Tornabuoni Art Paris is delighted to be presenting, from the 12th of January, A new artistic conception 1960 as its first appointment of 2023. This show looks into a 1960 exhibition which brought together for the first time a group of artists whose production was particularly emblematic of the changes which distinguished Italian art after the Second World War.
From the 9th to the 20th of April 1960 in Padua, the Circolo ‘‘Il Pozzetto’’ housed the exhibition La nuova concezione artistica (A new artistic conception) which had previously been held in Milan at the Azimut Gallery. Presenting works by Alberto Biasi, Enrico Castellani, Heinz Mack, Piero Manzoni and Manfredo Massironi, this exhibition gave an overview of the transformations which were underway in the panorama of post-war Italian and European art. Although lasting just over ten days, the exhibition was the opportunity to highlight theories and ideas that were central to the artistic movements of that period, outside of the classic artistic poles of Rome, Turin and more specifically Milan.
To observe the artistic scene in Milan in the 1960s is to witness an effervescent landscape. A renewal of the conception of the arts was underway following the pioneering work of Lucio Fontana whose Concetto Spaziale. Attese completely broke with the traditional ideas of painting and sculpture. Elements such as absence, the void and monochrome inhabited the production of Manzoni and Castellani. These ideas echoed with the works and research of artists working in smaller cities such as Padua (Biasi, Massironi) and are best explained through the text written on the occasion of the opening of La nuova concezione artistica by Alberto Biasi, Manfredo Massironi and Ettore Lucchini who was in charge of ‘‘Il Pozzetto’’:
The “New artistic conception’’ is essentially research. It situates itself beyond any pre-existing tendency: it is born from the multifaceted structire of life.
The ‘‘New artistic conception’’ comes from overcoming art for art’s sake and art through art because it overcomes experimental individualism.
The ‘‘New artistic conception’’ rejects causal determinism and causal indeterminism for a search for truth, which results from an ever-expanding collective membership.
The ‘‘New artistic conception’’ abandons the limited space of two dimensions for a larger space of which light is the determining element.
The ‘‘New artistic conception’’ goes beyond traditional aesthetics to advocate an ethics of collective life.
The exhibition at Tornabuoni Art Paris is an occasion to delve deeper into this chapter of post-war Italian art of the La nuova concezione artistica exhibition through major works of the 1960s as well as more recent pieces by these emblematic artists. In many ways, the works present in the 2023 exhibition provide different answers to the same questions which were behind the production of these artists and that Piero Manzoni openly asked in 1961:
« Why not, on the contrary, free this surface? Why not try to understand that art history is not a history of “painters” but of discoveries and innovators? Allude, express, represent, abstract: these problems no longer exist. Form, colour, dimensions are meaningless: the only problem for the artist is that of conque- ring the fullest freedom: barriers are a challenge, the physical ones to the scientist just as the mental ones to the artist.»
The liberation of the surface and the relationship between matter and light are at the forefront of the works exhibited. In Milan, Piero Manzoni’s works from the late 1950s such as Achrome (1958-59) present unconventional materials such as tar or kaolin on their textured surfaces through which the artist questioned the techniques essential to painting. Enrico Castellani who was a student of Lucio Fontana creates chiaroscuro effects which underline his desire to go beyond the two-dimensional format of canvases with his Superfici such as Superficie Blu (1961) through the rhythmic application of nails underneath the monochrome canvases.
The artists from Padova approached the surface with an interest in optical effects. This is particularly visible in the case of Alberto Biasi with his Oggetto ottico-dinamico (1961), a remarkable example of a work that breaks with the classical idea of what a pictorial surface can be. The very structure of the work becomes a tool to search for optical vibrations and dynamism. Manfredo Massironi’s works of art such as Struttura Trasparente (1961) echo these same themes through similar gestures. A two dimensional piece which however has nothing of a traditional ‘‘painting’’ where in fact the actual canvas does not exist.
The presence of Heinz Mack allows this exhibition in Padua to open the provincial city to the European artistic panorama and in particular to the theories of the ZERO group of which he is the founder with Otto Piene, then Günther Uecker who joined them in 1962. Emphasizing variable geometry, Mack seeks a kinetic renewal of abstraction through light and shadow. The work of the German artist of this period refers us to themes and questions parallel to those of his Italian counterparts particularly in the case of Erzengel Michael und Gabriel.