent the last ten hours on our way to Paris from Nice, it was hard to imagine what we’d been through in the preceding 24. We had first enquired at all the car hire desks whether it was possible to take a car to Paris and to leave it at a depot there. It wasn’t. One of those we spoke to told us he was organising a mini bus to drive up to twelve stranded Brits to Calais, privately, and asked us if we’d like to be included. ‘No,’ we told him; the price was scandalous and besides, he looked a bit shifty.

Like a lot of English tourists, our Italian is more or less limited to what various types of food and a few wines are called. We had taken another taxi to the main railway station, where the woman on the ticket counter spoke no English. ‘Parigi?’ we asked, hopefully. ‘No,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘Milano’ and ‘internazionale’ were about the only words we understood from the deluge of them that issued from her animated lips through a whole universe of facial expression. Resorting to international language: ‘Okay’ we told her.

Milano Centrale, Milan’s colossal railway station, opened in 1931; it has no definite architectural style, but is a blend of among others, Belle Epoque and Art Deco, and (having been incomplete when Mussolini came to power) has additional fascist embellishments. It is 200 metres wide, is a soaring 72 metres high and has 24 platforms. Every day about 320,000 passengers pass through it, using 600 trains. ‘Inferno’ is Italian for ‘hell’; jumping into the burning mouth of a live volcano might have been less intimidating. The place was heaving: the signage inconsistent, confusing. It took us about 20 minutes just to locate a loo. By now it was 2pm. There had been no buffet or restaurant on the train. We had eaten nothing since breakfast at 8am. Despite its opulent grandeur, the only source of food at Milan’s main station appeared to be the Italian version of a MacDonald’s, serving fast-food pizza. Scorning it, we wheeled our suitcases out of the station and found ourselves in an almost silent, urban desert, the only signs of life: the sparse remnants of a Philipino congregation who’d attended a Catholic service at a nearby church. Gritting our teeth, we went back inside and ate pizza.

Trains to Munich, which we reckoned must be far enough north to be safe from the ash cloud, were all full. Assured that we could pick up a connecting train to Nice, we bought tickets to Ventimiglia, on Italy’s Mediterranean coast close to the French border. The journey under ominous skies, across vast areas of dull countryside, punctuated here and there by stops at grimy, industrial towns, took an age. Standing up, getting our things together, thinking we had reached our destination, we discovered that the train was only coming into Genoa, which meant two more hours to go. Under sullen skies and passing through countless tunnels, past deserted, sad-umbrella’d, narrow beaches the train creaked and swayed on its relentless odyssey. Even the sea looked bored. There was a stop at Savona then San Remo, which we visited briefly on a family holiday in the area ten years ago: others at Imperia and Bordighera, none of which we’d been particularly enamoured by. Finally reaching Ventimiglia, we dashed through the light drizzle to board the Nice train that was just about to leave. It turned out to be mostly filled with French commuters, who have jobs in Italy but live in France. Miraculously, the sky cleared and the sun came out as the train, hugging the steep cliffs, rounded the headland where the Alps fall into the Mediterranean. Bathed in evening sunlight, orange, ochre, countless pale green-shuttered Menton, one of our favourite towns on the Mediterranean coast, welcomed us back but just as quickly, waved adieu, to be quickly replaced by other-worldly, skyscrapered Monte Carlo and a gaggle of smart yachts and gigantic cruise-liners moored beyond the port, still brushed with the dying sun’s golden light.

When we inspected them: our tickets to Paris that we bought in Milan and came in three parts, had Nice Riquier marked on them as the station where we should alight in Nice. However, the Nice-Paris portion of the journey was to start from Nice Ville. Approaching Nice the train slowed a little and came to a sudden halt at Nice Riquier station, where we were the only ones to jump up and leap off. Before we had time to question our decision, the train left. Something was wrong. Things didn’t look very promising. It was so obviously not a main station. The station buildings looked rather run-down. No one was about. The ticket office was closed. We were confused. We were intimidated when two black teenagers in full rapper gear appeared. Facing me, shrugging her shoulders and raising her eyebrows, as if to say we had no other choice, Lesley, who is braver than me, turned and walked over to them and asked if they knew where we could get a taxi. They smiled shyly, taking off their dark glasses then took on worried looks when Lesley showed them our tickets and went on to explain that we needed to catch the 9 pm train to Paris. They didn’t know about taxis but told us – by this time I had wandered over – there was a tram stop a couple of hundred away. But then one of them pulled out a train time-table and advised us to stay put; the next train to Nice Ville was due in 20 minutes and the journey only took six, which would give us more than enough time to catch the mainline train north.

Starving: from Gare d’Austerlitz, Lesley and I walked across the Seine to the Marais, where we allowed ourselves the luxury of a well-deserved, phenomenal breakfast at her favourite Paris brasserie, Camille. We had been shocked to find – being in France! – that aside from a vending machine from which sweets, crisps and soft drinks could be had, there was no other source of sustenance on the sleeper. Malteasers and barbeque-flavoured crisps are not the ideal supper but, before retiring, I dug around in a suitcase and pulled out a beautifully gift-wrapped bottle of mirtillo (blueberry) grappa to wash them down with. Paris, early on a beautiful, milkily-lit weekday morning in mid-May, although we wished we could linger, wasn’t the end of the story. Before us, there remained the Eurostar to St Pancras; the tube to Liverpool Street; the train journey to Stansted, where we’d left our car and finally, the half-hour drive home.

In case you were wondering…
In Bologna, everyone was out on the streets, including the happy father and his two rather glum-looking children in my picture, to watch the Bologna stage of the Mille Miglia, in which 1927-1957 vintage cars race one another along 1000 miles of Italian roads. The 2010 winners, driving a 1939 BMW 328 Mille Miglia Coupé, were Giuliano Cané and Lucia Galliani, making this their tenth Mille Miglia victory.

Has anyone has had similar travel experiences? Please post a comment

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