On the basis of these neo-Pythagorean revivals there was certainly, on the one hand, the need to return to order: many artists, in fact, from Terragni to Melotti, believed “in the possibility of a module such as the golden mean as a generator of beauty and balance”14. But if we consider the question more deeply we become aware that everything was coming together to create a climate that we could define, not so much as a rappel à l’ordre, as a return to a pre-classical conception, one in which the model was not Raphael but Piero della Francesca, not Plato but Pythagoras and Orphic concepts: not a world of certainties, then, but an awareness of mystery and its basic unknowability, where the only possibility was to trust in numbers which, through the rules of the golden mean, might perhaps have made visible the order implicit in nature, and so a reconstruction of the universe could be undertaken, as the French Purists said, at least by way of the esthétique du nombre. However, the positions of the Milanese abstractionists were anything but unitary or based on Belli’s doctrines, and the reasons for their unity were to be found in the strategic need to combat the common enemy of the Novecento movement rather than having aims in common15. In fact, on the one hand there was “instinctive rationalism” – to use the definition coined by Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco16 – of Soldati, Reggiani, Rho, and Radice. On the other, instead, trust was given to the subtle unreality of Fontana, Licini, and Melotti, in which, above all for the last two, there was already to be found a lyrical rêverie that would transform geometry into music: just think of the ideal counterpoint in Melotti’s rhythmic sculptures that suggested itself as the harmonic occupation of space, or of the dreamy subjectivism of Licini who wanted to humanise numbers and demonstrate that geometry could become feeling17. Quite particular and isolated was, in fact, the position of Veronesi; he was younger than the others and, differently from his fellow travellers, had a technical and wholly European background, something that led him to overturn the idealistic and spiritualist denominator of the Milanese group in favour of an integral and pragmatic constructivism. Already in these years, in fact, the Russian Constructivists, the Dutch “De Stijl” group, and the exponents of the Bauhaus, above all Moholy-Nagy and Josef Albers, were the artists he felt more in harmony with and, therefore, studied “with special attention, informing himself about their activities in Italy and abroad, and studying in depth their programmes and theories”18. And so, even if Veronesi in the 1930s made the golden mean a constant rule in his art, for him this choice was less explicit than for other Italian abstractionists, given that he accepted this path only after having rejected the mysticism and esotericism associated with it. So he did not accept the mystical and spiritual values of Pythagorean thought, but preferred the maxim – that he was to affix to a collection of silkscreen prints in 1949 – “And in all things give the first place to reason”19. Similarly, even though it is true that for the young Veronesi Kandinsky was a master and a model to be followed (and he was to remain so for a long time, above all in the field of research into the correspondences between sounds and colours from the 1950s onwards), the anti-expressionist constants of Veronesi’s output “cannot find a justification in a predictable affinity”20, above all because Kandinsky’s search for the absolute and the related theosophical concepts had no counterpart in his production and ideas21. Furthermore, the concept of Stimmung was quite foreign to him, an idea through which the Russian artist had made an objection to the mechanical superficiality of the perception of reality, mystically equating artistic expression to a wish for sublimation that was still Romantic. As a follower of Gramsci-like ethics, Veronesi avoided any kind of compromise with transcendence, which denied any possibility for demonstrating a moral and, even more so, an aesthetic concept. This is in itself enough to explain his lack of interest for Über das Geistige in der Kunst, just as for Carlo Belli’s formulations about abstraction in Kn, which he countered with the analytical rigour of Punkt und Linie zu Fläche. At the most, Veronesi might have gained from Concerning the Spiritual in Art a conviction about the psychophysical nature of the phenomenon of chromatic vision – an idea that was to be at the heart of his famous courses on “chromatology” at the Brera Academy in the 1960s –, but he distanced himself from Kandinsky in his rejection of a symbolic conception of colour. So in this way we make a return to the basic reasons for the disagreement, the odi et amo, that linked Luigi Veronesi to the great Russian artist, from whom he was basically separated by that Romantic – I would even say Wagnerian – heritage that in a final analysis characterised the pictorial output and aesthetic doctrine of Kandinsky, despite his important presence within the Bauhaus’s rationalism.
Actually, it seems clear that an idealistic conception of art – as Luigi Rognoni22 observed – cannot in any way be applied to Veronesi’s creativity which, in its experimentation with various materials covering the most varied areas of interest, and taking at face value his methodological and formal basis, reveals its constructivist essence which gave rise to an art in which technique and linguistic research were not extrinsic but substantial components (even though not the unique ones), and in which the presence of a more secret and gentle lyricism was translated neither into a subjective and personal “outburst” nor into transcendental or mystical aims. For this reason even the evident fascination Veronesi felt for an esthétique du nombre and the possibility of basing certain compositional balances on the golden mean, never led him to share the illusion of understanding the mystery of the universe through a formula. Rather, his love of numbers and proportion, the continuous presence of which he also found in natural elements, was certainly derived by him from his beloved Egyptian or Greek art, but even more so from his deep awareness of the disorder, irrationality, and mystery of apparent, phenomenological reality with respect to another dimension that the mind invents, constructs, and proposes according to infinite harmonies, one in which, quite genuinely, it is possible to find a universal order. The idea of an art based on numeric operations, whose modern father was Seurat, and that in the twentieth century was used above all by the Russian Constructivists23, in Veronesi was, then, an antidote, a certainty to be set against the unknowability of reality. And so if the harmony of his works is, on the one hand, a reflection of his Cartesian faith in rationality, something he never stopped believing in, on the other it communicates an image of life as an enigma: in fact in his compositions, the forms – just like us – live in space without knowing where they come from or where they are going. So it is not true that Veronesi’s geometries only express themselves, express their own being, as a language24: those weightless realities and those diaphanous surfaces are pure appearances, just like the deceptive appearance of our own life and all the things that it is possible to perceive and come across in phenomenal reality that, in the absence of any kind of transcendence, is by now considered to be reality tout court. In this universe without gods and without answers, there remains only one path to follow in order not to descend into chaos and desperation : the harmony of numbers on which is founded the parallel world of art, one constructed iuxta propria principia and that does not admit rules and truths other than those filtered through reason25. In fact, it is not the task of humanity to uncritically entrust ourselves to transcendence, but to try to construct with our own forces, starting from that unknowability of reality, a condition of harmonious balance, at least in art if not in life26. So Veronesi’s is not a position of being closed within a turris eburnea, one shutting out the dramas of the world and of life; on the contrary, it is this very acute and lucid awareness of a universal Weltschmerz to induce it to offer humanity the only remedy he knows and holds to be valid, i.e. that of art, which it would be absurd to deny that harmonic order that is missing from life. In any case, we must not forget that the basic referents of Veronesi in the 1930s – and throughout the course of his long life – are mostly to be identified with the pragmatism and the formal phenomenology of the Bauhaus27. In particular, his knowledge of Moholy-Nagy did not come about
Galleria l’Equipe, Parigi, 1939
10 A.M. Art, Milano - Exhibition catalogue - 14/01 - 4/03/2017
Published on Oct 28, 2017
10 A.M. Art, Milano - Exhibition catalogue - 14/01 - 4/03/2017