a cura di PHILIP RYLANDS
On the front cover : Teatro spagnolo [Spanish Theatre], 1966 mixed media on canvas, 25 5/8 × 31 7/8 in Private Collection, Florence
Editorial project Forma Edizioni srl Florence, Italy email@example.com www.formaedizioni.it Editorial director Laura Andreini Editorial consultant Riccardo Bruscagli Editorial staff Maria Giulia Caliri Livia D’Aliasi Beatrice Papucci Graphic design Archea Associati, Florence Elisa Balducci Augustina Cocco Canuda Isabella Peruzzi Mauro Sampaolesi Alessandra Smiderle Translations Katy Hannan Miriam Hurley Photolithography LAB di Gallotti Giuseppe Fulvio Florence, Italy
Photo credits © Fondazione Archivio Afro; pp. 20-21, 96-97, 103, 128, 129, 162, 179, 187, 191, 216, 222, 225, 229, 241, 242-243, 245, 247, 250, 263 Photo Ugo Mulas © Ugo Mulas Heirs. All rights reserved; p. 8 © The Estate of Virginia Dortch / Art Resource NY; pp. 198, 274-275 © 2018. Digital Image Museum Associates / LACMA / Art Resource NY / Scala, Firenze; pp. 6-7, 14-15, 16-17, 220 © 2018. Foto Scala, Firenze - su concessione Ministero Beni e Attività Culturali e del Turismo; p. 31
Project by Michele Casamonti Edited by Philip Rylands Texts by Davide Colombo Barbara Drudi Anne Montfort Philip Rylands Editorial coordination Tornabuoni Art Lucile Bacon Elizabeth de Bertier
© 2018. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Firenze; p. 89
Organisation Tornabuoni Art Paris
© 2018. Albright Knox Art Gallery / Art Resource, NY / Scala, Firenze; p. 66
Special thanks to all the lenders, especially Fondazione Archivio Afro Roberto Casamonti Massimo Di Carlo
© 2018. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource / Scala, Firenze; p. 63 © Sanford Roth / LACMA / mptvimages.com; p. 88 © The Irving Penn Foundation; p. 233 © Arnold Newman / Getty Images; pp. 147, 268 © Life magazine; pp. 124, 146, 154-155, 157 © John Swope Trust / mptvimages.com; pp. 12, 58, 61, 166
Texts © the authors
Courtesy Fondazione Scialoja; pp. 94, 95, 199
© Afro Basaldella by SIAE 2018 © The Willem de Kooning Foundation, New York by SIAE 2018
© 2018 Imogen Cunningham Trust; pp. 72, 271
Courtesy American Academy in Rome; p. 185 © UNESCO; pp. 131, 152-153
We would like to thank all of those who contributed to the making of this catalogue: The Fondazione Archivio Afro, in particular Mario, Afro and Maria Antonietta Graziani, as well as Marco Mattioli and the whole team from the Fondazione; the American Academy in Rome; the Archivio Scialoja, Rome; the Archivio Corrado Cagli, Rome; UNESCO, in particular Tania Fernandez Toledo and Raya Fayad; and the staff of Tornabuoni Art Paris, London and Florence, in particular Francesca Piccolboni, Isabella Lastrucci, Ermanno Rivetti, Salomé Perrineau, Tiffany Nortier and Marta Colombo
Archivio Afro Fondazione
© 2018 Forma Edizioni srl, Florence, Italy The editor is available to copyright holders for any questions about unidentified iconographic sources. All rights reserved, no part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, without prejudice to the legal requirements provided for in Art. 68, sub-sections 3, 4, 5 and 6 of Law No. 633 of 22 April 1941. First edition: April 2018
pp. 2-3 Afro in the Castello di Prampero, near Udine, 1963. Behind him, Castello. Photo: Italo Zannier pp. 6-7 Afro in his studio, Rome, 1960. Photo: Sanford Roth p. 8 Afro, 1960. Photo: Ugo Mulas
pp. 10-11 Afro in the Castello di Prampero, 1963. Photo: Italo Zannier p. 12 Afro in is studio, 1948. Photo: John Swope
pp. 16-17 Afro in his studio with his cat, Louis, 1958. In the background, Fonte Amara and study for Solchiaro. Photo: Sanford Roth
14-15 Afro in his studio, behind him Per non dimenticare, 1952. Photo: Sanford Roth
pp. 18-19 Afro in the Castello di Prampero. Behind him, Angelica, 1964. Photo: Giuseppe Loy
pp. 20-21 Afro in New York, 1957 pp. 22-23 Afro, 1974. Behind: Castello nero. Photo: Italo Zannier
edited by PHILIP RYLANDS
Preface and Acknowledgements
The Garden of Hope Avant-garde Classicism ANNE MONTFORT
Afro, his work PHILIP RYLANDS
1949: Twentieth-Century Italian Art at MoMA in New York*
SELECTION BY BARBARA DRUDI
Critical anthology SELECTION BY PHILIP RYLANDS
Afro in letters
How Afro conquered America
* This essay is a partial expansion of an article that appeared previously in New York New York. La riscoperta dell’America, exhibition catalogue (Museo del Novecento, Gallerie d’Italia, Milan, 13 April - 17 September 2017), edited by F. Tedeschi with F. Pola and F. Boragina, Electa, 2017, pp. 102-109. The research was made possible in part by a Terra Foundation Post-doctoral Travel Grant 2014; some of the topics covered were previously presented at the seminar Rome Revisited. Rethinking Narratives in the Arts, 1948-1964, American Academy in Rome, Rome, 11 - 12 March 2015 and at the Alfred Barr and Margaret Scolari Barr study day, CIMA, New York, 23 April 2015.
AFRO, HIS WORK
Afro Basaldella’s lifetime corresponds to what has been described as the ‘short century’. He was born in 1912 in the Friulan capital of Udine. Italy was buoyed by national pride, convinced by the press that a great military victory had been scored with the colonization that year of a part of the Mediterranean coast of Libya – the explanation for Afro’s christening as ‘Afro Libio’. 1912 marked the apex of avant-garde pictorial experiment in Paris, where the European tour of Italian Futurist painting began, at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. In 1917 the calamitous retreat of the Italian army at the battle of Caporetto took place virtually at Afro’s doorstep north east of Venice. Afro’s move to Rome in 1931 was at the height of Mussolini’s prestige as the leading statesman of Europe, yet at the end of the decade Afro was obliged to say farewell to his friend Corrado Cagli who fled the Italian racial laws. Afro joined the resistance after Italy switched to the Allies in September 1943. His successful career in the post-war decades paralleled that of the economic miracle in Italy. 1976, the year Afro died aged only 64, saw the descent on Mars of Viking I Lander, the first commercial flight of Concorde, the reunification of North and South Vietnam, the founding of Apple Computer Company by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and the death of Mao Zedong. Afro’s father and uncle were decorative painters – not artists as such, nor house painters (imbianchini), but skilled in furniture and mural painting: ceilings and walls with vases of flowers and fruit, trompe l’œil architecture, swains, putti and milkmaids, vine arbours, spring landscapes with feathery trees, and the Alps in the distance, of the kind one sees still today in Italian hotels, spas and public buildings. It is an art that has more or less died out. Afro learned the skills, for which he clearly had a genetic propensity, and used them for a prolific series
Afro in his studio in the Castello di Prampero, near Udine, 1963. Photo: Italo Zannier
of murals in the 1930s. They ceased to be a source of patronage for him after the war – rationalist architecture and the vogue of abstraction took care of that, although working on a large scale was something he continued to manage with ease: whether in 1955 for the headquarters of INAIL in Rome or in 1958 for UNESCO in Paris. From the first, together with his brothers the sculptors Dino and Mirko Basaldella, Afro was determined to be an artist. The trajectory of Afro’s career, even within the narrow field of Italian art history, was extraordinarily rich with possibilities. In the 1930s we find him at ease with the system of state organized exhibitions (the Biennale in Venice, the Quadriennale in Rome, the Mostre dei Sindacati Fascisti ) and the clusters of like-minded artists, dealers, collectors and writers that gathered around the galleries, La Cometa in Rome, Il Milione and Corrente in Milan, and many others. The first post-war decade in Italy threw out a dizzying array of art groupings and currents, beginning in 1946 in Rome with the Nuova Secessione Artistica Italiana, a reaction to the Fascist-tainted pre-war Novecento aesthetic, which swiftly morphed into the Fronte Nuovo delle Arti in Venice in 1947-1948 and which tore itself apart by 1950 arguing over the merits of realism and abstraction. This took place in Afro’s circle – he was after all in Venice during the war, several of the artists were his friends, and in 1948 one of his newest paintings, La Sfinge [The Sphinx] (1948), was exhibited in the 1st Mostra Nazionale d’Arte Contemporanea in Bologna, in the Palazzo Re Enzo – the event that was the flashpoint for Palmiro Togliatti’s polemical denunciation of abstraction. The year before, Togliatti had assailed the Forma 1 group in Rome (Pietro Consagra, Carla Accardi, Achille Perilli, Piero Dorazio, Giulio Turcato and others). 1948 saw the formation in Milan of MAC, the Movimento
Indeed, Afro’s earliest extant works, such as Natura morta con due limoni [Still Life with Two Lemons] (1928),3 qualify as Magic Realist: the finely painted shadows cast by the objects, solitary on a creased white tablecloth, radiate in rings like Theosophical emanations. Such attention to insubstantial form (the shadows) was oddly prophetic of his work a quarter of a century later. In an autobiographical essay written a few years before his death in 1976, Afro wrote of himself:
per l’Arte Concreta. Lucio Fontana’s Manifiesto Blanco had been issued in Buenos Aires as early as 1946 and was followed by several Spatialism manifestos and rallying cries in the years that followed. In 1950 the Gruppo Origine in Rome brought together Giuseppe Capogrossi, Alberto Burri and Ettore Colla. In 1951 came the Milanese Movimento Nucleare of Enrico Baj and Sergio Dangelo. It was characteristic of Afro that he participated in none of these. As we shall see below he was ready to adhere to only the soft-focused and shortlived Gruppo degli Otto (1952-54). What we learn from all this is what Afro was not – a political militant like Renato Guttuso or Emilio Vedova or Armando Pizzinato, nor a poet of a new vocabulary of the primordial mark like Capogrossi or Accardi, draftsman of geometric abstraction, purveyor of new concepts like Fontana’s Buchi [Holes] , experimenter of the Informale or art autre with its emphasis on grungy, expressive paint matter, experimental process and non-conventional materials. From the beginning to the end of his career, Afro never strayed from the skills of pure painting. In 1955 Dore Ashton wrote in Arts Digest: “[Afro’s] voice is probably one of the purest, and most well-trained in Europe.”1 Afro was an unusually benign person, affable, elegant (in Rome he was nicknamed ‘il Principe’ by his friends), with a serious demeanour that could crack into a radiant smile, with a capacity for enduring friendship and an aversion to conflict, though we find him gently scolding the autodidact critic Umbro Apollonio on one occasion for a text with which he could not agree. In 1956 he befriended two young Americans, Hannelore and Rudolph Schulhof, introducing them in Rome to the eating places in the vicinity of Via Margutta, and to his friends among Italians artists, to Cy Twombly, to Mark Rothko. The Schulhofs were touched by a subtle air of melancholy, which they attributed to the recent loss of his beloved wife Maria Romio. He was not without his personal convictions of a moral and political kind. He had fought for the Italian resistance at the end of the war. He was ambitious and proud, and in the period of his great success, in the 1950s, was dismayed at what he felt to be a lack of appreciation of his art in Italy (“a prophet is not without honour save in his own country”2). His training was academic. By the time he received his diploma in 1931 at the Liceo Artistico (arts high school) in Venice (1931) he had the drawing skills that would have enabled him easily to enter the field of hyper or Magic Realism or of the solidly constructed and spatially sophisticated imagery of the Novecento Italiano, the dominant current in Italian painting in those years.
By the age of 21 therefore Afro had apprehended the dichotomy of disegno (line and drawing as well as composition) and colore (both luminous colour and expressive brushwork), and was to develop both over the decades to come. In his first exhibition, called ambitiously the Mostra d’Arte della Scuola Friulana d’Avanguardia (in 1928 Afro was only 16-years old), Afro adopted an anti-academic posture. Nineteenth-century taste still hung heavy over the academies and official art manifestations (Ettore Tito had retired from the Accademia in Venice only in 1927, and in 1930 the Venice Biennale gave a memorial exhibition to Bartolomeo Bezzi, a full-blown Ottocento romantic and mood landscapist). Before graduating, Afro was awarded in 1930 a travel grant by the Fondazione Marangoni of Udine. This took him, in the company of his brother Dino, to Rome, where he met the painters of the Scuola di Via Cavour. This was a Bohemian coterie (the handsome, depressed and earnest Mario Mafai; his ebullient Lithuanian wife, Antonietta Raphaël, full of joie de vivre; Scipione, a flamboyant but tuberculous romantic who died young). Roberto Longhi, who coined the label Scuola di Via Cavour, described Mafai’s paintings as “a decrepit impressionism morphed into expressionist hallucination.”5 Their wilful, naïf liberty of painterly expression challenged the hegemony of the Novecento Italiano painters – and amounted therefore to an antiFascist art. Afro’s encounter with the Scuola di Via Cavour would have confirmed him in the adoption of a ‘modern’ style, expressed in, for example a Natura morta con pesci [Still Life with Fishes] (1931), with its reductive, residually ‘metaphysical’ aura of silence.6 In January 1933 Afro sent paintings to the Galleria Il Milione, Milan, for a short exhibition titled Mostra dei Giovani Pittori – a considerable honour given his youth
1. D. Ashton, “Afro,” Arts Digest, vol. 29, no. 15, 1 May 1955, p. 30. 2. “Un profeta non è disprezzato se non nella sua patria.” This epigram was referred to by L. Venturi, “Afro,” in Pittori italiani d’oggi, De Luca Editori, Rome, 1958, pp. 84-96. See the critical anthology below, pp. 235-236. 3. Colour illustration in L. Caramel, (ed.), Afro. Dipinti 1931-1975, exhibition catalogue (Milan, Palazzo Reale, 24 September - 8 November 1992), Amilcare Pizzi, Cinisello Balsamo, 1992, p. 12. 4. AA. VV., M. Graziani (ed.), Afro. Catalogo generale ragionato. Dai documenti dell’Archivio, Dataars, Rome, 1997, p. 363: “...passava
gran parte del suo tempo nelle gallerie a guardare i grandi maestri veneziani – a cercare di capire il segreto di quella smagliante bellezza del colore che emana luce e a indagare quelle ombre misteriose e trasparenti...” 5. “...un impressionismo decrepito si muta in allucinazione espressionista.” R. Longhi, “La mostra romana degli artisti sindacati. Clima e opere degli irrealisti-espressionisti,” L’Italia Letteraria, year I, no. 2, Rome, 14 April 1929, p. 4. 6. First published by L. Caramel (ed.), Afro. Dipinti 1931-1975, op. cit., illus. p. 64.
“he passed a large part of his time in the galleries [of the Accademia] to look at the great Venetian masters – to understand the secret of that dazzling beauty of colour that emanates light and to investigate those mysterious and transparent shadows.”4
Natura morta con due limoni [Still Life with Two Lemons], 1928 oil on panel, 16 7/8 Ă— 18 1/8 in Private Collection
Mirko Basaldella, Caronte, 1949 tempera on paper laid on canvas, 58 5/8 Ă— 33 7/8 in Private Collection, Rome
Incontro segreto [Secret Encounter], 1950 mixed media on canvas, 35 3/8 Ă— 35 3/8 in Private Collection
Ocra Bruna [Brown Ochre], 1970 mixed media on paper laid on canvas, 31 1/2 Ă— 47 1/4 in Private Collection
had been the focus of long planning in Rome, to which Afro had returned in 1945 after spending the war years in Udine and Venice. With foresight, and possibly to escape the sterile art debates that were raging in Italy at the time, both Afro and, more especially, his wife Maria Romio worked hard for this. In just a few years they created a network of connections and friendships with Americans – artists, critics, and collectors – who visited the Eternal City in large numbers. A sizeable community of Americans had spontaneously gathered in Rome during the years from the end of the war to 1950. Despite the difficulties and problems faced by post-war Italy, the city had become a desirable destination for artists and intellectuals, writers, and poets. Life there was by and large simple, where American dollars were always welcome, and where one could live with dignity even with little money. On reflection, it is easy to understand what made Rome so attractive. In the relaxed, informal atmosphere of the countless trattorie, one could enjoy good wine and eat delicious meals for just a few coins. There were great riches – which had little or nothing to do with money – available to all: when walking through the city (without today’s traffic) one was surrounded by magnificent aristocratic palazzi and countless churches, with a fascinating layering of styles and periods that could not but appeal to the visitor. The air was filled with confidence in a possible rebirth. Despite the artistic (and political) controversies and the material difficulties, Rome appeared to be steeped in a sort of frenzy of creativity: a cultural world that some scholars now refer to as a “new Roman Renaissance” was flourishing. The young and not so young people of Rome and from every other part of Italy, tried their luck in the reviving world of art. Each one, in his or her own way, was helping to create a variegated cultural fabric on which countless forces were being exerted from different directions. These ranged from modern takes on tradition to attempts to create a new realism, and to a drive towards a more or less abstract form of contemporary art based on a reinterpretation of the historic avant-garde movements. Afro, with others like Mirko, his brother, and Piero Dorazio, was one of the key exponents of this reinterpretation. In short, one could have the impression – or at times the illusion – that Rome was really the place to be, the place where a new chapter in the “history of art” was about to be written. The artistic life of the capital was concentrated in certain areas – in the old part, of course, that of the Rioni, particularly in the northern area centred on the Piazza del Popolo. Many artists lived or had their studios in that
neighbourhood. Afro, for example, lived and worked in Via Margutta 94. It was easy to meet up, by chance or by intent, in the bars and trattorias in the area between Via del Babuino, Via Margutta and the Piazza di Spagna, to the point that this area in the historic city centre became a sort of new Montmartre. More or less impromptu exhibitions were held on the steps of Trinità dei Monti, little bookshopgalleries (such as L’Age d’Or) opened, 1 and the subject of conversation, and often heated discussion, was always art. American artists soon fell in love with this life, this Rome. Sebastian Echaurren Matta arrived in 1949. Born in Chile, Matta was special: in 1939, coming from Paris, he had taken with him to New York news of the artistic upheavals of Europe (and in particular his personal take on Surrealism), exercising enormous influence on many American artists (as was the case of Arshile Gorky). Now he arrived in Rome, bringing with him the vibrant atmosphere of the new art scene in America, which, with all its qualities and shortcomings, he himself had helped create. The following year, in 1950, Matta exhibited his abstract-surrealist works at the L’Obelisco gallery. Presented by Emilio Villa, the exhibition was given a title characteristic of Villa, Fosforesciamo – “let’s phosphoresce.” The same year, but in December, the photographer and art critic Milton Gendel arrived (soon to become the correspondent for ArtNews).2 Nick Carone, an American artist who had already ventured into experimentalism and abstraction in the mid-1940s, lived in Rome, on Via Margutta, from 1947 to 1951 and in a long interview in 1968 he reminisced about the artistic climate in Rome in those years, mentioning Afro as one of his friends.3 Mark Rothko stayed in Rome during his honeymoon in Italy in 1950. Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg’s now famous trip to Rome was in 1952, and Clement Greenberg arrived in the capital with Helen Frankenthaler two years later.4
1. In 1950, with youthful energy and a touch of fanaticism, Piero Dorazio, Achille Perilli, Lucio Manisco and Mino Guerrini opened a bookshop-gallery that took its name from Surrealism: L’Age d’Or. This bizarre little gallery, with its window displays arranged provocatively by the artists who managed it, became unintentionally a venue for painters and intellectuals, young and less young, from Rome and all around the world. L’Age d’Or remained open only until 1951, partly because – as Manisco recalls – much of the sales revenue was spent at the trattoria!
2. I have examined the contribution of Gendel as a photographer and art critic in my book B. Drudi, Milton Gendel uno scatto lungo un secolo. Gli anni tra New York e Roma 1940-1962, Quodlibet – Fondazione Passaré, Macerata, 2017. 3. In Oral history / Interview with Nicholas Carone, 1968 May 11-17, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, New York. 4. B. Drudi, op. cit., 2017 p. 116. 5. “An Interview with William Demby,” quoted in G. Micconi, “Ghosts of History,” in American Studies, LVI, no. 1, 2011.
The African-American writer William Demby, who lived and worked in Rome from 1947 to 1965, recalled in an interview: “[...] Rome had become the most important place to be in those years. Paris was all right, but to my mind it was for art and literary poseurs while Rome was for the gritty life of the pure artist as depicted in Roberto Rossellini’s films!”5
Even so, life was by no means easy for artists in Rome: the market was struggling to take off, and one can understand why Afro would set his sights on America. For many people, and not just for artists, it was still a mythical land of freedom and prosperity. His wife Maria played a by no means secondary role in building a
Catalogue of Afroâ€™s solo exhibition at the Catherine Viviano Gallery, New York, 1950
Studio per Ragazzo col tacchino [Study for Boy with Turkey], 1954
Studio per Ragazzo col tacchino [Study for Boy with Turkey], 1954
ink on paper, 9 1/2 Ă— 10 3/8 in Private Collection
mixed media on paper, 9 1/2 Ă— 13 7/8 in Private Collection
Studio per Ragazzo col tacchino [Study for Boy with Turkey], 1954 ink on paper, 9 1/2 Ă— 14 in Private Collection
Canicola [Dog Days], 1960 mixed media on canvas, 41 3/8 Ă— 51 1/8 in Private Collection, Florence
Valle del Ferro [Valley of Iron], 1958 mixed media on canvas, 42 1/2 Ă— 68 7/8 in Private Collection
miracle of life-giving things that are life itself: warmth, a bed, silence, nice fabrics, good products, everything that makes for luxuriance and is needed by everyone and belongs to everyone; it is everyone’s right to exist and physically be. This is the city; and the countryside, nature seems to be the complete opposite of all that, so immense and untouchable; it’s not even violent or frightening: there is no need to frighten when it is so really, intimately frightening. There is the frightening formlessness, the impassable forest, the heavens. And nature is so boundless here that it can even use pathetic colours and the brightest, twilight fire of autumn. There are the gentle mists of a pond, but when you turn your back, it becomes an ocean, pushed by a wind that could sweep away you, your house, and your city in one go. So what can I tell you about painting? I saw the Gorkys at the Reynal and Janis and Marta (sic) Jackson: they confirm the greatness of his poetry and his subtle novelty compared to Mirò (sic). I saw the Pollocks in the Ossorio collection in East Hampton: he’s an incredible artist, not at all “violent” but with a natural power and poetic spontaneity and even a touch of Mozart about him; very gentle colours, very on key, all internal and secret and torn and scratched up from too much love; it’s a staggering, unsettling, implacable tenderness, a love for life that becomes disfigured by too much insistence and suffering. He is truly a great artist; no one in America has his quality. I saw De Kooningh’s (sic) tempera-collages at his studio; I understand the meaning of his building from coloured scraps, forms that are uninterrupted because broken, that become fragments, surfaces physically broken into pieces. The emotion comes from a collision that accidentally affirms a faith in the possibility, the necessity to recompose oneself, or, let’s say, rejoin oneself. The randomness that Pollock found in dripping is rediscovered in De K. as a fiercely controlled and forced kaleidoscope. Pollock has faith in connections that keep on extending and interweaving by their own power, rooted in felicitous chance, in an uninterrupted, trembling presence. De Kooningh (sic) breaks the connections, he cuts them ruthlessly. But he works so that the fragments nonetheless reconnect, reestablish an ongoing reality, though rejoined and packed and fossilised from the diagonal impact of so many different currents moving in so many opposing directions: to the point of congestion and paralysis. I saw (at the studio) paintings by Vicente, Resnick, and Ad Reinardt (sic), but they are rather mediocre things. I saw Guston’s paintings at Janis’s and at the studio; delicate, sensual, refined, highly controlled. But the problem is a bit too captious and marginal; it’s an avoidance, relying on a poetic sensibility rather than a voice that could be of interest today. I saw Marca-Relli’s latest large canvases: truly remarkable, a major point has been reached; he opens at the Stable in early November, and then I’ll tell you more. I saw Carone’s paintings, full of real qualities but still a bit vague. I saw Brooks’s paintings, subtle, brilliant, but definitely orthodox. I saw quite a few things by Diebenkorn that confirm for me that he is a vibrant talent as a colourist, but in this setting, they still show a certain youthfulness and seem not yet mature. I saw Dugmore’s exhibition, interesting for the moment of crisis it reveals. Like Brooks, Dugmore is also an orthodox painter; and now he’s trying to get away from a certain corner of abstract expressionism to try to build a bit more with
French elements, with a vague suggestion of Bazaine. Here in America, this is the danger, this impatience, this wanting to shock, amaze, be unexpected, never looking in depth, not being humble and not insisting in one’s own realm, even if limited. I have the impression that the message of Gorky and Pollock and the fervour of De Kooningh (sic) could dissipate in a flash: first, because of Hess’s absurdly nationalistic polemics, and thus conservative and limited, and then because of this mania for newness that leads to the mistakes of a heavy-handed return to naturalism like in the painting by Monachesi (Hartigan, De Niro, Resnick, Rivers, and many more that I won’t mention). Only Pollock’s outer appearance is understood and not his profound spatial meaning (Briggs is the best in this regard, especially in his warm, lived-in colour). I had forgotten Kline. I saw his paintings in the studio; he truly is a fine painter, the only one who really continues the conversation even if in a symbolic, reductive way. And I’ll tell you about Mothervell (sic) and Rothko whom I’ll be seeing soon. Tomorrow I’ll write you about my exhibition and the Burri matter. All my love, yours, Toti
Afro and Toti Scialoja, 1958. Photo: Virginia Dortch
Toti Scialoja, New York 1956. Photo: Gabriella Drudi
AFRO, STATEMENT BY THE ARTIST, IN ANDREW CARNDUFF RITCHIE, ED., THE NEW DECADE: 22 EUROPEAN PAINTERS AND SCULPTORS, EXHIBITION CATALOGUE, THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK, 11 MAY - 7 AUGUST, 1955, PP. 78-79. In the exhibition The New Decade Afro found himself in the company of French, British, and German as well as Italian artists. They included a variety of European artists – painters such as Bacon, Soulages, Dubuffet and sculptors such as Richier, and Chadwick. The Italians were Burri, Capogrossi, Minguzzi, and Mirko, in addition to Afro. Each artist was invited to write a prefatory text to his or her section. Afro’s text, reproduced here, was titled “Indicazioni sulla mia pittura” and was translated from the Italian by MoMA’s publications department1. Ritchie had been an admirer of Afro’s since 1948, and in 1956 wrote a short introduction for Afro’s ten paintings in the catalogue of the Venice Biennale. Can a pictorial form also have value as an apparition? Can the rigorously formal organism of a painting contain the lightness, the living breath of an evocation, the leap or shudder of memory? This, for me, is the problem; this is the reason for the constant disquiet that makes me paint. The picture should be an enclosed world; within its limits the drama unfolds; this chessboard spells victory or defeat. Just yesterday a friend of mine remarked that in my painting forms seem to tremble and move as if possessed by a yearning or a hope for a different ambience – perhaps the one they passed through on their way to concretion? I cannot decide whether this feeling of animation, of a fluttering breeze, actually invests my images, but often even I feel that the substance of my color, the development of my lines, create a space which stands for the dimensions of memory. Forms open out and take shape as tracks, tracks that have come a long way. Often I think of myself as a storytelling painter. If my most hidden feelings, my memories, my opinions, my intolerances, my faults and terrors can be condensed into the course of a line, into the luminous quality of a tone, then the mysterious flow of my entire being into painting might be wilfully reversed so that all my images could go back to the very origins of my life. This is why I don’t avoid the words “dream” or “emotion” or “lyric,” all three rejected at present by those who go in
1. Afro’s Italian text is published in Afro. Catalogo Generale Ragionato dai documenti dell’archivio Afro, Dipinti su tela dal 1928 al 1976, with introductions by M. Graziani and T. Scialoja, Dataars, Rome, 1997, p. 393.
for intellectual clarity and awareness of expressive means in contemporary painting. I like to think that my paintings give forth a sense of hope, a presentiment of dawn. I want them to contain a clear reflection of the world overridden by human passions, but at the same time to unfold with increasing assurance a vast open territory ready for the contests, the sufferings and the celebrations of mankind. I want the sensations of things, the symbols of reality to regain the warmth of a forgotten sentiment within the certainty of pure form. I think painting is getting ready to break away from its exclusive and closely guarded function of instrumental music; it is reaching for new modulations and tones that presage the entrance of the human voice raised in song.
AFRO, “LE RAGIONI DELL’ARTE GIOVANE,” IN BOLLETTINO DELL’ASSOCIAZIONE ITALIANA PER LA LIBERTÀ DELLA CULTURA, NO. 30, MAY - JUNE 1955, PP. 1-2. Afro was invited, together with four other painters (Corpora, Fantuzzi, Montanarini, Scialoja) and two critics (Marchiori and Mezio), to comment on an international exhibition of young artists at Rome’s Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, organized by the Congress for the freedom of culture. Afro’s impatience with Italian art critics is clearly revealed. His praise of Diebenkorn and Davie was perceptive as well as generous.
Italian painters, those who are not trapped in academicism and who mean to make their contribution to universal culture, can look only with great interest at the work of younger artists and establish with them that necessary rapport in order to feel alive and committed to the task of transmitting their message, which is their vision of the world: of men who live and express themselves in the language of their time. And so this exhibition in the putrid climate of the Roman artistic season comes like a breath of living air full of promise and of hope.
The exhibition of young artists organized by the Congress for the freedom of culture has been an event of great interest for artistic circles in Rome. Unfortunately, local critics unanimously revealed their usual provincialism, adopting that typical tone of superiority and complacency of those who think they know everything and cannot accept as good quality that which does not meet their ideals of beauty, their own clear vision of history, their concept of a healthy pictorial tradition. Unfortunately this attitude has the consequence of a failure to understand any tradition at all and the impossibility of noticing the existence and the revelation of a work of art. And in this fine show there were accomplished works, by painters who though young showed talent, personality and consciousness of the problems of the painting of our time. I would like especially to point to two painters among those who most scandalized our priggish Italian critics: Richard Diebenkorn, American, and Alan Davie, English.
Catherine Viviano, Afro, Gabriella Drudi, Toti Scialoja, and a friend (in the background)
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