15 September - 8 October 2011
Pensare concreto. Soldati, Nigro, Nativi, Crippa, Davico
curated by Flaminio Gualdoni
opening 15 September H. 6-9 pm
extraordinary opening START Milano
friday 16 September _ until 10 pm
saturday 17 September until 9 pm
sunday 18 September _ 12 noon - 7 pm
monday > saturday 10am-1pm / 2-7 pm
Galleria Bianconi - Milano
In Concrete Art, “something that previously existed in the world of ideas becomes a reality that can be controlled and observed. Concrete painting is thus a representation of the reality of abstract, invisible thoughts”. Thus wrote Max Bill in his essay Pittura concreta in February 1946, which in Italy paved the way for a new geometrical art.
On 11 January 1947, the “Arte astratta e concreta” exhibition opened at the Palazzo Reale in Milan. It was promoted by Bill himself, together with Lanfranco Bombelli Tiravanti and Max Huber. Here the artists on display showed how they intended to take up the legacy of the pre-war avant-gardes, accompanying Arp, Kandinsky, Klee, and Vantongerloo with Licini, Rho, Munari and Veronesi, amongst others.
The choice was however clear in terms of the ideology of art. In their view, modernity was primarily a radical demand for the non-negotiable independence of artistic practice, and an awareness that the artist’s historical responsibility and commitment were all the stronger when no longer dependent on unrelated extempore factors but rather on a philosophy of action capable of modifying existing reality.
This meant that the way to achieve this could not be that of slavish stylised derivations from Guernica, and certainly not the pathetic representation to which some artists were turning.
In Italian culture, the choice of geometry and of an essential artistic vocabulary pointed to a wish to clear the decks of two decades of lagging behind and of the ambiguities of the years of Fascism. It meant claiming a role with a strong identity for the artist, as a creator en philosophe, perfectly and independently responsible for his or her own processes. This concerned as much their choices of a metaphysical nature as those regarding the objective production of modern forms, from architecture to decoration and design.
For some years after, the area of new input was enlivened by experiences such as Forma, MAC, and Arte d’Oggi, which were driven by such factors as the debate on the unification and integration of the arts that the Triennale tabled in Milan in 1948 and again in 1951.
What was decided on that occasion was not once again to recreate a climate that had already been fully investigated, but to reflect by imitation on the different chromatic nuances being projected on those of the new generation of artists who were maturing within an abstract and concrete culture. In other words, on those who were not taking up a developmental course that would reach towards a geometrical language, but that actually started from it.
Possibly commencing with fideistic enthusiasm and militant engagement, they later became more lucidly critical, aiming right from the start to force the stylistic protocols of the genre and authentically seeking their own individual temperature of expression. This was not a path towards irrelative form but rather a natural adoption of irrelativity and a metabolism towards the infinite adventures of possible form.
Thus we have Mario Nigro, Mario Davico, Gualtiero Nativi, and Roberto Crippa. And the “grand old man” Atanasio Soldati, testifying to the ethical purity of a concrete action that considers art as a totalising, exclusive and, one might almost say monastic, experience, as well as a place for the imagination that draws not just on simplifications, but on a spontaneous simplicity and metaphysical moods. And also on a sense of the classic that, still today, needs to be fully thought out once more.
The noble father Soldati, who set sail from the visible contingent world to dock at the linguistic foundation of an “other” reality, savouring of a higher order and perfection, and for this reason elected as a prime model and reference for the younger generation. The Soldati who, as Paolo Fossati wrote, achieved the “reduction of the rendering of paint to elementary geometrical rhythms, thereby leaving all accentuation to the creativity that moves conventions and structures, without locking them into rigid, clearly defined perceptive data”. In other words, one that does not execute a formula but that, with perfect intellectual lucidity, constantly questions the language of painting in the very process of creating it.
More than anything, it was this that the new talents who were maturing during the run-up to the 1950s saw in him.
This was true of Nigro who, in that fateful 1950, achieved the rhythms with neoplastic overtones in his chequered panels and, based on the values of repetition and variation, immediately introduced the decisive elements of the dynamism of the image, serried on slashing diagonals and broken up into rhythmical contrasts of colour. This culminated in the series on total space, kinesis and, yet more, the drama of form, in a complete visual plenitude of structure and colour.
And the same goes for Davico, whose stunning exhibition at the Bussola in Turin was, in absolute terms, one of the most mature outcomes of the period. In those years, Davico’s main interlocutor was Prince Moreni, though he remained secluded as his quarrelsome nature meant he would not congregate in a group. Ethically uncompromising and cloistered, just like Soldati, Davico reasoned specifically on the terms of construction. His closely packed verticals were given rhythm by sweeping horizontals and the introduction of slender curves and diagonals disaligning the primary order and injecting a sort of rarefied but powerful sculptural clinamen.
This was also the case with Nativi, who became a protagonist of Astrattismo Classico, signing the manifesto in 1950 with Berti, Brunetti, Monnini, Nuti, and Migliorini. He contributed with a programmatic exploration of highly dynamic spaces and structures, with pointed triangles and clangourous diagonal collisions, in which we can see an early and by no means mundane reinterpretation of Futurism.
During the non-incidental period in which he adopted a geometrical language, before embarking on his spatial adventure, Crippa too reasoned in terms of serried repetitions of geometrical morphemes and high-impact chromatic relationships, based on lessons learnt from Abstraction-Création and its Kandinskian considerations. And it was precisely on his works in this period, and on those of other artists, that the words of the father of non-objectivity seem to ring out so appropriately: “spiritual life is like an acute triangle divided into unequal sections, tending upwards. Wherever we are, the triangle always moves imperceptibly upwards.”
The prevalent feature of Italian Concretism is that it was primarily an attitude rather than a trend, which meant taking expressive responsibility, with forms of intellectual radicalism and investigation, and the form of responsibility was itself primarily intellectual. It is no coincidence that, at the time, Galvano used the term “most cautious temperament” in reference to Davico, though this might have been applicable to all of them.
That young generation did however know that concrete thinking is first and foremost the premise of a universe of potential visuals that the artist can and must explore.
And, in his last, resplendent years, Soldati showed that this is possible and, each according to their own inspiration and true to their own vocation, this is what Nigro, Davico, Nativi, Crippa and friends so amply demonstrated over the years that followed.