By moving away from the use of traditional media in art, and challenging the accepted art-viewer relationship, these artists played a significant role in changing the course of modern art. Cardi Gallery presents works by eight Italian post-war masters at Art Basel 2021 as part of the fair’s online viewing room ‘Pioneers’. Through a selection entitled ‘Pioneers of the Earth and the Skies’, the gallery is showing eight ground-breaking works made between 1966 and 2010.
Throughout his whole career, Mimmo Rotella developed several new techniques to exceed the limitations of painting: the décollage in the 1950s, the photo emulsion and the artypo in the 1960s, and the blank in the 1980s. Venere Imperiale, 1966 is one of the earlier examples of artypo, created by cropping and mounting appropriated printing proofs onto canvas. Visually complex webs of randomly layered prints superimposing imagery, letters, and colours, these works draw from popular culture, the icons of film and advertising dotting the everyday landscape of the ever-changing capital city of a booming economy. Rotella’s rebellious attitude towards the sacred space of the canvas, his embrace of the element of chance and his playfulness with everyday materials make him a pioneer in the development of Post-War art in Italy.
Similarly to Rotella, Alberto Biasi also broadens the horizons of painting through the assemblage of industrially produced materials. His Drops in Lewisham, 1974 evokes the imagery of flickering drops through a process of virtual kineticism where immobile PVC and acrylic strips become animated by the viewer’s movement, therefore creating new shapes that steer the gaze. The viewer’s presence is necessary to complete the work, establishing a key relationship, and drawing attention to a performative and temporal element of a wall-based piece.
This attitude is also exemplified by Michelangelo Pistoletto’s practice and his series quadri specchianti such as Man with a Yellow and Green Hat, 1973, where the spectator physically becomes an integral part of the painting.
Just like for Pistoletto the mirror acts as a bridge between the artwork and the world of the here and now, therefore letting the everyday bleed into the work, in Mario Merz’s Untitled, 1983 this function is brought forth by a light spear piercing an unstretched canvas. Intricately painted, the present work is a rare vertical rendition of an owl-like form drawn from the rich artist’s bestiary.
In their works, these artists embrace natural, earthy elements in their poorest, simplest organic form: salt, ice. They elevate them through the association with manmade, industrial materials, such as serial prints for Rotella, plastic compounds for Biasi, stainless steel for Pistoletto, neon strips for Merz, lead sheets and a freezing system for Pierpaolo Calzolari’s Untitled (Black Salt), 1986. These works speak to the tactility of art, his alchemic capacity to transform and elevate not only common natural subjects and everyday materials, but to challenge vision and activate the other senses through the scent of freezing metal, the variation of temperature and the buzzing of an engine. They all reference yet depart from the pictorial language, deconstructing high art through unusual creative approaches and assemblages.
Alighiero Boetti relinquished part of his own artistic agency. Cieli ad alta quota, a 1988 piece from his iconic Aerei series, illustrates the artist’s collaborative approach in creating artworks, as he instructed fellow artists and amateurs alike to draw his aeroplanes against the background of high-altitude skies.
Another piece questioning the foundations of high art is Jannis Kounellis’s 1980 wall-based piece, Mensola. It reimagines the language of classical sculpture and painting at once; the canvas has been substituted by a heavy iron plate with shelves, on which a small collection of plaster heads is on display alongside some artists materials. The sculptures are fragmented or splattered with coloured paint, the painting rags soaked in colour, the glass probably belonging to some frames, broken.
A completely different attitude towards painting is demonstrated by the quiet neo-expressionism of Untitled, 2010 by Mimmo Paladino. A large-scale work on canvas, it displays a colourful mixed media tableau of various figurative elements, geometric shapes and patterns, such as the human head depicted both as side profile and frontally, a stylized house, the number 1. Paladino’s works are imbued with mysticism, at once earthbound and deeply rooted in Italian culture, yet speaking to, and of, the otherworldly.