As of 1960, the creative itinerary of the protagonists of the events of art in Italy in the first half of the century could be considered concluded for some time, with some rare exceptions; and of the cultural inheritance, obviously very composite, that those masters left, the most lively and stimulating part, towards the new tendencies, appeared the contribution that they had given to the historical avant-garde. Futurism, metaphysics, Dadaism, Milanese abstractionism of the thirties, which Lucio Fontana’s action will be prolonging towards new fascinating hypotheses, thus constitute the recent tradition to draw upon. Criticism also helped to clarify the position of innovators and anticipators ever better,
For futurism, according to Thenailmythology, the rediscovery of G. Balla (1871-1958) in the full fruitfulness of his inventiveness in so many and so different fields is quite recent; and even more so is that of F. Depero (1892-1960) which came to light with the recognition of the whole futurist movement, not only of the futurism of the “heroic” years and of the famous signatories of the first manifestos. E. Prampolini himself (1894-1956) receives a fair and rather belated acknowledgment of the original contribution of critical reflection and extension with which he had promptly enriched the formal themes of European abstractionism; and the same recognition will go to two of our most brilliant artists, still working in the field of neoplasticism and more rigorous formalism: M. Reggiani (1897) and M. Radice (1900). The re-examination of the origins of abstractionism in Italy brings due attention to A. Soldati (1896-1953) and to O. Licini (1894-1958) who even since 1930, elaborating together with Fontana, and with the sculptor F. Melotti and with others the reasons profound avant-garde, had laid the distant foundations for the renewal of art after World War II. And as for the area of metaphysics and surrealism – in which Soldati and Licini also participated – today we can say that the weight of A. Savinio (1891-1952) in the history of contemporary mythography is beginning to be fully revealed: both as an expression of a metamorphic visionariness, autonomous with respect to the teaching of De Chirico, both as a precursor of that new, imaginative and monstrous figurality, which, however, cannot be defined as strictly surreal in the historicized meaning of the attribute. From the re-examination of futurism – especially of the optics of Balla and Boccioni – the investigation, of artists as well as scholars, therefore goes back to previous approaches to the problem of light and visual perception, of the relationship between art and science and between art and production industrial; and therefore both divisionism and liberty with all their complex moral and social problems. While the links of an evolution which previously seemed to have proceeded with wide intervals of inertia are welded together, the controversy between representativeness and abstraction, or between nature and idea as it used to be. The question now is no longer whether art is a mimesis or an ex nihilo creation, or whether its traditional organicity cannot also be resolved or dissolved in the “shapeless form”; but whether art still has a meaning in today’s world, or whether it is not destined to disappear to give way to other manifestations of aesthetics. From this, naturally, an extraordinary plurality and vitality of orientations and experiences, of works and projects.
When M. Mafai died in 1965, at the end of an anguished, unsatisfied and unsatisfactory “informal” crisis, his case almost became the exponent of a discomfort, which just then began to take shape in consciences, and will then be increasingly felt and widespread: a need to question oneself about the nature and office of art; to carry out analysis and verification of the linguistic tools, both of those traditionally considered specific to the single arts (already questioned by the early futurism) and of the others that more and more numerous are made available to the artistic experience by technology and are urged by urgency – however not clarified – of new possibilities for cultural communication; and a tendency to consider the Aesthetic research).
In 1968 L. Fontana died; at the beginning of the seventies, respectively in 1971 and 1972, A. Magnelli and G. Capogrossi. Magnelli had created absolutely abstract compositions since 1915, with similar and contemporary intuitions to those of Kandinsky, van Doesburg, Moholy-Nagy, Delaunay, but reconnecting the “architectural conception of the painting” – as he himself said – to the rationality of fifteenth-century Tuscans (Piero della Francesca), and without exercising – like Prampolini and Reggiani – an effective weight on the development of Italian art. Capogrossi, on the contrary, was late in sign painting, abruptly abandoning, shortly before 1950, the figurality and tonalism of the Roman school to try the possibility of a third way, between figurativeness and abstraction,
Naturally, in the 1960s, the activity of well-known painters should be recorded, who continue a different discourse, and clearly started in previous years, but carried forward with new developments: such as F. Pirandello (1899-1975) that posed his problem in dialectical terms from the very beginning, of sanguine sensuality that is objected to with impetus and the reasoning that that impetus contemplates and criticizes, will give us increasingly hallucinated and refracted images, full of existential anguish. Or like C. Cagli (1910-1976) who in his adventurous path – unitary despite the multiplicity of hypotheses and therefore the apparent eclecticism – aligns an incredible series of experiences, from the most patent and classical figuration to abstraction, always searching tirelessly for the sense of primordiality, and therefore a human truth, by treasuring the most disparate sources of ancient, barbaric and popular culture (in an analogous ideal position, the feeling of myth in Mirko’s sculpture). Both Pirandello and Cagli had participated in the anti-nineteenth century position of the so-called “Roman school” of the thirties, which had never been a real “school” but a meeting of ideas, and above all a movement of moral independence, such as the contemporary Milanese group ofCurrent. And in that school, or rather in that circle, also Capogrossi, and Afro and Guttuso and Gentilini and others had taken their first steps. R. Guttuso (1912) develops his realism as a “committed” narrator, who uses an energetic drawing with large strides and line breaks, and a passionate and aggressive chromatism, penetrating reality to get to know it fully, modify it and be modified by it. His painting, which aims to become “of history”, or at least of news as a function of a responsible concern for the destiny of man, flows into vitalistic concreteness, perceptive violence and even, we would say, in the provocation of the great paintings La ” Vuccirìa “(1975) and Caffè Greco(1976). Of Afro (Afro Basaldella, 1912-1976) who was gradually attenuating the data of the experience, nevertheless leaving some faint traces of it, we will recall the refinements of lyrical abstraction (sometimes close to the shapeless form) which he arrived at by expressing the suggestions of unconscious, heated by sentimental participation. So will other painters, trained outside the Roman environment: for example G. Santomaso (1907) with the projection, on the screen of memory, of the pretexts offered to him by objectivity.