Mimmo Rotella

Beyond Décollage:
Photo Emulsions and Artypos, 1963-1980

3 March - 12 December

Cardi Gallery | London


Cardi Gallery | London in collaboration with the Mimmo Rotella Institute is proud to present MIMMO ROTELLA. Beyond Décollage: Photo Emulsions and Artypos, 1963-1980’, curated by Antonella Soldaini.

Perhaps best known for his Décollages made of distressed street posters ripped from the walls of Rome, “Beyond Décollage” establishes Mimmo Rotella (1918 – 2006) as a major pioneer of the Pop Art movement, who worked simultaneously with Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.

Rotella created an art form that would chronicle his time and marry the power of iconic film and popular imagery to the history of painting, forming a portrait of Italy during its economic boom as it rebranded itself with modernity in the post-war decades. He did so by inventing new techniques to transform the traditional canvas into a photographic surface, a space for layering, printing and exploring what an image could be. The artist experimented with developing photographs on canvas in his Photo Emulsions and with layering and overprinting found images with newsprint and all manner of popular media in his Artypos.

Selected Images

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Photo: Serge Béguier

Mimmo Rotella, pioneer of European Pop Art, was born in Catanzaro, Italy on the 7th October 1918. Exposed to creativity at a young age, growing up with a mother who worked as a milliner, he enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Naples to study fine art. Drafted for the military in 1941 Rotella consequently left Rome after moving there to pursue an artistic career. Following three years of military service, he returned to the Italian capital where he began exhibiting abstract paintings. While working in various industries to support his artistic career, the artist was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship of the University of Missouri in 1951. In the US he successfully exhibited his works at Rockhill Nelson Gallery in Kansas City and travelled the country presenting new experimentations with poetry.

Upon his return in Europe, Rotella was invited to partake in the renowned exhibition Salon des Réalités Nouvelles while his first solo show at Galleria Chiurazzi in Rome shortly afterwards earned him positive reviews. Nevertheless, at a time when Italian artists such as Albert Burri were gaining recognition for their abstract experimentations with canvas, Rotella began rejecting the contemporary understanding of painting. Seeking a new artistic revelation, this crisis led him to look for inspiration in the streets of Rome, where traces of Western consumerism and the film industry swept over post-war Europe in the form of visual advertisement. In contrast to the academic rigour of his prior work, Rotella began to adopt an ironic artistic attitude, venturing in performative practices his work transformed from abstract expression to a direct social and cultural commentary. He dedicated his practice to a new medium concerned with forms of assemblage and collage in which the sourced material is juxtaposed with each other on the canvas, later pioneering the technique of décollage, where juxtapositions are created through the opposite effect, cutting and tearing to reveal new layers. While Rotella is often most remembered for his décollages depicting cinematographic iconography, his life’s oeuvre is characterised by different techniques, subjects and media.

In 1961 and 1962 his works were exhibited in two momentous shows in New York at Sidney Janis Gallery as part of the exhibition New Realists and at the Museum of Modern Art in The Art of Assemblage. He would later be invited to exhibit a second time in a major group exhibition at New York MoMA in 1990.

The dichotomies of Rotella’s practice over the years became strongly distinguishable through evolving collage and print practices. Experimenting with ways to transition from décollage, in the early 1960s the artist developed the photo emulsion, a technique which later has been defined as significant to the emergence of the Mec-Art movement. Like his American contemporaries such as Andy Warhol, Rotella’s practice was highly influenced by photography and photojournalism, which prompted his photo emulsions to visually document current social and political affairs.

In the ‘60s the artist developed yet another new technique: artypo, collecting print proofs of advertisements that are usually discarded and mounted them on the canvas in various juxtapositions.

Rotella’s artistic success led him to be invited to represent Italy at the Venice Biennale in 1964, shortly after which he moved to Paris, disappointed with the Italian system that had brought him to prison for a few months for minor drug charges. In Paris, the artist became a part of the Nouveau Réalisme group founded by art critic and friend Pierre Restany. Between the 1960s and 1970s he continued to live a turbulent social life characterised by important exhibitions and travels around the world. The first major retrospective about Rotella’s work, curated by Restany was held at the Rotonda di via Besana in Milan in 1975. Rotella’s body of work reflected the infinite stream of popular images, a reflection of his vibrant lifestyle as well. Finally settling back in Milan in 1980, the artist transformed his visual practice once again. He started to cover his artworks with monochrome sheets of paper, calling his latest technique blanks.

Following a number of important exhibitions around Europe, including a retrospective at the Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart (Germany), his work from the 1970s and 1980s was featured in the pivotal 49th Venice Biennale, curated by Harald Szeemann. This was the third time Rotella had participated in the Biennale in Venice. Some of the later international presentations of his work included a solo exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 2003.

The year before he died, Rotella received the honour of the Gold Medal for visual arts and architecture, awarded on the occasion of the 14th Rome Quadriennale, Fuori tema/Italian Feeling, by Pio Baldi. The artist died on January 8, 2006 and is survived by his wife Inna Agarounova and their daughter Asya Rotella.

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