Gastone Novelli, The Man who Drowns in his Own Blood, 1967, Oil, tempera and pencil on canvas, Private collection, Venice.
Gastone Novelli, The East Shines in Red, 1968, Oil and pencil on canvas, Private collection, Rome.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
+ 041 2045411
Themes & Variations.
Script and Space. Gastone Novelli and Venice
Curated by Luca Massimo Barbero
October 15, 2011-January 1, 2012
Themes & Variations. First conceived in 2002 by Luca Massimo Barbero, is the third edition of an innovative but now proven exhibition formula that offers visitors fresh perceptions of the museum’s collections, whether known or less known, by means of a dialogue with works by more contemporary artists from other collections, thus opening up new, multiple possible interpretations. Works from the early 20th century avant-garde connect thematically in a confrontation and comparison with post war and contemporary works, tracing the evolution of forms of visual expression as they change with time. Each gallery narrates its own story, its own theme, a curiosity or a variation, sometimes self-evident and sometimes purposefully obscured by the artist.
Beginning with Modernist works from early last century so strongly characteristic of Peggy Guggenheim’s collection and that of Gianni Mattioli, such as Cubism and Futurism, Themes & Variations. Script and Space, looks at the use of script: as language, as sign, through the medium of paint and other materials, signs suggestive of images, or script that approaches typography. Forging a chronological bridge to the past, the first room connects the energy and onomatopoeia of the printed words of Pablo Picasso and of the Italian Futurist Carlo Carrà to the more contemporary script of Lawrence Weiner or the mysterious panels of Vincenzo Agnetti. Other thematic rooms follow, in which Piet Mondrian’s inflexible geometries are offset by Gianni Colombo’s flexible, ironic and elastic spaces and by the self-contained spaces of Mario Nigro. Uniformly patterned works, with a density to the point of congestion by Rudolf Stingel, contrast with Jackson Pollock’s allover calligraphy. Writing-as-sign in Bice Lazzari compares with the cryptic vocabulary of marks in Dadamaino and Riccardo de Marchi. Then again, in a gallery dedicated to nature, a roaring lion by Mirko contradicts the complacency of a chimpanzee by Francis Bacon.
With Peggy Guggenheim’s Celestial Bodies by Rufino Tamayo, the exhibition engages the notion of cosmic space, understood as a multiplicity of perspectives, in which the woven textures of François Morellet involve and enchant the spectator’s eye in readiness for the shadowy figurations of Arthur Duff’s ropes and knots and the enigma of space in Lucio Fontana.
The exhibition includes works by Vincenzo Agnetti, Anni Albers, Josef Albers, Rodolfo Aricò, John Armleder, Francis Bacon, Cristiano Bianchin, Carlo Carrà, Enrico Castellani, Carlo Ciussi, Gianni Colombo, William Congdon, Joseph Cornell, Dadamaino, Gino De Dominicis, Riccardo De Marchi, Arthur Duff, Max Ernst, Flavio Favelli, Lucio Fontana, Henry Krokatsis, Bice Lazzari, Sol LeWitt, Mirko, Piet Mondrian, François Morellet, Hidetoshi Nagasawa, Maurizio Nannucci, Mario Nigro, Kenneth Noland, Gastone Novelli, Luigi Ontani, Roman Opalka, Pablo Picasso, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Jackson Pollock, Mario Sironi, Rudolf Stingel, Rufino Tamayo, Theo van Doesburg, Georges Vantongerloo, Lawrence Weiner.
The theme of script and matière, in its widest sense, is also key to Gastone Novelli and Venice (curated by Luca Massimo Barbero in partnership with the Archivio Gastone Novelli, Rome), with which Themes&Variations closes. A major figure in Italian art in the 1950s and 60s, Novelli in recent years has begun to assume a position in the forefront of international contemporary art of his time. For Themes&Variations, his poetical inscriptions on outsize canvases, in which marks, colors, and words are suspended in a delicate balance, have been selected to explore his relation to Venice. Together with rare sketchbooks of the 1960s which depict Venice — an enduring source of inspiration for him — there are canvases painted between 1964 and 1968, few of them ever exhibited prior to this exhibition, in which Venice may be either his subject or the place of his studio. 1968 was a critical year for Novelli — he was at the center of the polemics and the protests against the Biennale that year, where he turned the paintings in his one-man show to the wall, thus linking himself and his work to a now legendary episode in the student riots of that year.