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Beyond the Canvas: Avant-garde Italian Art


For the digital edition of Art Basel Miami Beach 2020, Tornabuoni Art is pleased to present an overview of the avant-garde artistic movements of the Post-War Italian era with a selection of works from the most iconic artists of that time in response to the growing interest in Italian art from private collectors as well as museums and institutions all over the world.

The strength of the artists Tornabuoni Art presents lies in the new artistic languages they created, whose influence spanned well beyond Italian borders.

The 1960s were a memorable period for young Italian artists seeking new forms of expression, which rejected the popular and traditional realism of the time and responded to the avant-garde of the first half of the 20th century. These artists explored abstraction and created work that included the viewer in their art in a way that had never happened before. Through their work, which often stretched, distressed and shaped the canvas in novel ways, they encouraged the viewer to question the idea of art, the artwork and its environment up until today paving the way for contemporary artists and installation art.

This visual and conceptual breakthrough took place in the main centers of this artistic revolution – Milan, Turin and Rome – where Alberto Burri, Alighiero Boetti, Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani, Agostino Bonalumi and Paolo Scheggi experimented with form and material.

These key figures challenged the structure of the artwork, creating a shift from either completely flat paintings or three-dimensional sculptures to an in-between condition questioning the relationship between art and form. These artists were eager to transform art both in its visual perception and also from an intellectual point of view, so as to make the canvas a place of conceptual experimentation.

In Milan Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) explored materials beyond the canvas and the colours he used, combining them to create a specific and primal gesture, piercing and slashing the canvas. His radical vision was explained in his Manifesto Blanco (1946) that proposed a new dimension beyond the flat surface of the canvas.

Enrico Castellani (1930-2017) arrived in Milan after having studied in Brussels. He evolved along with Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, whose work and concepts profoundly influenced him. He created monochromatic canvases that transform into constantly changing surfaces thanks to the use of nails beneath the surface that shape, almost mold, the canvas creating undulating effects of light and shadow.

In the wake of Enrico Castellani and Lucio Fontana, Paolo Scheggi (1940-1971) endeavored to transcend monochromatic painting by superimposing several layers of canvas that he called “picture-objects”. He included his work into the Spatialism of Fontana and focused on primary elements, such as the point, the line and simple geometric shapes questioning the perception one has of the physical nature of the canvas.

In Rome, Alberto Burri (1915-1995), who is associated with the materialist current of Informal Art, defied the conventions of fine arts by creating works with raw materials from his everyday environment, highlighting their visual qualities while also transforming them. Between chaos and control, his innovative way of working went beyond the artistic trends of his time.

Following these artistic developments, Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994) became one of the figureheads of Arte Povera and used simple, ‘humble’ materials and techniques (ballpoint pen, cardboard, and even postal stamps) in his work. He privileged the creative process rather than the finished object, creating ‘rules’ for making his artworks, which others could execute and exploring notions of duality and multiplicity, order and disorder.

Tornabuoni Art presents a representative overview of the innovative languages of the Italian Post-War artistic scene and to introduce contemporary artists whose work has been  influenced by these Italian art movements .


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