“Franco Angeli-gli anni ’60” monograph delves into the artist’s creative journey |   January 6, 2018

Franco Angeli-gli anni ’60 comprises the latest comprehensive monograph on the Italian artist, one of the most prominent figures of the country’s artistic scene following the Second World War. Curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, with texts by Laura Cherubini and published by Marsilio publishing house, it focuses on the beginning of Angeli’s artistic journey as seen through the correspondence he held with friends and associates.

Contemporary Art Historian and Critic Ilaria Bernardi reviewed the publication in the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, noting that “it is able to reconstruct Angeli’s path with accuracy, intelligence, and sensitivity.” Read the full summary below.

Franco Angeli, Souvenir, Olnick Spanu Collection
Franco Angeli, ‘Souvenir,’ 1976-1977. Courtesy of the Olnick Spanu Collection.

Ilaria Bernardi, Art in Rome in the 1960s. Angeli. From the Nylon Bandage to the Archive, Do Not Forget, in “Alias Domenica-il manifesto”, December 20, 2017, VII, no. 49, p. 11.

So far, we were lacking a real monograph on Franco Angeli.

Barbero e Cherubini have just realized a very good one, dedicated to Angeli’s first decade. Between memory and matter.

“Giovane scuola di Roma” [Young School of Rome], “Figurazione novissima” [Newest Figurations], “Scuola di Piazza del Popolo” [School of Piazza del Popolo, that is of an important Roman square] are some of the names attributed to the Roman artistic research of the 1960s that was linked to La Tartaruga, the gallery founded by Plinio De Martiis in 1954 on Via del Babuino and moved to Piazza del Popolo in 1963. Franco Angeli, Mario Ceroli, Tano Festa, Giosetta Fioroni, Renato Mambor, Mario Schifano, Cesare Tacchi are the main leading figures of this “School”: they are united by the will to overcome the Ego’s informal expression in painting in order to represent the external reality through its objectification. They have been often considered as being similar to the American Pop Artists, but they are rather different above all when it comes to the strong manual and not mechanical intervention on the canvas, and the choice of working on cultural stereotypes rather than on commercial objects.

The Opportunity: an Exhibition in London

Compared to the U.S. Pop Art, Franco Angeli (Rome, 1935-1988) is the prime example of the Roman School’s originality in the 1960s. For this reason, the Ronchini Gallery (London) has celebrated his works with an exhibition, from October 4 to November 18, 2017, 30 years after his death. The exhibition included a lot of works created by the artist in the 1960s on loan from some major European collections. It gave the opportunity to delve deeper into Angeli’s production of that decade also through the publication of a monograph curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, with texts by the curator and Laura Cherubini, and published by Marsilio (pages 272, € 45,00).

This is the first comprehensive monograph on this subject. In its three sections—critical texts, works, notes—it is able to reconstruct Angeli’s artistic path, from his beginnings until 1969, with accuracy, intelligence, and sensitivity. In particular, the two critical texts introduce us to his oeuvre, bringing to light, on one hand, the technical, iconographic and conceptual development (in the text by Barbero), and on the other, the important link with the historical-artistic context of that time (in the text by Cherubini).

Barbero focuses his attention on the significant works and on the meaning attributed by the artist to the materials used, often connected to his life experiences. The suffering due to his mother’s premature death and the trauma of being present at the bombing of San Lorenzo’s Roman district, for example, urge Angeli to use the color red, as a metaphor of blood, when he began painting in 1957, but also it prompts him to use the bandage, evoking the wounded’s bandage, in the following year. Instead, the breathing of the “air” of Rome, a city which is intrinsically linked to the material (we can think of Sacchi [Sacks] by Alberto Burri or Rilievi [Reliefs] by Ettore Colla), induces Angeli to adopt these materials transforming them into a pulsating and stratified image, into a gaze involved in the human condition (Ferita [Wound, 1958]).

Compared to these beginnings, Barbero underlines the turning points. Already in 1958, Angeli approached the reflections on monochrome, developed in Milan, through a painting made of shaded and deep grey colours. Therefore, he renders this reflection very personal thanks to an evocative use of the material (Disumano [Inhuman, 1959]): hence the metaphorical meaning of the nylon socks that are ripped, pulled on the canvas, and alluding to the lacerations lived during the Second War World (Immagini negative [Negative Images], 1959).

Instead, between the first solo show in 1960 at the La Salita Gallery in Rome and his attendance at the Venice Biennale in 1964, Angeli’s attention on the current socio-political situation is clearer and stemming also from his proximity to the Communist Faction: on canvas the bandage, the nylon socks and the “velatino” filter (that is a special fabric, strongly rubberized, which is used for models or in restoration) remove and exorcise allusive images to the international political context (Algeria, 1961) and to the governments based on abuse and evoked in painting through the rhetorical symbols of the She-wolf (Lupa di Roma, [She-wolf of Rome, 1962-63]), of the swastika (Killer, 1962), of the fascist wing (La Bestia [the Beast, 1963]), of the American dollar and eagle (Quarter Dollar, 1964).

Franco Angeli, ‘Half Dollar,’ 1968. Courtesy of the Olnick Spanu Collection.

A further significant moment, as Barbero underlines, is 1967-68, when Angeli’s painting, which has, by now become even more politically involved and ideologically oriented, comes to reproduce images concerning the news, from the Post-War parades to the student protests (Università americana [American University], 1967), through an illustrative technique.

The end of the Sixties corresponds to Angeli’s retreat into the intimate dimension evoked in La stanza delle ideologie [Rooms of the Ideologies, 1969]. During this decade, the Roman context is important as much as the works by the artist because he is strongly linked with the city’s background and mood. Laura Cherubini focuses on this link in her text published in the catalogue. After underlining the ancient and prophetic connection between Angeli and Piazza del Popolo (when he had no home he sometimes slept within the dolphin’s mouth of the side fountains of the square), Cherubini recalls Angeli’s relationships and collaborations with intellectuals and artists present in Rome at that time. In 1960 he proposes a group show together with Lo Savio, Schifano, Uncini, Festa to the gallerist of La Tartaruga (instead, the show will be held in La Salita in the same year); in 1961 he allows to sign his La Scarpa destra [The Right Shoe] by Manzoni; in 1966 he realizes with Jack Kerouac Deposizione [Deposition], while in 1968 he dedicates Nove oggetti della memoria [Nine Memory’s Objects] to friends, to artists, to his brother Otello and to other street friends. These relationships are possible thanks to a shared life lived around Piazza del Popolo, between La Tartaruga Gallery and Caffè Rosati. Laura Cherubini explains very well the importance of being together, as well as thoroughly outlining the portrait of Plinio De Martiis, that is La Tartaruga’s owner and the School of Piazza del Popolo’s mentor. Moreover, she analyses Angeli’s relationship with the research on monochrome, with galleries and critics of his time.

The Reverse of the Canvas, a “Diary”

The effect of the Roman context in Angeli’s oeuvre is confirmed by the second section of the monograph. Besides documenting his paintings from 1957 to 1969 and the photographs about that period, this second section includes illustrations of works by other artists and of books’ covers that are very important for the artist’s production. Moreover, some reverse sides of his paintings are published to prove “the artist’s conception of the reverse of the canvas as a sort of diary concerning an image that is hidden or only partially revealed on the front of the canvas,” Barbero writes. The publications of some photographs used by the artist as iconographic sources are likewise interesting: thanks to them we can discover, for example, that Berlino [Berlin, 1968] is taken from the photo by Evgenij Chaldej, where we can identify the red flag on the Reichsatg on May 2, 1945.

In the monograph, this corpus of images is followed by the notes by Chiara Mari, where, in addition to the biography by Sibilla Panerai, to the list of exhibitions, to the bibliography and to the filmography, there is an anthology of critical texts, interviews and writings by the artist. Among these writings, Atto di fede [Faith’s Act, 1984] is very important: it is based on the repetition of the warning “Non dimenticare” [Do not forget] against the contemporary consumer society.

“Do not forget” is also the aim of the artist’s archive. Indeed, his archive keeps the materials on the artist’s oeuvre and encourages its knowledge. Founded in Rome in October 2009 by Maria, Angeli’s daughter, the archive was essential for the realization of the monograph curated by Barbero.

For this reason, these types of publishing projects offer the opportunity to reflect on the importance of investing energy, funds and attention on the artists’ archives so that they can be open to the consultation of the researchers and they can provide for conservation, archiving, release of certificates of authenticity, general cataloguing, promotion of exhibitions and publications. By the way, these activities, based on internationally shared criteria, can also facilitate the growth of the market value of the works by an artist, that today represents an increasingly relevant element about contemporary art. Therefore, the conservation of archival materials is above all the fundamental practice in order to not erase what Jacques Derrida called “the absolute impatience of the memory” (Mal d’archive, Une impression freudienne, Galilée, Paris 1995), or, as Franco Angeli would have said, in order to “not forget.”