Milan, 1926 – 1981
After graduating from the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Brera, Agnetti studied dramaturgy at the school of the Piccolo Teatro in Milan. His first paintings date from the late 1940’s and over the following decade they were mostly influenced by the Informal movement, blending together informal painting with a critical, essayist and theoretical activity.
Although the expressive impact characteristic of that movement corresponded to his own quest for immediacy, he soon realized how challenging it would be to achieve plenitude through painting. From then on, he focused on language and became closer to Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni, with whom he founded the and the gallery Azimut writing also articles in the eponymous magazine Azimuth supporting the most radical trends of the time.
In 1962, Agnetti decided to take some distance, intellectually as well as geographically, and he voluntarily decided to lose himself and to disappear from the world for a while: he left for South America, the Arctic and Arabia, a phase that he himself defined as “arte-no”. In this period, he rejects the practice of painting to identify art with absence by operating in an extremely radical, sometimes cryptical conceptual context.
Upon his return in Italy, in 1967, he supported artistic practice as pure analysis of concepts and he got back in touch with the Milanese artistic scene, quickly publishing ‘Obsoleto’, a so-called anti-novel that he had written between 1963 and 1965, in which he deconstructed the logical structures of narration, syntax and grammar. His first solo exhibition was held the same year at the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, where he showed ‘Principia’, one of his permutable logic works. The following year he exhibited his ‘Drugged Machine’, a Divisumma 14 Olivetti calculator, whose 10 numbers are replaced by letters of the alphabet at Cenobio Visualità. In 1970, he created the ‘NEG’, in collaboration with Brionvega. That work was emblematic of Agnetti’s work, the artist used the musical pauses and micro-intervals that separated sounds coming from a record-player – in other words the perception of silence, which he called ‘suono bianco’ (white sound).
His studies on language continued, in 1971 he exhibited his ‘Felts’ and ‘Bachelites’ at Galleria Blu in Milan. During the early Seventies, he is also involved in many discussions with friends who had always supported his works such as the gallery owner Castelli, Daniela Palazzoli, Pierre Restany, and Achille Bonito Oliva. He collaborates also with his contemporary artists such as Gianni Colombo, Claudio Parmiggiani, Paolo Scheggi but he never formed a group. In 1973, he exhibits his important installation ‘Project for a Political Hamlet’, that he defined as static theater, the same year he opens a studio in New York, where he will live intermittently going back and forth with Milan.
In 1975, he started working with Robert Feldman – at his gallery he held his first American show ‘Image of an Exhibition’ where he reunited with his beloved friend Shusaku Arakawa. In 1977, he exhibits at Israel Museum in Jerusalem and he writes a poetry book called ‘Machiavelli 30’. In 1980, he is at Galleria Toselli in Milan showing ‘Surplace’, an exhibition of sculptures and in New York at Feldman again.
In his last works, ‘Photography of 79-81’, poetry encompasses style: Agnetti intervenes on photographic paper exposed to light and treated. He scratches to retrieve the figurative element, the drawing as a conceptual operation.
His last exhibition was held at Galleria Bruna Soletti in 1981, year of Agnetti’s sudden death.
exhibition catalogue edited by Ilaria Bignotti, Bruno Corà e Forma Edizioni. Texts by Germana Agnetti, Ilaria Bignotti, Matteo Maria Borsoi, Roberto Casamonti, Bruno Corà, Lucia Ghedin and Cosima Scheggi. B/w and colored illustrations, 128 pages, 9,4×6,4 in, Italian/English, 2022.