Studio America

Contemporary Italian painters and their works abroad

by Gianluca MARZIANI

The question seems simple: who are the most influential Italian artists in the American context? The answer can also be simple, if we limit the list to include only the giants that the world envies Italy for. If instead we want to test the influences on the present (at the moment that the events occur) or their influences beyond their giant status (in a context outside of their irreplaceable names), it is therefore necessary to define a suitable criterion, a measurement of incisiveness that doesn’t stop with history or the market, but touches on the figurative conscience of the work, the background and backstage of the events, the hidden inspirations, and the deepest linguistic intuitions.

Imagine if Robert Rauschenberg hadn’t come to Italy in the 1950s, where he saw the work of Alberto Burri, or if Cy Twombly hadn’t discovered the works of Gastone Novelli in Rome, or even if Richard Serra hadn’t lived through such significant experiences in Rome. Small revelations, unexpected flashes, persistent visions: the conscience of our view is constructed of multiple elements, evident or invisible, but nevertheless enduring. We know well how definitively Futurism has molded art history, but it is not as clear-cut how much American post-war art owes to the role of Rome in the 1950s and 1960s, reaffirming the complexity of the ties between our Capital and New York, between the cities that symbolize the Old World and the New World, between the majesty of ruin and the sustained impact of steel.

The concept of these across-the-board influences is an aspect that is not limited to success or to economic weight, but regards the woven iconography of the work, human exchanges, private events, the shadowy parts. Here the privileged relations that determine true influences are born, where we discover that the deep lives of artists are molded only by other artists.

We open this American journey with GASTONE BIGGI, class of 1925, author of a recent series dedicated to the city of New York. Palazzo Collicola Arti Visive, the museum that is re-launching Spoleto on the contemporary circuit, has recently presented the whole series, before the New Yorker phase next autumn (in an important museum in the city that we won’t mention, pending definitive dates.) The artist has paid homage to the metropolis with a poetic cipher, dense with private and collective memories, a melting pot of influences, ties, cross-references, homages, allusions, and contaminations. A beautiful management of complexity and a special sense of color are felt in the subject matter, with the subtle lure of the names that have rendered the Big Apple unique. Everything is seen through the lens of a pictorial code that is between abstract art and depiction, where this “abstract realism” that Biggi himself theorized in his writings is manifested. New York becomes drip painting, minimalist geometry, graffiti, expressionist sabre, Africanism, geometric module, uprightness and glimmer, contrast and harmony, metallic dissonance and musicality… Within the works fragments are perceived like poetic particles of an orchestral painting, a polygamy of the gesture that arches into the chromatic spectrum and makes points, lines, and curves dance… it wasn’t easy to understand New York using the silent weapon of color, yet Biggi has written a long story through a series of canvases where the outfield voice is that of the artist in love, crazily in love with this unique metropolis. Striking. Inimitable.

If we look at the results of the art system today, the three Italians that spur the most interest in the American setting are MAUR IZIO CATTELAN , FRANCESCO VEZZOLI and RUDOLF STINGEL. They have passed the threshold of the major museums and of the collections of authors and world fairs, returning a presence on the global contemporary scene to Italy. Three different artists with one common nature: using hybrid language to define their visions, realizing the right experimental directions, overturning genres in a version that is of their own making. Using personal methods, they are indicating tendencies and giving a starting point that the United States recognizes with intelligence and appropriate respect. All three remain Europeans in their way of conceptualizing opera, the complexity of its installation, its dialectic nature; but they don’t lose conscience of innovations, of the progress of the media and the progress of communication mechanisms.

One thing still distinguishes Italian art: it’s an essential value, that is, an iconographic quality, a methodic construction of the work, the plastic quality of detail, and meticulousness as an aesthetic structure and conceptual driver. Don’t believe those who sing the praises of global art, feeding a homogeneousness that doesn’t get at the necessary genius loci, the importance of roots and the sense of belonging to a particular history. Italian artists still have a clear code for the architectural design of the picture, a sense of the historical flow that connects Giotto to Tano Festa, Piero della Francesca to Franco Angeli, il Bronzino to Domenico Gnoli, Michelangelo to Mario Schifano. Art remains a massive horizontal flow, where the past releases inspiring waste on the present, thus feeding the tenacity of innate quality, a gift that lingers over the best artists of the local panorama.

ALBERTO DI FAB IO is a precise example of an Italian artist that has obtained a constant presence on the Gagosian team. His Oriental charts and canvases tell the story of the cellular microcosm as well as that of the astronomical macro-world, giving science an ethical code that flies across figurative refinery, mixing the mosaics of Ravenna and Baroque decorations, Pucci and Ferragamo, Oriental art and Alighiero Boetti.

The discourse is similar for STEFANO ARIENTI. For years one of the artists of Lehmann Maupin, he also is a methodical visual thinker that has found in charts and in the levity of touch his personal stylistic code. Fragility and control are two themes that interest the American public, intrigued by dimensions of the world gathered and reflected, in a figurative space that has solid ethical references and evokes the fundamental values of American culture. Fragility is a sign of tenacity and resistance, and a point of fallibility that resists and confirms memories with its conservation.

Instead, on a different front is pop-surrealist painter NICOLA VERLATO . His principal galleries are called Jonathan Levine (New York) and Merry Karnowski (Los Angeles), references for anyone who is interested in investigating new figurative forms and the most outstanding experimentations between design and painting, explained by magazines such as Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose. It is interesting to note that Verlato embodies a sort of maximalist painting which seems based on Salvador Dalí and Robert Longo, also including the double conscience of a European memory that touches on its new culture. It’s a confirmation, on one side, of how heterogeneous American tastes are; and on the other side, of how much artists of his esteem have ties (albeit indirect ones) with American culture, capturing themes and events for their fundamental style.

In conclusion, beyond a market where Italy is outside of the podium, we can affirm that Italian art maintains a precise nature and a value of belonging that American culture regards with curiosity and respect. Now is the golden moment for Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Alighiero Boetti, Enrico Castellani… shortly, a fever will grow around Salvatore Scarpitta, Agostino Bonalumi, Mimmo Rotella, Pino Pascali, Luigi Ontani… and after a few years, maybe, we can hope to touch on a few of the other “young people” that are so passionate today.


Gianluca Marziani is a Columnist for the Italian Journal.

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