Escape from the frame

18 - 25 March 2020

Mythologies

Cardi Gallery is pleased to present Escape from the Frame, an online exhibition featuring a selection of works produced between 1964 and 2019 by Arman, Agostino Bonalumi, Enrico Castellani, Ha Chong-Hyun, Lucio Fontana, Jannis Kounellis and Gilberto Zorio.

PRESS RELEASE

ArmanUntitled, 1999Table lamp immersed in acrylic paint on canvas110 x 89 x 24.5 cm43 1/4 x 35 1/8 x 9 5/8 in

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The French-American artist Arman (1928-2005) is regarded as one of the most prolific artists of the late 20th Century. He is known for the wide range of mediums ranging from drawings and prints to monumental public sculpture and to his more acclaimed collection and compositions of found material such as instruments, furniture, forks, and teapots: “I maintain that the expression of junk and objects has an intrinsic value, and I see no need to look for aesthetic forms in them and to adapt them to the colours of the palette”.

Arman’s practice is strongly associated with the aesthetics and philosophical concepts of Dadaism. While he initially practiced as an abstract painter, he eventually developed his more recognisable techniques in the early 1960s. Alongside the prominent art critic Pierre Restany and artists such as Yves Klein, Arman co-founded the “Nouveau Réalisme” group. Influenced by his contemporaries he began to develop his most recognisable techniques that the artist coined “Accumulation” and “Poubelle”. The “Accumulations” were compositions of common objects which he arranged in polyester castings or cases, while “Poubelle”, french for trash, describes plexiglass cases filled with accumulated litter. Criticising consumerism and mass production, this series of work reflected the emerging

This present work “Untitled” (1999) is an example of Arman’s later works resembling a medium halfway between painting and volume. The work is similar to a series of trumpets immersed in black acrylic from 1998, the year prior. Absorbed in black acrylic paint, the silhouette of a table lamp that is stuck on the canvas emerges, leaving the viewer with the bear resemblance of the object presented. The French publication “Connaissance Des Arts” described this series of works in 1999 as followed: “What strikes the mind is less a type of beach-strewn flotsam or a future archaeologist’s vision bearing witness to our present era rather than representations of an ideological catastrophe, oil slicks, mudslides, chemical pollution (…) of the senseless lack of thought of urban planners, industry captains and other “deciders” with short-term visions and bent on transforming our planet into a gigantic trash can”.

Arman died on October 22, 2005 in New York. Today, his works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Tate Gallery in London, and the Musée d’Art Moderne ed d’Art Contemporain in Nice, among others.

Agostino BonalumiBlu, 1970Evert canvas and tempera105 x 82 cm41 3/8 x 32 1/4 in

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The difference between Castellani and myself is that he carves out a work and researches space from within the operation itself, whereas in my case there is also an attention to the exterior, and the fact that the nature of art for me consists in data – meaning what may be read unambiguously – but also of appearance, what is elusive.” (Agostino Bonalumi quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Catanzaro, Museo Marca, Agostino Bonalumi, 2014, p. 21.)

Agostino Bonalumi was born on 10 July 1935 in Vimercate, Milan. He studied technical design and mechanics. A self-taught painter, he began to show his work at a young age. In 1958, the Bonalumi Castellani and Manzoni group emerged with a show at the Galleria Pater in Milan, followed by other shows in Rome, Milan and Lausanne. As a great exponent of Milan’s artistic vanguard of the 1960s, Agostino Bonalumi was associated with a new generation of artists who sought to overcome personal and existential expression in art in order to examine its fundamental structural principles.

Executed in 1964, Bonalumi’s monochromatic Blu (1970) is a splendid example of his quadri-oggetto series, three-dimensional canvases conceived as extensions of painting. The work is composed of elasticized canvas, tightened on special looms structured with one jutting element that determines the embossed shape of the composition. Bonalumi uses the canvas as a pliable substance, bending and flexing it to create a three-dimensional surface that reflects light. The geometric clarity of the work bridges the gap between painting and sculpture to challenge the acceptance of the flat canvas as a ritual prerequisite for painting. Rather than containing an illusionary inner-space, Bonalumi’s self-described ‘picture-object’ projects into the real space of the viewer’s domain, taking on almost architectural quality.

This reductive method establishes a unique approach to the artistic tabula rasa called for in the ground-breaking Azimuth, the journal Bonalumi co-founded with Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani, that demanded that “Images which are as absolute as possible, which cannot be valued for that which they record, explain and express, but only for that which they are to be” (P. Manzoni, ‘For the Discovery of a Zone of Images’, Spring 1957, Azimuth 2, 1960). Bonalumi conceives of his work in experiential terms, aiming to create objects that foreground the basic mechanisms of visual perception.

For Bonalumi, this investigation is grounded first and foremost in the phenomenon of colour. As the artist explains, “For me, every work (even now) is already conceived in a certain colour: we could say that it is born coloured. I have also written in the past that my work is not a coloured form, but the form that emerges from colours, that is to say, light. In fact, my works are named after their colour to emphasise this idea. Because colour does not exist, it is light, and this also means that the form emerges from light: a form that is simply painted is something else. A painted form represents a sequence of two separate moments; contrary to this, the emergence of the form from the colour/light represents a single moment, and this is the moment that interests me” (A. Bonalumi, quoted in F. Pola, ‘Beauty has to be experienced, not described: A conversation with Agostino Bonalumi’ in F. Pola, Agostino Bonalumi: All the Shapes of Space 1958-1976, London 2013, p. 190).

Enrico CastellaniSuperficie bianca, 1970Acrylic on shaped canvas73.2 x 92 cm28 7/8 x 36 1/4 in

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For me, the question is that of creating a totally white surface outside any pictorial phenomenon, any intervention extraneous to the value of the surface: this is a white surface that is a white surface and nothing else. With the ‘lines’ there is not even the possible ambiguity of the picture: the line extends only in length, it runs to infinity, the only dimension of time… There is nothing to say: one can only be” (Enrico Castellani quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Fondazione Prada, Enrico Castellani, 2001, p. 45).

Executed in 1970, Superficie bianca exemplifies the rigorous formal investigations that Enrico Castellani has spent a lifetime exploring. The white surface of the painting is vaulted from behind and pierced through from the front with a sequence of nails that create a carefully paced grid pattern. There is nothing of Castellani present, no autobiography, no emotion. His artistic interventions are kept at a minimum, with the canvas’s modulated rhythm of volumes and voids entirely determined by the underlying structure of the frame and nails. “The surface, which has, on various occasions, described, alluded and suggested, and has been the scene of idylls, drama and raving, is now silent,” Castellani once asserted. “A monochrome curtain has fallen at the end of painting’s last act” (E. Castellani cited in G. Celant, (ed.), Enrico Castellani: 1958-1970, exh. cat., Milan, 2001, p. 16).

In fact, this ‘last act’ of painting has generated field of visual research that is still very much active and relevant today. Castellani executed his first Superficie nera in rilievo (Black Surface in Relief) in 1959: this was a decisive work for the development of his art, opening up new opportunities for expression using canvases with three-dimensional surfaces. Although he was working within the ambit of the two-dimensional, the artist shifted the focus of attention to the painting’s objecthood by structuring the canvas so as to create a space for expansion where concave and convex, positive and negative, and light and shade alternated without the aid of traditional painterly methods. White monochromic surfaces are a key part of this strategy to assert the canvas as a self-expressing entity, as they have a tendency to not only reflect light effectively, but also to take on the hue of its ambient conditions.

Castellani’s aim, in fiercely removing all signifiers from his art, has been to allow the traditional materials of painting to emphasise the essentially immaterial nature of its subject matter. In doing so, he sought to establish a self-reliant art form “reduced to the semanticity of its own language” (E. Castellani, cited in G. Clement, ibid., p. 43). And yet Superficie bianca speaks of more than just “art for art’s sake”, as it engages with the psychology of perception and the spatio-temporal condition of our existence. The work imposes itself in the three-dimensional realm – our unstable, ever-changing realm – to encourage an act of communion with the viewer.

Castellani’s interpretation of modularity, which possesses absolute clarity in its execution, still manages to harness surprise and emotion thanks to its embrace of the irregular and unpredictable influence of atmospheric effects. When approaching Superficie bianca the viewer becomes absolutely aware of their presence in relation to the work, their apprehension of the shifting shadows and bright points as they move before it and of the temporal dimension of the experience. In this respect, the Superfici (surfaces) are, as Castellani himself pointed out, ‘invitations to contemplation,’ something akin, he said, to the elaborate abstraction of much Islamic art and architecture.

Indeed, Castellani originally trained as an architect at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, before moving to Milan in 1956, at the age of 26. There he founded the hugely influential magazine Azimuth, and the gallery Azimut with Piero Manzoni, which were revolutionary in their impact on Italian art. Castellani’s early architectural training probably influenced his interest in spatial forms and tendency towards geometrical precision but his subsequent works firmly relate to the evolution of abstraction. He believes his controlled and rigorously impersonal process was first made possible by Piet Mondrian, whose concern for the most fundamental aspects of painting approached an absolute art. Superficie bianca’s endlessly repeatable, three-dimensional grid seems to combine this painterly influence with a concern for the infinite that speaks of the Space Age in which Castellani’s artistic practice was first conceived.

In her seminal ‘Grids’ essay of 1979, Rosalind Krauss deduced that, “Logically speaking, the grid extends, in all directions, to infinity… By virtue of the grid, the given work of art is presented as a mere fragment, a tiny piece arbitrarily cropped from an infinitely larger fabric. Thus the grid operates from the work of art outward, compelling our acknowledgement of a world beyond the frame” (R. Krauss, ‘Grids’, October, vol. 9, Summer 1979, p. 60). In keeping with this theory of minimalist art’s expansive scope, curator and art scholar Achille Bonito Oliva has traced a connection between Castellani and his avant-garde peers that dates back to the Renaissance. The link, which he explored in the book and exhibition Minimalia: An Italian Vision In 20th-Century Art, is founded on the programmatic approach evident in 15th-century mathematical perspective systems, Giacomo Balla’s Futurist analysis of light and Lucio Fontana’s series of slash paintings, among others. Bonito Oliva argues that the development of a minimalist-style art in Italy therefore cannot be reduced solely to the phenomenological reduction of form to pure geometry; it instead retains complexities beyond the work itself.

This is certainly true of Castellani’s Superficie bianca, which, although mute and severely ascetic, is conceptually rich – even metaphysical – in its engagement with the intangible aspects light, time and space. “My surfaces,” Castellani has said, “tend to modulate themselves and accept the third dimension that makes them perceptible. Light is now a tool of this perception: contingent form and intensity are abandoned to this fortuity. But because they are no longer part of the dominion of painting or sculpture and since they may assume the character of monumentality of architecture or scale down its space, they are the reflection of the total interior space, without contradictions, to which we tend. Thus they exist insofar as they are objects that may be assimilated instantly for the duration of an act of communion before time confines them to their material precariousness” (E. Castellani quoted in G. Celant, op. cit., p. 149).

Ha Chong-HyunConjunction 19-17, 2019Oil on hemp cloth162 x 130 cm63 3/4 x 51 1/8 in

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The Korean art movement “Dansaekhwa”, also referred to as the Korean monochromatic movement, is a movement defined by the collective effort to break away from the traditional understanding of Korean painting. While the movement was defined by various different philosophical approaches and techniques, it was also responding to developments of western abstract painting in Europe and the US.

The artist Ha Chong-Hyun is one of the defining pioneering figures of this movement and created his own technique called “bae-ap-bub”. The method translates to “back-pressure method”, the colour is applied thickly on a hemp woven canvas from the back. Amid the extreme material deprivations and an authoritarian political system during the 1960s and 1970s, he explored the potential of unorthodox materials such as newsprint, scrap lumber, and barbed wire attached to the canvas. Working with muted earth tones on burlap and hemp canvases while combining painting traditions from both the East and the West, Ha was instrumental in redefining the role of painting that challenged the strict delineation between sculpture, painting, and performance.

In 1974, he began to focus on the materiality of paint and canvas as more than mere support through the Conjunction series, the name that the artist has given to all of his paintings since the early 1970s and that describes his philosophy wherein the purity of the painting medium and the artist’s physicality merge, or are conjoined, in the act of painting.

His recent body of work continues to explore these variables. The present work “Conjunction 19-17” (2019) is an example of Ha Chong-Hyun’s contemporary continuation of his Conjunction series, created through an evolution of the sourcing of the material utilised. Due to the development of his practice and international recognition, the artist has acknowledged that the abundance of material now available has greatly influenced his practice, making it possible to explore the material and paint further. In “Conjunction 19-17” (2019) the artists pushed the monochrome white oil paint through the back of the woven burlap, so it protrudes through the surface. Thereafter he brushes or smears the paint into a wide variety of abstract compositions.

Lucio FontanaConcetto spaziale, Attese, 1964Waterpaint on canvas61 x 50 cm24 1/8 x 19 3/4 in

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My tagli are primarily a philosophical expression, an act of faith in the Infinite, an affirmation of spirituality. When I sit down in front of one of my tagli, to contemplate it, I suddenly feel a great expansion of the spirit, I feel like a man liberated from the slavery of material, like a man who belongs to the vastness of the present and the future.” (Lucio Fontana)

Created at the height of Lucio Fontana’s groundbreaking career that would end just three years later, Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1964, confronts the viewer with one of the most iconic and iconoclastic gestures of Post War art. Evoking the expressive painterly stroke only to empty it of all content, Fontana, with just two single decisive slashes down the red monochromatic canvas, pushes the medium of painting into new conceptual pastures. Firmly situated within the tagli, or “cut”, series the artist created between 1958 up until his death in 1968, Concetto spaziale, Attese articulates Fontana’s enduring concerns with the manipulation of space. With this deceptively simple, yet peremptorily and highly concentrated gesture, the artist introduced a radically new perspective into the realm of art – exploiting the creative force of destruction to give rise to a zone of potentiality apt for the space age. Just as Yuri Gagarin had become the first man to view earth from space through the window of his Vostok 1 capsule in 1961, Fontana here was creating a new language for painting which responded to the advancements of science and technology.

Fontana’s work was subject to a major solo show at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis in 1966, and his contribution to the Italian Pavilion at the 33rd Venice Biennale won the International Grand Prize for Painting. These years marked a phase of great creative energy for Fontana: his first Teatrini pieces are also from 1964.

With Concetto Spaziale, Attese, Fontana achieved the very synthesis of colour, space, movement, and time that he had been striving for. In 1947, his Manifesto Spaziale (Spatialist Manifesto) declared: “We believe art to liberate matter, the meaning of eternity from the concern for mortality. We are not interested in whether a completed gesture lives on for a moment or a millennium, since we are truly convinced that it will be eternal after it has been accomplished” (Lucio Fontana, Primo Manifesto spaziale, Milan, 1947). Rejecting the illusory space of traditional easel painting to unite colour and form in real space, Fontana began to experiment, producing a series of work under the umbrella title of Concetto Spaziale (“spatial concept”).

Expanding upon the formal and conceptual concerns he had been exploring for nearly a decade by puncturing the canvas with buchi (“holes”), Fontana’s first tagli in 1958 marked a key innovation in the evolutionary development of his visual vocabulary. In many ways, his radical gesture of slashing the canvas can be seen as a riposte to the painterly excesses of the increasingly dominant style of gestural abstraction – the serene cut becoming the symbolic and literal escape from such opulent, painterly materiality.  In the same year, the artist also began exploring the effect of creating matte, monochrome surfaces – heightening the viewer’s sense of space, but also to negating the representational conventions of painting.

In Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1964 Fontana has slashed the canvas in a progression that vividly speaks of the artist’s visceral and tactile process – first using a knife with a single downward motion down the still damp canvas, then broadening the incisions by pulling them apart by hand. As the razor pierces and slices open the two-dimensional canvas, the most intense luminosity occurs at the point where the slightly curving planes at each side of the cut meet the slit of dark, conveying seemingly infinite space at the center.

The violation of the pictorial plane was a profoundly conceptual act for Fontana, his violent slashes enforcing the idea that the painting is an object, not solely a surface. Though Fontana was intrigued by the impacts of technology and science on modern life, his cuts celebrate the artist’s subjective intervention as a way to repudiate processes of industrialization and mechanization.

Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1964 not only opens up the picture plane to allow energy and light to pass through the canvas into the cosmos beyond, but also stands as a fervent existential response to man’s newfound ability to enter this space himself. As such, this work encapsulates the essence of Fontana’s pioneering Spatialist theories: “we want painting to escape from its frame and sculpture from its bell-jar. An expression of aerial art of a minute is as if it lasts a thousand years, an eternity” (Lucio Fontana, “The Second Spatial Manifesto”, in Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Milan, 1998, p. 118).

Jannis KounellisUntitled, 1995Metal plate, oil pastel on paper, lead and iron beam100 x 73 cm39 3/8 x 28 3/4 in

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Greek-born artist Jannis Kounellis (1936-2017) was a pioneering figure of post-war European art and the Italian art movement “Arte Povera”. Artists associated with the amorphous movement were not necessarily united by specific techniques, subjects or political beliefs, their signature, however, signified a departure from traditional art materials such as oil paint. Disrupting the commercial value of art, the artists referred to “poor materials” such as soil, stones and other found material of no value. The collective understanding of Arte Povera in the 1960s was disseminated by the prominent art critic Germano Celant, who coined the term and promoted the artists by organising multiple pivotal exhibitions. Kounellis was a leading figure of this movement, praised by Celant for his unique ability to utilise found material to engage all senses.

Kounellis, who originally commenced his artistic career as a painter, emerged within the Arte Povera movement as key figure whose installations opposed established norms of the art world, but moreover of government, industry, and culture as a whole. By 1967, the artist had begun to integrate three-dimensional found objects with historical references to his paintings. Prevalent in the artist’s oeuvre is the incorporation of found material that transferred fragments of real life into spaces of art, such as the reoccurring installation “Untitled (12 Horses)” (1969) in which twelve horses were placed in the gallery space for some days. Presenting an artwork that was impossible to sell, Kounellis was completely devoted to transforming the experience of contemporary art as one that is immersive.

The present work “Untitled” (1995) is a wall installation constructed of different layers including a metal plate, oil pastel on paper, lead and iron beam. Significant in this artwork is the base, a black abstract composition made with oil pastel on paper. The turbulent black paint and crumbled textile are violently restrained with a vertical iron beam screwed to the middle of the artwork, presenting a duality between enforced confinement and expressive independence. The works of Kounellis often suggests a form of stability in contrast to the disorder of modern society.

His practice has developed as a spectacular vocabulary of painting, collages and the staging of installations, performances, and theatrical shows, designed to express the tensions and the multiplicity, obscurity, and fragmentation of its language. As a major conceptual artist of our time, Kounellis’ work is part of permanent collections of numerous major international art museums. The artist died in Rome on February 16, 2017.

Gunther UeckerUntitled, 1981Nails and paint on canvas72.5 x 64 cm28 1/2 x 25 1/4 in

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Günther Uecker (1930, Germany), is known for his expressive and tactile works; white reliefs made of nails, whose different orientations, structures and dynamics on canvas often produce a poetic effect.

Fuelled by his interest in Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam, Uecker appropriated nontraditional materials and techniques to create works in a process close to a meditative ritual; the repetitive nature of hammering transforming his theories into a lived artistic practice.

The exploration of this signature medium began in the late 1950s and blossomed even further when Uecker joined the avant-garde group “Group Zero” in 1961 with Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, as well as Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana. The Zero artists and other affiliated groups, such as the Dutch Nul and Azimuth in Italy, made paintings with fire, smoke, mirrors, dynamos, or even by destroying their canvasses. Piene wrote at the time, ‘Wir sind fur alles’: “we are in favour of everything“. Soon afterwards, influenced by studies on light, optics, oscillation, and electricity, Uecker moved beyond the constraints of the canvas. He created series of “light nails” and light boxes, kinetic nails (including revolving sacks of nails), and kinetic installations and machines using sand and water.

Produced during the time Uecker taught at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (1974 to 1995), “Untitled” (1981) is composed of sparsely organised, paint splattered nails with small heads, glued to a canvas into which he cut small slashes. To create this tactile effect, Uecker stretches canvas atop thick pieces of wood, intuitively painting the surfaces in a highly physical, ritualistic, and visceral manner thickly applying white paint. These piercings into the canvas, with the wood peeking through from the other side highlight the contrasting relationship between human violence, vulnerability, and political responsibility.

As in many of Uecker’s works, the relationship between the nails and the layers of white paint is constantly changing and still ongoing, through the chemical interactions of these materials. Unlike in many of his earlier works, the nails are not geometrically but randomly spread across the canvas, as if scattered by the motion of the underlaying paint. Despite the slashes – in Uecker’s work are often synonymous with scars – there is almost no opposition between the two turbulent forces presented by nails and paint, but rather accord and coexistence. Moreover, the monochrome nature of the work opens up mystical possibilities allowing for the artist’s ‘space of spiritual existence’ to inhabit the canvas.

Gilberto ZorioOdio, 1970Parchment70 x 100 cm27 1/2 x 39 3/8 in

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Gilberto Zorio is an Italian artists and key figure of the Italian art movement “Arte Povera”. Artists associated with the amorphous movement were not necessarily united by specific techniques, subjects or political beliefs, their signature, however, signified a departure from traditional art materials such as oil paint. Disrupting the commercial value of art, the artists referred to “poor materials” such as soil, stones and other found material of no value. The collective understanding of Arte Povera in the 1960s was disseminated by the prominent art critic Germano Celant, who coined the term and promoted the artists by organising multiple pivotal exhibitions.

Throughout his artistic career, Zorio focussed on experimenting with non-traditional and unconventional materials, pushing the boundaries of sculptural practice. Many of his works explore phenomena of nature, such as evaporation or oxidation, highlighting their effects as well as the interactions between different materials. His creations favour fragile surfaces, often combined with monumental steel stars or pyrex alembics containing liquid solutions balancing on thin steel javelins. The dichotomy of his material juxtapositions and the intentionally precarious installations contribute to address the tensions and the sensation of transience characterising the physical world as well as our perception of it.

The present work “Odio” (1970) feautures an imprint of the word “odio” (Italian for “hate”) as a somehow sinister relief: at a closer look, they appear to have been forcibly pushed through the parchment, ripping it. While the fragility of the material is here masterfully employed to create the relief, the dark colour conveys the violent, dark side of human nature. For Zorio “odio” could both be translated as “I hate” and as “hatred”: as a verb in the first-person singular as the feeling of hating; as an abstract noun as the state or condition of hatred; a dualism making the work more urgent and poignant.

Zorio’s art emerged at a time when American minimalist sculptors, such as Carl Andre and Donald Judd, were denying that a work of art could have any content at all. By defying these ideas, Zorio has opted to speak directly to the viewer instead. His choice of material, palette and technique are able to elevate a single word, transcending the semantic boundaries of a linguistic code.

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