Franco Vimercati - The Great Wonderful: 100 Years of Italian Art New York Wednesday, May 13, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    The Great Wonderful is an exhibition and a sale aimed to expose the depth and diversity of Italian Art in the last one hundred years. Usually focused on a given set of specific artists, collectors and the art market in general have seldom had the opportunity to encounter many of the other highly influential Italian artists who have rarely been seen or recognized outside Italy.

    In 2008, I curated an exhibition entitled Italics: Italian Art Between Tradition and Revolution 1968-2008 that took place at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. This exhibition had the very same premise which is at the heart of The Great Wonderful – the opportunity to discover art beyond the usual suspects of Fontana, Burri, Cattelan or the Arte Povera. While these names remain essential to the conversation, they represent just a small element of a more complex and unique discourse that only Italy has been able to provide to modern and contemporary art since the Futurist Movement, of which Giacomo Balla’s drawing in the exhibition and in the auction is a seminal example. The Great Wonderful aims to stress the fact that Italian art has often been overlooked and that its resurgence in recent times is only the tip of the iceberg in an undervalued territory which is yet to be discovered in all its richness. What appeared striking to us while putting together this exhibition was the consistent feeling of urgency and freshness in each work. Take the essentially minimalist Cardinale in piedi from 1958 by Giacomo Manzù and the deconstructed elegance of Salvatore Emblema’s 1970’s canvases; think about the use of raw materials in Jack Clemente’s amazing but totally obscure work and you will discover a logical connection to the better known Enrico Baj. Consider the poetic scribbling of the seminal artist that was Gastone Novelli, with whom Cy Twombly established a fruitful and inspiring friendship in Rome; look at the sculptures of Ettore Colla and you will see that they are no less powerful than those of his American colleague David Smith, and Mario Ceroli whose work announced the grammar of the Postmodern Movement many years ahead of its time – to mention just a few.

    What makes The Great Wonderful an interesting challenge and experiment is the opportunity to shed light on the subliminal influence that Italian Art had and still has on the latest generation of contemporary artists. Take the 1963 painting Invito al Crash! by Valerio Adami and you can imagine yourself in front of a work by one of the graffiti artists of the early 1980s in New York. Look at Alberto Burri’s black and white Combustione and you cannot avoid seeing its influence on one of Nate Lowman’s bullet hole paintings. Or trace the influence of Burri’s hometown friend, Nuvolo on the works by the Chicago artist Theaster Gates. By saying this I am not trying to create a false premise or present artificial evidence that these younger artists have been actively looking at these works or even that they have been remotely informed by them. What I believe it means is that at least a half-century ago, or even before, Italian art was moving faster than the culture and the world around it. There was an energy in Italy that was unique at the time and an overall and consistent ingenuity that was part of the general discourse taking place in the arts. While today Italy may seem more isolated or maybe self-referential, two, three, four and even five decades ago it was fully immersed in a two-way conversation with the world. Today with Maurizio Cattelan or with the more subtle artist, Pietro Roccasalva, this conversation has been kept very much alive and a new generation is coming up fast.

    However, it must be remembered that what has been overlooked in the previous decades is incredibly rich and profound and deserves a second and third look. Take the artist Gianfranco Baruchello, a close friend of Duchamp, about whom he wrote a wonderful book (in conjunction with Henry Martin) entitled Why Duchamp? An essay on aesthetic impact (1985), who has only recently has been recognized in all his full potential by a series of major exhibitions and publications. Before this he had remained forgotten for many years. Baruchello’s work, despite being from the 1970s, has a lightness and a freshness which makes it utterly contemporary.

    To address the importance of Italian art and its legacy (which is still waiting to be understood fully, particularly in the United States) not only with an exhibition but also with an auction could be seen as a radical act. But in today’s contemporary art environment we felt an urgency to short-cut the academic path and to go straight to the heart of the issue. This presents enormous potential for collectors and museums alike to have access to works that range from incredibly affordable small masterpieces like the group of works by Jack Clemente, to rare and unique works like the 1969 Domenico Gnoli Shirt Collar Size 14 ½, which, with its texture, can be seen as a figurative answer to Robert Ryman’s pure abstraction; and Fausto Melotti’s 1966 La Pioggia, rain, which can be viewed as an open dialogue with Calder’s lightness or more recently with Fred Sandback’s invisibility.

    Now, regarding the title. Last year Italy had cause for celebration by winning an Academy Award for the movie La Grande Bellezza, so we thought that maybe it was time to upgrade this idea of Beauty which has entrapped Italy for so long and constrained its capacity to showcase a much more aggressive and rich patrimony of artists who were not always comfortable with being grouped under the official “beauty cartel” which had been the chaperone to Italian identity around the world. The artistic research that artists in Italy have been carrying out for a century is truly wonderful and consistently surprising. With this very first auction of Italian Art in New York, Phillips’s goal is to suggest that it is still possible to build a new, great and unpredictable collection with great and wonderful Italian artists. We hope that the viewer and the potential collector will discover the same sense of wonder that we have experienced in putting together this exciting project, often finding ourselves in the midst of an unknown territory which to this day continues to feel unbelievable in its freshness to the art world.

    Francesco Bonami


Untitled (Zuppiera)

gelatin silver print
image 7 1/4 x 9 1/2 in. (18.5 x 24 cm)
sheet 7 3/4 x 9 7/8 in. (19.8 x 25.1 cm)

Numbered "4/6" on the reverse. This work is number 4 from an edition of 6.
This work is accompanied by a photo-certificate of authenticity and is registered in the archive under number V 1990 2.

$7,000 - 9,000 

Sold for $15,000

Contact Specialist
Brittany Lopez Slater
Head of International Exhibitions
New York
+1 212 940 1299

Carolina Lanfranchi
+39 338 924 1720

The Great Wonderful: 100 Years of Italian Art

New York 13 May 2015 4pm