Friday, August 30, 2013

Augusto Cernigoj - Movimento Arte Concreta

Augusto (or Avgust) Černigoj was born in Trieste in 1898, of Slovenian parentage. He studied at the Fine Art Academy of Bologna, and also at the Bauhaus, where he was the only Italian student. Augusto Černigoj worked as a teacher at the Slovenian school in Trieste. The two works below were contributed to Documenti d'arte d'oggi, the journal of the Movimento Arte Concreta, in 1958. By happenstance, my copies have been hand-signed by Černigoj in pen at the bottom right. Usual copies are unsigned.

Augusto Černigoj
Untitled woodcut, 1958

Augusto Černigoj
Untitled lithograph, 1958

The influence of Hans Arp can be seen in the lithograph, which is a very successful and balanced composition, in my view. Although he was a well-respected artist, the art of Černigoj has only been truly appreciated after his death in 1985. More than 1400 pieces are gathered in the Galleria di Avgust Černigoj in Lipizza.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Personal Calligraphy: The Art of Gillo Dorfles - Movimento Arte Concreta

The long-lived artist and art critic Gillo Dorfles was born in Trieste in 1910, and in 2013 was still able to be actively involved in designing the Tibetan Pavilion for the 55th Venice Biennale.

Gillo Dorfles

His chief period as an active artist spanned essentially the life of the influential abstract movement he co-founded, MAC, the Movimento Arte Concreta. MAC was founded by Gillo Dorfles, Atanasio Soldati, Bruno Munari, and Gianni Monnet in 1948, and disbanded in 1958 after the premature death of Monnet. Writing in the New York Times in 1955, when Dorfles was showing a group of monotypes at the Wittenborn Gallery, D. Ashton notes that, "In most of his prints, the emphasis is on a personal calligraphy that can be read for meaning, like handwriting. . . At times the rhythmic interplay of line resembles the intricate symbolic designs on ancient oriental bronzes. In his delicacy of color and the emphasis on integral rhythms, Dorfles achieves a lyrical quality." These comments apply equally to his lithographs of the same period. Sadly I have found it very hard to capture the deep glowing background colours of these lithographs in my photographs - the originals are really intense and vibrant.

Gillo Dorfles
Five untitled lithographs, 1955

Gillo Dorfles
Two untitled woodcuts, 1956

After the disbandment of MAC, Gillo Dorfles devoted most of his energies to teaching and writing about art and aesthetics, though he also continued to create his own art.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Travel Sculpture by Bruno Munari: Movimento Arte Concreta

Bruno Munari, about whom there is a very interesting article here relating to a 2002 exhibition at the Milan Dobeš Museum, was one of the four founders of MAC, the Movimento Arte Concreta, an Italian abstract art movement that flourished from 1948-1958. Born in Milan in 1907, Munari enjoyed a long career of restless creativity. In the late 1920s and the 1930s Bruno Munari was a member of Marinetti's Futurist movement, from which he disassociated himself after WWII, because of Futurism's links with fascism. Bruno Munari was a pioneer of installation art, mobile and kinetic art, photocopy art and all kinds of inventive creations such as his useless machines and unreadable books. Among his most charming creations are his "sculture da viaggio" - portable sculptures cut out of card that can be folded for travel. One of these was included in the final publication of MAC/Espace, the 1958 volume of Documenti d'arte d'oggi. Beautifully simple, and simply beautiful.

Bruno Munari
Scultura da viaggio, 1958

The two silkscreens below reflect one of Munari's most consistent concerns, the arrangement of planes of colour in a square format. He created the first of these Negativi-Positivi for the cover of Art d'Aujourd'hui in 1952. In 1945 the New York publication the Magazine of Art wrote of Munari's Negativi-Positivi, "his interest lies further in the advance and recession of planes, and in the possibilities for double-focus - that is, planes that seen to shift their position according to the juxtaposition."

Bruno Munari, Negativo/Positivo
Silkscreen, 1955

Bruno Munari, Negativo-Positivo
Silkscreen, 1956-57
(sorry about the wonky photo!)

MAC was dissolved in 1958, after the death of co-founder Gianni Monnet. Bruno Munari lived another 40 years, during which he continued to make art with ceaseless invention, and also forged a career as the creator of highly-innovative picture books for children, which encouraged kinaesthetic learning. Bruno Munari died in Milan in 1998.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Women artists of MAC: Movimento Arte Concreta

What critical attention that has been focused on the Movimento Arte Concreta has been on the male artists who formed the overwhelming majority of the members of MAC. So I thought before I turned my attention to the men I would post about the three women who contributed original art to Documenti d'arte d'oggi.

Simonetta Vigevani Jung (1917-2005)

The first of these is Simonetta Vigevani Jung. She was born Simonetta Irene Jung in Palermo, Sicily in 1917. She first exhibited in Milan in 1955, and in New York the following year at the Duveen-Graham Gallery. Her work is distinguished by its dynamic forms and vivid colours - though colour is not an essential element of her art, as two cool black-and-white studies in line and form go to show. I have to say I personally prefer the colour work, with its enticing sense of cosmic rhythm. Writing of her "Light Forms" (Forme Luce) paintings of 1955 (to which the first six of my lithographs are closely related), Albert Duveen remarks on their "lilting airiness": "The lyrical movements, detached and ethereal, are created with such vivacity that they bespeak of a joyous nature - their voluptuousness, a refined sensuality. Here then is a personal language, emotional but disciplined, stirring us to our very depth. Truly a revelation rarely produced before within the limits of the abstract."

Simonetta Vigevani Jung
Six untitled lithographs (Forme Luce), 1955

Simonetta Vigevani Jung
Two untitled lithographs, 1956-57

Simonetta Vigevani Jung
Untitled lithograph, 1958

Though there is a monograph on her work by Giuseppe Marchiori, Simonetta Vigevani Jung seems to have fallen into underserved obscurity. She was first married to Angelo Vigevani with whom she had a daughter Diana. Vigevani died in a car accident when their daughter was seventeen years old. She remarried and then lived in Brussels with her husband Hubert De Schryver who was a Belgian consul. Simonetta Vigevani Jung died in Brussels in 2005.

Carol Rama (1918- )

The second female member of MAC is Carol Rama. One of Italy's most important female artists of the twentieth century, Carol Rama was born in Turin on 17 April 1918. Though she is now best-known for her provocative drawings and paintings exploring female sexuality, in a naive, almost "Outsider" style, in the 1950s Carol Rama was also an active member of the Movimento Arte Concreta. At this period she often spelled her name as one word, Carolrama. I really like her abstract compositions of this period, with their distinctive arrangements of block forms connected by thin rods.

Carol Rama
Five untitled lithographs, 1955

Carol Rama and Albino Galvano (1907-1990)
Joint composition on one lithographic stone, 1956-57

Carol Rama's lifetime creating art was recognised at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003, when she was presented with the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. Major retrospectives have been held at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and ICA Boston (1998), at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in her birthplace of Turin (2004), and at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (2005). In 2003 the Esso Gallery, New York, staged the exhibition Carol Rama, past and present.

Regina with her husband, Luigi Bracchi

Lastly, I have two lithographs by the sculptor Regina Cassolo Bracchi, who worked simply as Regina. Regina was born in Mede in 1894, and studied at the Brera Academy. She studied sculpture under Giovanni Battista Alloati. A member of the Futurists from 1933, Regina was also a member of MAC. After the disbanding of MAC, Regina continued to work in a Futurist style.

Regina (1894-1974)
Untitled lithograph, 1955-56

Untitled lithograph, 1956-57

Regina died in Milan in 1974. The Museo Regina in the Castle of Mede contains more than 500 works left by her husband the artist Luigi Bracchi. A 1991 monograph on her work by Luciano Caramel is now very hard to find. In 2010 the Fondazione Ambrosetti Arte Contemporanea staged an important exhibition on this neglected female artist, REGINA. Futurismo, arte concreta e oltre, curated by Paolo Campiglio.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Concrete Art in Italy: Movimento Arte Concreta

Concrete Art is a term applied to various abstract art movements. The term was coined by Theo van Doesburg in his 1930 Manifesto of Concrete Art. Van Doesburg's insistence that art should be formed from the "concrete" elements of form and colour without reference to the physical world was championed by the Swiss artist Max Bill, a former student of Josef Albers and Wassily Kandinsky at the Bauhaus. In the late 1940s and the 1950s two groups influenced by Bill flourished in France and Italy: Groupe Espace and MAC, the Movimento Arte Concreta. The two groups exhibited in combination in Italy as Gruppo Espace.

Poster for the 1954-1955 Gruppo Espace exhibition in Milan,
and the verso with woodcuts by Enrico Bordoni (1904-1969)
and Silvano Bozzolini (1911-1998)

MAC was formed in 1948 by four Italian artists: Atanasio Soldati, Gillo Dorfles, Bruno Munari, and Gianni Monnet. It disbanded in 1958, following the premature death of Gianni Monnet at the age of 46.   Besides collective exhibitions, the members of MAC produced four remarkable collections of art and writing entitled Documenti d'arte d'oggi. These publications, which were packed with original lithographs, silkscreens, and woodcuts, came out in 1954, 1955-56, 1956-57, and 1958; I have copies of the second, third, and fourth, but not that for 1954. Now extremely rare, they must have been produced in very small editions, because there is so much handwork in the production, with everything printed on different kinds and weights of paper, and all kinds of collaged elements added. Gianni Monnet in particular was very interested in adding texture by sticking on bits of sandpaper and the like. One of his lithographs has, in addition to various hand-punched holes, a piece of scrumpled newspaper collaged on the surface, and impressions on the surface caused by small oblongs of sandpaper and corrugated board fixed to the facing page.

Gianni Monnet (1912-1958)
Original lithograph with hand-punched holes and collaged newspaper, 1956
photographed against a white background

The same Gianni Monnet lithograph
photographed as a double-page spread, with colour showing through the holes from the image behind

Rectangles of corrugated card and sandpaper on the facing page

A list of members of Gruppo MAC/Espace in the 1956-1957 volume lists 74 names and addresses. At that time there was a governing committee of six: Gillo Dorfles, Gianni Monnet (Secretary), Bruno Munari, Enrico Prampolini, Mauro Reggiani (President), and Vittoriano Viganó. The  majority are listed as painters or sculptors, but there are also plenty of architects and engineers. Several members of MAC achieved fame as industrial and interior designers, including Joe Colombo (Cesare Colombo, 1930-1971), whose Total Furnishing Unit, unveiled at the Museum of Modern Art in New York the year after his death, was a complete "living-machine" comprising kitchen, wardrobe, bathroom and bedroom on just 28 square metres. All the listed members are Italian, but the same page also gives the committee members for Espace in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, and England. The English group included the architect Wells Coates and the painter Victor Pasmore; the French, André Bloc, Sonia Delaunay, and Edgard Pillet; the Swiss, Alfred Roth, Max Bill, and Richard Paul Lohse; the Swedish, Eric Olson and Olle Baertling. So there was certainly an international dimension to this Italian art movement, which even had a toehold in the USA through the Wittenborn Gallery, which represented MAC artists such as Gillo Dorfles; George Wittenborn also gave limited American distribution to Documenti d'arte d'oggi.

Bruno Munari (1907-1998)
Lithograph cover for Documenti d'arte d'oggi, 1955-1956
I believe the collaged strip of shiny red was an "intervention"
by Gianni Monnet, but can't now trace the source of this information

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998)
Lithograph cover for Documenti d'arte d'oggi, 1956-1957

Gianni Monnet
Lithograph cover for Documenti d'arte d'oggi, 1958
with die-cut circular hole and collaged corrugated board
- when first posting this, I failed to note that the purple sections are also collaged,
they are some kind of furry felt

Despite this international penetration, it has to be said that the MAC artists have rather fallen into neglect, certainly compared to the 1960s movement that followed, Arte Povera. Perhaps there wasn't a single star artist, whose light could reflect on the others. Perhaps the artist's concerns were too abstracted and intellectualised for popular appeal. Perhaps there just wasn't enough that was truly radical and new in the art they created. Or perhaps they have simply been victims of the fickleness of an art market that prefers a few big names to a lot of small ones, and a simple story arc to a fragmented narrative. I certainly think the death of Monnet and consequent disbandment of MAC stopped the movement in its tracks. Momentum was lost, and some of the major figures, such as Gillo Dorfles (who designed the cover for the 1954 Documenti d'arte d'oggi), turned their interests elsewhere. Although Dorfles carried on creating art, he put most of his energy into teaching and writing about art and aesthetics.

Tito B. Varisco, 1915-1998
Drawing (reproduced as a conventional line block, I think), slotted through a die-cut television screen;
the background drawing can be pulled up and down to reveal different sections on the screen.
This comment on the ways in which television would affect our visual perceptions
is a good example of the weird and wonderful stuff to be found in Documenti d'arte d'oggi.
It comes from the volume for 1955/56.

More to come on individual MAC artists.