Mimmo Rotella - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'To tear posters from the wall is my only revenge, the only protest against a society that has lost taste for change and amazing transformations. I glue on posters and then I tear them down: new, unforeseen forms come about.'
    —Mimmo Rotella 

    A hugely significant figure of Italian post-war art, and representative of broader currents shaping the European avant-garde, Mimmo Rotella was most well-known for his richly textured and expressive décollage works, of which Il Jazz is a vibrant and energetic early example. Manipulating materials and of bringing the physical fabric of modern life into his compositions with an arresting immediacy, Rotella removed posters from the city’s walls, tearing, ripping and excavating their layers before putting them into more figurative arrangements. A vibrant illustration of this innovative technique, Il Jazz shifts between more figurative and purely abstract passages in its vigorous blend of text, line, and colour. Constructed though interpretating fragments of Rotella’s salvaged posters, a figure of a jazz player is clearly discernible, a double-bass form drawn out of the composition on the left. On a more abstract level we could also read the lively interplay of reds, yellows, and brown paper set against an inky black ground as a visualisation of the syncopated rhythms of jazz itself. 


    Detail of the present work 

    While collage proceeds through an accumulation of fragments to generate an image, Rotella’s décollage takes the reverse approach, involving the removal of pieces of an existing image by tearing or cutting elements away. A key innovator of the medium, Rotella’s approach was rooted in the material reality of modern, urban life. Not satisfied with the surface elements of the posters alone, Rotella also included verso elements of his salvaged materials, bringing with it traces of glue, brick dust, and plaster. Stumbling upon this compositional technique, Rotella reinvigorated his practice, as he described: 

    'I was convinced that painting was finished, that something new had to be unearthed, something alive and modern. So in the evenings I began to tear the posters, ripping them from the walls, and take them back to my studio, creating compositions and leaving them exactly the way they were, exactly the way I saw them. That is how the décollage came to be.' —Mimmo Rotella 

    Mimmo Rotella on Piazza del Popolo, Rome 1954 © DACS 2021

    Executed in 1956, just three years after Rotella returned to Rome after a period in the United States where he immersed himself in the music and vibrancy of American popular culture, Il Jazz comes from a period of intense experimentation for the artist. Alongside his visual art practice, after 1949 Rotella had began to experiment with a phonetic form of poetry he described as ‘epistaltic’, involving stripped down combinations of words, sounds, and onomatopoeic repetition. Increasingly interested in questions of structure Rotella transitioned away from his early interest in figurative painting in these years, moving into an exploration of geometric abstraction before his invention of décollage and retro d’affice techniques in 1953, all of which can be seen at play in the present work. 


    While Rotella’s later décollages would more fully embrace the visual iconography of Pop Art, Il Jazz records a more nuanced focus on formal elements of line, colour, and texture. The latter in particular links him especially to the emphasis on materials of Arte povre representative and fellow post-war Italian artist Alberto Burri, whose interrogation of surface texture and ‘poymateriality’ led him from working with burlap sacks to other non-traditional materials including zinc oxide, wood, and plastics.


    Alberto Burri, Plastic Combustion, 1958, Fondazione Burri, Citta di Castello, Italy, Luisa Ricciarini / Bridgeman Images © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello – DACS 2021
    Mimmo Rotella, Mitologia 3, 1962, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome, Lazio, Italy Photo © Stefano Baldini / Bridgeman Images © DACS 2021

    Cubism, Collage, and the Art of the Everyday 


    Absolutely foundational to modernist experimentation, the inclusion of everyday materials in collage and assemblage runs across major 20th century avant-garde movements. A promiscuous mixing of high and low culture, and the new meanings elicited from the juxtaposition of two disparate elements, collage also appealed to 1960s Pop artists and has continued to be reinvented even in the digital age. While Rotella’s décollages take a deconstructive approach to materials, they nevertheless sit in an important direct relation to this most important artistic tradition. 

  • Like contemporaneous trends in American Pop Art, Rotella’s décollages express an interest in the material accumulations and visual saturation of modern culture, although the Italian artist goes considerably further in his appropriation of the material of gritty post-war urban life than his American Pop contemporaries. It was on these grounds that French critic Pierre Restany approached the artist to join the Nouvelle Réalistei movement offering us, along with his contemporary Raymond Hains, ‘an entire aspect of the real, captured in its objective integrity, without transcription of any sort. Never at any moment is it a question of re-creation, but on the contrary of an expressive transmutation.’i 

    Coming to auction for the first time from an important Italian collection, the present work is an exceptional example of Rotella’s early décollage experiments and showcases his quick mastery of its compositional possibilities. A foundational work in the artist's oeuvre, Il Jazz has been exhibited widely, notably as part of the comprehensive exhibition on the relationship between Italian art and Jazz, Ispirazione creativa. Artisti italiani per il jazz, held at the Auditorium Arte Parco della Musica in Rome in 2011, and the major exhibition Mimmo Rotella, Décollages e retro d’affiches held at the Palazzo Reale in Milan in 2014. The first exhibition to look closely at Rotella’s work from the early 1950s before his inclusion in the 1964 Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia, it highlighted Il Jazz as an important work from this period, and especially relevant in contextualising Rotella’s work within wider European trends. In broader terms, the inclusion of the present work in the major exhibition La nouvelle réalisme presented at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, and the Sprengel Museum, Hannover in 2014 testifies to its relevance to thematic and formal discussions of European post-war art, and of the radical nature of its execution. 


    ‘On the evening of the opening of the inauguration of the Graziano painting prize at the Galleria de Naviglio, on the theme of jazz, it was right that a jazz orchestra should join the band playing. Indeed, the famous Milanese jazz ensemble, the ‘Milan jazz band College’, intervened. Pictured here we can see the trombone and cornet player with Mimmo Rotello, Roberta Crippa and Ricardo Manzi standing left to right in between them.’ Il Jazz is pictured hanging on the wall behind Rotella and Crippa. 

    Collector’s Digest


    •    Inventor of the radical décollage method, Mimmo Rotella was highly innovative, working across multiple mediums including poetry, photography, painting, sculptural assemblage, and collage.


    •    Through his décollage works, of which Il Jazz is a strong early example, Rotella’s works are aligned to Les Affichistes artists Raymond Hains, Jacques Villeglé, and François Dufrêne. Famously critic Pierre Restany also claimed Rotella as a Nouvelle réaliste.


    •    A highly significant figure of European post-war art, Rotella’s works are now held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid; and the Tate Modern, London. 


    i Pierre Restany, quoted in William Seitz, The Art of Assemblage, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1961, p. 82. 

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in the late 1950s

    • Exhibited

      Milan, Galleria del Naviglio, VI Premio Graziano, 1956
      Venice, Galleria del Cavallino, VI Premio Graziano, 1957
      Rome, Galleria d'Arte Selecta, VI Premio Graziano, 1957
      Umjetnički paviljon u Zagrebu, Mimmo Rotella u Zagrebu, 16 September - 24 October 2003, no. 7, pp. 112, 114 (illustrated, p. 19)
      Milan, Galleria Gruppo Credito Valtellinese, Refettorio delle Stelline, Gli Affichistes tra Milano e Bretagna, 18 November 2005 - 21 January 2006, p. 327 (illustrated)
      Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais (no. 1, p. 316, illustrated, p. 36); Hanover, Sprengel Museum (no. 1, p. 36, illustrated), Le Nouveau Realisme 28 March 2007 - 27 January 2008
      Rende, Museo d'Arte dell'Otto e Novecento, Palazzo Vitari, Around Rotella. L'artista e il suo tempo, 18 December 2008 - 28 February 2009, p. 52 (illustrated)
      Rome, Auditorium Arte - Parco della Musica, Ispirazione creativa. Artisti italiani per il jazz, 8 November - 27 November 2011
      Milan, Palazzo Reale, Mimmo Rotella. Décollages e retro d'affiches, 13 June - 31 August 2014, no. 178, p. 332 (illustrated, p. 141)
      Basel, Museum Tinguely; Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, Poesie der Großstadt. Die Affichisten, 22 October 2014 - 25 May 2015, pp. 154, 275 (illustrated, p. 155)
      London, Robilant + Voena, Mimmo Rotella, 6 February - 24 March 2015, no. 26, pp. 71, 204 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Marco Valsecchi, 'Suonano le trombe per i quadri ispirati al jazz', II Giorono, 14 December 1956, p. 10 (Galleria del Naviglio, Milan, 1956 installation view illustrated)
      Germano Celant, Mimmo Rotella, Milan, 2007, no. 112, p. 540 (illustrated, p. 142)
      Alberto Fiz, ed., Mimmo Rotella. Roma Parigi New York, Milan, 2009, p. 107 (illustrated)
      Germano Celant, Mimmo Rotella. Catalogo ragionato, Volume primo 1944-1961 Tomo II, Milan, 2016, no. 1956 050, p. 568 (illustrated, p. 312)

Property from an Important Italian Private Collection


Il Jazz

signed 'Rotella' lower left
décollage on hardboard
70 x 55 cm (27 1/2 x 21 5/8 in.)
Executed in 1956.

Full Cataloguing

£120,000 - 180,000 ‡ ♠

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+44 7391 402741


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021