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1954-1970: Forms of the Abstract

The year 1954 and the months immediately before and after was a crucial time, a true watershed for twentieth-century Italian painting.
This was when a numerous group of Italian artists made the leap to full artistic maturity. The centre of the scene was Rome, where Afro, for one, after a prolonged journey through the Scuola Romana in the 1930s and the neo-Cubist period in the immediate post-war years, capitalized on his American experience and found his artistic language in a verism that is mere memory and a colour that plunges into the abyss and then slowly resurfaces. While Toti Scialoja, his friend and contemporary, found in a new medium – applying paint with a cloth rather than the brush – his path to an abstract art ever more heavily charged with confession and mystery. And Antonio Corpora began to arrive at his “heterodox Informalism”.
Another example, also in Rome, was the set of “young artists” – Piero Dorazio and Achille Perilli, Carla Accardi and Antonio Sanfilippo, Giulio Turcato and Pietro Consagra – who had grouped together in 1947 under the banner of Forma, reworking a sort of neo-Cubism soon modified by the neo-concrete teachings of Magnelli and other artists from France. They too, after sharing an artistic language that had made them practically interchangeable, found their own, sharply individual ways. In 1954, too, Mimmo Rotella first began ripping posters from the walls of Rome as a form of art, while Salvatore Scarpitta emerged from the Expressionist mould that had governed his early work.
Also in 1954, to broaden our gaze to the northern part of the peninsula, Francesco Arcangeli published in Paragone, Roberto Longhi’s review, the essay that ratified the aggregation of the “last naturalists”, headed by Ennio Morlotti, a painter who had been a member of the two most influential groups in Italian art in the aftermath of the war: Fronte Nuovo delle Arti and the Group of Eight. These formations were definitively disbanded by now – another feature characterizing the mid-1950s: mistrust of the unity of intention that can arise from the sharing of a poetics and a common strategy.
To give yet another example, in Venice Emilio Vedova and Giuseppe Santomaso came to full artistic maturity outside the abstract-concrete synthesis of the “Eight”. As did the junior Tancredi. In Milan, as Mario Nigro’s rigorous abstraction reached its acme, Bepi Romagnoni gave voice, in the brief course of his lifetime, to his painful “existential realism”.
Only two Italian artists can be said to have foreshadowed the new course of art prior to the watershed of 1954: Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana. Burri had ripped and resewn his “sacks” in 1952, while in 1949 Fontana – from a different, older generation – had already begun to punch holes in his papers and canvases: gestures that constituted a radical rupture with tradition but with which neither of these seminal artists intended to abandon painting.

Fabrizio D'Amico