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Dadamaino in her studio, 1979. Photo by Vittorio Pigazzini


Ricerca del Colore

Dadamaino (1930-2004), born Eduarda Emilia Maino, took part in the European avant-garde movements of the 1960s that will forever leave their mark on art history. She got involved in the Spatialism movement, the N and T groups in Italy, of the Zero group in Germany, of Equipo 57 in Spain, of the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV) (Visual Art Reseach Group) in France, or of the Nouvelle Tendance (New Tendency) in Zagreb, without ever lingering, on the contrary freeing herself rapidly from them and carrying on the development of her own plastic research. 

Her work thrives on her scientific sensitivity and her taste for mathematics, enabling her to develop analytical reflections and structural models to infinity, nourishing her research until the end. 

Ricerca del colore belongs to a group of serial studies of the colour spectrum that were created between 1966 and 1970, while she was teaching Design in Switzerland. The title is poetically ambiguous, because it can be translated as “exploring colour” as well as “searching for colour”. The artist explains:

Considering chromatic arrangements that are essentially the product of a combination of intuition and taste, I have found it useful to conduct a research on colours in order to verify the real relationship between them. I have therefore used the seven colours of the spectrum, identifying their average chromatic value, plus white, black and brown. Ten multiplied by ten. Then I have graded each from maximum to minimum against the background of the basic colour, with forty variants as visible average. The result is, therefore, a hundred panels measuring 20×20 cm, with 4000 shades. Each panel is divided into two parts, with eighty spaces alternated by the background colour and the one that is analysed, so that it is possible to verify the chromatic value of each nuance.”


Ricerca del colore (1966 – 68), installation shot from the exhibition ‘Dynamic Visions’ at Tornabuoni Art London, 2020

Observing these works therefore means placing oneself in front of plays of light, a slow fading, and fainting of the gradations that then reappear and reassert themselves strongly. Even where it is brighter (in reds, and greens), the color seems soaked in air, made of glass: its impetuousness, subjected to the strict discipline of measurement, is attenuated. And so this syllabary of the gaze in which letter after letter, line after line we learn to see, as we learn to read; this abstract mosaic of painted notes manages to dematerialize the color. The color then becomes a number, a rhythmic principle. It becomes a philosophy of light, and at the same time, a philosophy of transparency.

Elena Pontiggia, 1990

“When in 58, I started cutting up canvases until only the frame was left to see, it is certain that I was putting myself in contradiction with the type of art practiced at the time”



Exhibition view, Missoni Art Colour, MaGA, Gallarate, 2015

Her rainbow of a hundred tables has a very precise beginning and ending point. Starting from white, present in all of them, to sink at the end into black, which instead excludes any other declination, passing through red, orange, yellow, green, light blue, blue, violet and brown .

Ten times ten equals one hundred.

Each tablet is a square module of 20 cm., divided vertically into two halves, each of which contains forty horizontal spaces of 0.5 cm.

Stripes that lie next to other strips in a two-tone alternation that produces an interesting optical effect.


Table for Ricerca del Colore, catalogue Premio Silvestro Lega 1976. Courtesy Archivio Dadamaino.

The composition is simple and similar to that of many works from the same period inspired by abstract geometry. The color range of Ricerca del colore, however, shows a difference with other works characterized by starker tones and violent contrasts. The totality, whether it is exhibited as a line or a square, gives off an impression of nuances and soft transitions, as if Dadamaino refused to forcibly marry two tones. One immediately looks for an underlying rule guiding the choice of colors, if not a complementary chromatic order, but can hardly find anything. One looks for a permutation game ruled by a system but has to accept that none is very apparent, and that the whole piece seems to be guided by a subjective principle. Moreover, color seems to reintroduce a subjective dimension within a systematic composition principle. The relationships within the same canvas follow tangible variations organized around three colors: the one that is repeated and structures the composition, the two other which are perceptible variations of an identical color, distributed along the median axis that divides the canvas into two identical vertical parts. Ricerca del colore is a subtle piece, and it takes the viewer a moment to grasp its underlying organization principle“.

Bernard Blistène, 2014


Vernissage of Salone Annunciata, Milan 1975. Courtesy Archivio Dadamaino



Milan, 1995. Courtesy Archivio Dadamaino

In Ricerca del colore we must not seek the intelligence of the effect. What we should appreciate, rather, is the slow and meticulous flow of time, that becomes rhythm, the time of the reading but above all of the creation, which has wholly absorbed the sentient and thinking presence of the author. It is therefore a matter of an analytical, an apparently neutral, attitude, which is nevertheless charged with a subjective plenitude that is the antithesis of the possible anonymity at that time preached by many. The identity of artist does not designate the work, it is the work as such, the silent and not wholly readable adventure of its manifesting itself to existence. Flaminio Gualdoni, 2014

“Dada Maino has gone beyond the “issue of painting”: there are other dimensions that inspire her work: her paintings fly the flag of a new world, they introduce a new significance: they are not satisfied with “saying things in another way”: they say new things”.

Piero Manzoni, Padua, May 20, 1961

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Ricerca del Colore in Museums

exhibition catalogue edited by Tornabuoni Arte. Texts by Bernard Blistène and Flaminio Gualdoni. B/w and colored illustrations, 176 pages, 9,8×12 in, Italian/English, 2014.

exhibition catalogue edited by Tornabuoni Art Paris. Texts by Bernard Blistène and Flaminio Gualdoni. B/w and colored illustrations, 178 pages, 9,8×12,2 in, French/English, 2013. 


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