BEYOND CANVAS: Art Basel OVR: Italian Modern Artists Pushing the 'Fabric' of Tradition to its Limits
Material experimentation, technical innovation, and conceptual invention are at the core of modern Italian art. Daring and pioneering figures including Carla Accardi, Alighiero Boetti, Agostino Bonalumi, Alberto Burri, Gianni Colombo, Pietro Consagra, Tano Festa, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Mimmo Rotella and Paolo Scheggi demolished and reconfigured Western artistic practice.
Moving beyond the painted surfaces and methods of American Abstract Expressionism and European Art Informel, Roman artists in particular embraced unconventional materials in works which reconceptualized modernist collage. Burri created his emblematic Combustions by using torches and lamps to melt industrial plastic sheeting, while Rotella tore advertising posters from the capital’s walls, layering the fragments before ripping and incising them to create new, unpredictable forms. At the same time, Consagra’s radical sculptures, in which materials were flattened almost to the point of two-dimensionality, blurred the lines between painting and sculpture.
In Milan, artists like Fontana, Scheggi and Bonalumi pushed beyond the confines of canvas, often abandoning it in favour of new materials. Fontana sliced and punctured a range of supports to reveal the infinity of the space beyond, while his fellow Spatialist artist Scheggi overlapped layers pierced with geometric openings to explore concepts of light and space. Building on Fontana’s revolutionary manipulation of canvas, Bonalumi created his estroflessioni, stretching and deforming monochrome supports from behind to create paintings that were simultaneously sculptures.
Italy has for centuries been a place of exceptional artistic activity, discovery, and achievement. These artists pushed the very “fabric” of tradition to its limits, and ultimately discovered new worlds of materials, forms, and meanings, beyond canvas.