Pietro Consagra, Mazara del Vallo 1920 - 2005 Milan
Porfido antico, 1991
ProvenancePrivate collection, Italy
As many other European nations, after WWII Italy was undertaking its reconstruction, not merely from a physical point of view, rebuilding the cities which had been destroyed by bombings, but also and mainly from a cultural point of view. How was Italy to stand in the international political scenery that was to emerge? How was Italy to reimagine itself after the devastating and isolating experience of Fascism? And, last but not the least, what role was art going to play in such a reconstruction?
Some artists advocated that art could play a social role only by remaining concerned with reality, i.e. by representing reality. In this way art could still be legible to people, and affect their lives. Of course, such artists also encouraged a valorisation of Italy’s rich cultural heritage, which consisted mainly of “figurative” works of art. On the other hand, other artists contended that if Italy was to become a modern nation, it had to adopt a modern language in art, i.e. abstraction.
Pietro Consagra assumed a very original position in this context. Together with fellow artists such as Carla Attardi, Giulio Turcato, Achille Perilli, Ugo Attardi and others, he founded the Gruppo Forma 1. They published a manifesto in 1947, where they proclaimed themselves Formalists and Marxists at the same time. That is, Consagra, as well as the other members of the group, did not see abstraction as opposed to the cause of art’s social engagement. He recognised abstraction as the necessary language of an international modernity, and was certain that abstract art could still be legible to his compatriots.
The present sculpture perfectly exemplifies Consagra’s work as being both formalist and Marxist. Stylistically, the sculpture seems to expand upon a Futurist aesthetic (with clear reference to the work of Giacomo Balla and Fortunato Depero), an extremely powerful statement, for Futurism aimed precisely at engaging the viewer through abstract forms.
However, what renders Porfido Antico immediately legible to the public is the use of material. Often considered as the most precious among the varieties of marble, porphyry has an extraordinarily rich history. Due to its durability, it was used to portray Roman emperors and to erect monuments in Antiquity. Its dense purple colour resonates with Egyptian obelisks, church interiors, 17th century urns, and many more artworks which abounded in Italy and especially in Rome. By using porphyry, Consagra is as if conciliating Italy’s past with a modern language; he is merging with sublime elegance the past with the present, demonstrating that being abstractionist and revolutionary at one time is possible.
Consagra met immediate success in his own time. His sculptures were collected by Peggy Guggenheim (and are now in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice), and the Tate (which acquired one of his sculptures as early as 1953). Some sculptures are also on display in the most important museums of the world, such as the MOMA and the Salomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the National Gallery in Washington, the Ermitage in Saint Petesburg, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and, in Italy, inter alia, the GAM in Rome and the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.
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