Marble and experimentation in italian Conceptual Art

Marble and experimentation in italian Conceptual Art - Architecture/Design/Art
Marble and experimentation in italian Conceptual Art - Architecture/Design/Art
Marble and experimentation in italian Conceptual Art - Architecture/Design/Art
Salvo, Luciano Fabro, Antonio Trotta: Three Key Artists

Critic Essay Luca Beatrice

The belief that, when experimenting with sculpture, using warm materials that are deeply connected with tradition might hinder a more contemporary approach, especially to conceptual art, is the norm.

Despite its outstanding magniloquence, marble, the epitome of a beauty that inevitably aspires to neoclassicism and to monumentality, has experienced the same gene mutation that other maybe less noble materials have had to go through to gain acceptance by the so-called contemporariness.
Something should be said first, though. That unreasonably mistrusting attitude towards history tends to change as the postmodern era draws closer: when the past, at last, becomes an archive of memory to be reckoned with, when one can choose and use what one needs to update the styles and languages. Painting gets there a bit earlier maybe, but there’s no doubt that by the late Seventies the ideological paradigm of an art (and a culture) built upon an evolutionist effect is overturned. That does not necessarily means having a nostalgic attitude to the past: it is a new realisation, instead. We are no longer fighting with the past, and even the comeback of handiwork can at last be more peacefully deployed.

The exhibition “La ripetizione differente” (“The different repetition”) curated by Renato Barilli at Studio Marconi in Milan (1974), was the paradigmatic harbinger of such change. In comparing the experiences of Pop to Arte Povera, of figurative painting to a quotation of classicism, the Bologna-born critic pointed his finger at the need to take a new turn. One of the guest artists, Salvo, definitely went for painting, which he took up in 1973 and never left ever again until the day of his death, in September 2015.
Even earlier, in 1970, Salvo made a marble sculpture, Lapidi, engraved with enigmatic and aptly lapidary words or sentences, such as “Idiot”, “Breathing the father”, “I’m the best”. Or a list of forty names, including those of painters, philosophers, poets, writers, with Aristotle at the top and, cheekily, his own name at the bottom. Though yielded by Arte Povera, which Salvo skirted but never joined, his Lapidi «show, in their monumental, archaising features, a distinctive character that paved the way to his future experimentation». A short series that went on till 1972, with a wide range of inscriptions, from the Assyrian The Lament of Ashurbanipal to Aesop’s The Tortoise and The Eagle.

This is the background of Salvo the archivist, the mnemonic, the cataloguer, who would rather tabulate than think. With him, the conceptual art inspired by Joseph Kosuth blends into the Mediterranean monumentality of marble.
Luciano Fabro is one of the few Arte Povera artists who persistently explored classicism. He was born in Turin in 1936 and passed away in Milan in 2007. Fabro was the only group member who chose to live and work in Lombardy, and definitely called himself a sculptor, which was a taboo word at the time, as it was so deeply imbued with newness at all costs. Coeval with Salvo were his first experiences with marble: Spirato, 1973, is the first sculpture he made with our material. “The sculptor – he used to say – works out the ratio of image to sculpture, he must be able to see in the iron, even if unawarely, that it has been wrought, and in the cast-iron he must feel that it has been cast, and in marble he must feel that the figure is in it, wrought in it”.

In marble sculpture, which he occasionally ventured upon throughout his lifetime, Fabro claimed that, because of “the rampant unsociability of the collapse of conceptual art”, one could just whisper and go back to “pure thought”. Even just a wonderful, big sliver of marble was enough for him to grasp the essence.
In 1982, at PAC, also in Milan, Flaminio Gualdoni curated an important exhibition, “La sovrana inattualità” (“Sovereign Obsolescence”), a reflection on plastic research in the Seventies. Sculpture was expressly unmentioned, as influenced by Martini’s dogma of “sculpture as an extinct language”.
Why obsolete, then? “It is actually a chosen obsolescence, the sought and accepted risk of doing art as an aim in itself, the will to contradict with facts (without, then, creating any new ideological or theoretical alternative) that false neediness that cages it up from outside. It is not, after all, an entirely new attitude, the outcome of a recent reflection or a maybe contingent response: it is, instead, the recent collapse of artistic research and the co-militant criticism that made the current factors and inspirations take shape out of what are usually considered to be, at least, the beginnings of modern art”. Quite the opposite of an Indian reservation, then, according to Gualdoni, sculpture is throbbing with energy.

The exhibition included works by Antonio Trotta, who, a few years later, in 1990, set up a big solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Born in 1937 in Stio in Cilento, “an Italian from Argentine”, brought up on Jorge Luis Borges and Omar Sivori, Trotta has been living for decades in Pietrasanta where he has further developed his laically fideistic love for sculpture. It was there that I first met him in the early Nineties as I was preparing a show on Disegni di scultura, and it was there that I also listened to his ideas for the catalogue of his solo exhibition at Enrico Astuni, in an interview that had no end and ‒ seemingly ‒ no thread running through it. A man that was as difficult, unconventional, troublesome and unruly as he was talented, Trotta has worked at a deceitfully archaic idea of plastics, imbued with sound literary and philosophical roots, showing that even an image cam strengthen the bond with the contemporary. His love for marble, classically anchored to “making”, did not certainly restrain him from developing a theoretical thinking that at least to us is ‒ as noble as a unicum.
Artifex is one of the sculptures that best embodies his bent for playing with enigmas. Beyond time, present and past. And on the run from history.

Marmo 6, pag 24

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