“Thus ‘the eminent dignity of the arts of fire’ arises from the fact that their products bear the most profoundly human mark, the mark of primitive love. […] The forms created by fire are modeled more than any other, as Paul Valery pointed out so well, “in order to be caressed.”
Gaston Bachelard, “The Psychoanalysis of Fire”, 1937
On Fire is the title of the first exhibition entirely dedicated to the use of fire as a means of artistic creation among the post-war avant-garde movements. The exhibition, curated by Bruno Corà and promoted by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and Tornabuoni Art, brings together some of the most iconic works either made with fire, or that include the presence of flames.
The exhibition is developed through six sections. These offer the opportunity to discover together for the first time the following artists and their relation with fire: Yves Klein, Alberto Burri, Arman, Jannis Kounellis, Pier Paolo Calzolari and Claudio Parmiggiani.
Naturally fugacious, fire has no shape, weight, or density. It has always been a source of fascination for artists, both for its potential effects on other materials and for its potential active presence in works of art. The post-war avant-garde movements experimented with fire on various materials, thereby exploiting its destructive as well as its generative effects.Thus, in the work of these great artists, fire became not only the sensitive protagonist, but also a medium of innovation within their pictorial and visual language.
Although the artists shared the use of fire, the exhibition focuses on each master, highlighting the different ways in which they employed this element. Fire can be found as an instrument of combustion (Klein, Burri, Arman); as a living presence with its own sensory and sometimes spectacular effects, such as light, heat, and even noise (Klein, Kounellis, Calzolari); and lastly, as a pictorial trace using the smoke obtained through combustion (Calzolari, Parmiggiani).
On Fire gathers 28 works, including several previously unseen or rarely shown masterpieces, thanks to the collaboration with the artists’ foundations and important international private loans. Through these works, the exhibition documents one of the most radical, and at the same time unexplored, revolutions in the visual language of contemporary art.
Yves Klein, the artist who opens this exhibition, was attracted to the dialectical aspect of fire, a symbol of both good and evil, destruction and regeneration and life and death. “Fire for me is the future without forgetting the past. It is the memory of nature. It is gentleness. ‘It is gentleness and torture’. It is heath and it is apocalypse. It is a pleasure for the child sitting prudently by the fireplace; yet it punishes any disobedience when he wishes to play too close to its flames. It is well-being and it is respect. It is a tutelary and terrible god, both good and bad.”
Alberto Burri‘s relationship with fire stemmed from, and brought together, creative inspiration and his scientific background. The artist remarked: “For a long time I wanted to understand the way fire consumes materials, to understand the nature of combustion and how everything can live and die in combustion to form a perfect unity.” Burri explained that first of all he needed a surface on which to arrange the composition…. Then he laid plastic on it and burnt it. “Nothing is left to chance. What I do here is the most controlled and controllable type of painting…You have to control the material and this is achieved by mastering the technique.”
In 1964 Arman was invited to exhibit at the Stedeljik Museum in Amsterdam. When the curator asked him to create a work for the museum’s entrance, they visited a dump where a Louis XV-style armchair was burning on top of a pile of rubbish, and it reminded him of René Magritte’s iconic painting L’échelle du feu. Upon returning to Nice, he created the Fauteuil d’Ulysse with the help of Martial Raysse. This was the origin of Arman’s combustion technique, which consisted in the artist setting on fire elegant furniture and musical instruments and then applying resin to the resulting objects consumed by fire to fix the process. Arman’s choice of materials is reminiscent of Duchamp’s ready-made concept and Braque and Picasso’s Cubism in the division of objects into multiple planes. Thus, in the early 1960s, Arman revived these early 20th century avant-garde revolutions.
Following the concepts central to Arte Povera, Pier Paolo Calzolari works from the outset with materials in constant dialogue with each other. These include humble materials from semi-industrial urban contexts, or natural elements, like fire and wood, as well as scrap metal, everyday objects and neon tubes. Calzolari establishes a dialogue between the viewer and the everyday object which has undergone a transformation. Moreover, he places artificial and processed elements in opposition to natural elements in their primordial state, such as fire. During the exhibition’s opening days, from the 21st to 24th of April between 11am and 7pm on an hourly basis, visitors will be able to experience the Mangiafuoco performance with a fire-eater.
“The problem of fire is a particular one,” said Jannis Kounellis. “My interest in this element lies not only in fire as a problem, but also in its references in medieval legends where Fire is identified with punishment and purification.”
Kounellis moved away from painting around 1965. Beginning in 1967, the year of the so-called Margherita di Fuoco (which will be shown in the exhibition), the phenomenon of combustion began to appear frequently in the artist’s work. In this piece, Kounellis juxtaposed nature and culture. The blowtorch he used to cut metal leaves is shown in the work, thus replacing the flower’s organic life with fire, which represents its renewal. His interpretation of fire is a beneficial one with alchemical potential, from the mystical flame of his early works to the soot of his later years.
In 1970, Claudio Parmiggiani chose to occupy a space that served as storage in the Galleria di Modena. There he discovered traces of dust that had accumulated on the walls over the years. The artist then decided to make a fire with tires and blankets and a light, gray smoke settled on the objects. Once the latter were removed, the remaining shadow transformed into a sculptural shape, a pattern of dust that fixed the oscillation of time from within. This form of representation resembles the photographic method which takes an image, inverts it, and creates a negative before being developed. His Delocazioni – the name given to the works he makes through this technique are an empty space of physical perceptions, where, paradoxically, the viewer has the sensation of entering an inhabited place.
The absence of the objects makes the walls even lighter; there is nothing but their sooty outline to be seen. Parmiggiani will create an on-site installation for this exhibition.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication edited by Forma Edizioni under the scientific direction of Prof. Bruno Corà, who will also contribute a critical text.
The exhibition is organized with the support of Mag, Forma Edizioni and Edra