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Painting Versus Canvas

in Carla Accardi, exh. cat., Hauch of Venison, New York, May 10-June 26

One prerogative distinguishes Carla Accardi from the artists with whom she shared her debut: the capacity over time to update an irreducibly pictorial or, better yet, pictorial-abstract language. Given that the period of time in question extends over half a century and has been witness to epochal mutations, the challenge was always that of pushing the potentials of painting beyond its limits, beyond the canvas, beyond the walls, into the space of existence. “The principle aspect of my work has been that of constantly seeking pictorial means that would correspond with contemporaneity”[1], she tells us. As a result, perhaps, she feels a certain annoyance when discussion of her and her work is overly concentrated on her early years: the period of Forma 1. An unjustified annoyance, in my opinion, given the crucial nature of this season and its struggles; comprehensible if, tying these battles back to their historical context, we capture the objective difficulties in updating them. If the modern option, for all of the artists of Forma 1, was an immunizing vaccine against future traditionalist and reactionary regurgitations, the insistence on abstraction tied to the dimension of the canvas often rendered them unyielding towards practicing, and even understanding successive changes, claiming abstract painting as the sole expression of modern art. This is not the case with Accardi. The New York show is founded precisely on this assumption: not presenting the many possible pictorial declensions tied to the canvas, in order to underline and investigate instead the pictorial moves against the canvas and the encroachment of painting into space, into the environment, into the multitude of skyscrapers in Rockefeller Center. Without any concern for chronology. The headway of the exhibition is radical: by adopting the anomalous and “contemporary” material known as sicofoil, the painting initially hovered on the wall, freed from the constrictions of any support, it was objectified then “rolling up”, freed of even the frame, to create, in the end, a transparent and precarious labyrinthine space, engaged in a dynamic dialogue with the existing.
“The alternation in my work of periods during which I use color and periods during which I move away, using black or gray, is a constant. It has happened at least three times: after the change in 1960, again in 1971 with graysigns on plastic, and lately I have returned to the black of the canvases from the 1950s”[2]. The exhibition verifies this assumption, reuniting in one room a series of white and black paintings on raw canvas, most created exclusively for the occasion. While the triptych Di flutti e frangiflutti  (Of Billows and Breakwaters) (work on show) from 1989, which dominates a wall at its scale, sums up the artist’s skill in uniting and contaminating forms and colors. Her debut is represented with a Scomposizione (Decomposition) (work on show) from 1947, two canvases from 1955, one with white signs on black, the other with black signs on white, facing Rosso turchese (Turquoise Red) (work on show) from 1963, proof of her return to color in 1960. Finally, a new work, realized for the show, occupies the last room: a wall to wall floor piece in white, black and red felt tiles, (picture of the red and black carpet on show) that, in the birthplace of minimalism, offers a different hypothesis of modularity. The three Lenzuoli (Sheets), made to fit the large windows of the New York loft, filter and dose, with delicate and sinuous polychrome signs, the arrogance of the architectural prisms in white and black. Accardi’s abstract forms can also be enjoyed on video, in the animation by Francesca Ravello De Santi[3].
What themes were at stake when Accardi, born in Trapani in 1924, after studying at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, landed in Rome with Antonio Sanfilippo where in 1946, in Renato Guttuso’s studio, she met Pietro Consagra, Ugo Attardi, Piero Dorazio, Mino Guerrini, Giulio Turcato and Achille Perilli, all in their early stages, though enthusiastically convinced of the necessity of bringing Italian art up to speed, after the time lost during twenty years of fascist dictatorship?
Essentially three: the relation between art and political commitment; the alternative between realism and abstraction; a synthesis of the arts. We will investigate them, annotating the proclamation signed by these eight artists on 15 March 1947.

Autonomy through Commitment

“We proclaim ourselves FORMALISTS and MARXISTS, convinced that the terms Marxism and formalism are not IRRECONCILABLE, especially today that the progressive elements of our society must maintain a REVOLUTIONARY and AVANT-GARDE position and not rest upon the misunderstanding of an exhausted and conformist realism”[4]. Why so much anxiety to be precise and to distinguish? With whom and against whom? Who deemed formalism and Marxism irreconcilable? We require some context. Our front of reference in the years immediately prior to and after the Second World War is evidently anti-fascist; an anything but homogenous front, above all in terms of cultural policy. Guttuso and Turcato, for example, adhered in 1946 to the Nuova Secessione Artistica Italiana, a variegated and national formation. It defined itself, to borrow from the terms of the “Manifesto Forma 1”, as Marxist and revolutionary but, at the antipodes, realist, in ideal continuity with those who, during the previous two decades, were politically opposed to the fascist dictatorship and culturally opposed to the pompous and celebrative rhetoric of the movement it championed: the Novecento. While the Gruppo dei Sei, whose painting was sensitive to the chromatic apertures and distortions of fauve, led the opposition in Turin after 1929, in Milan it rotated around the cenacle of strict observers of the abstract-concrete at the Galleria Il Milione. Shuttling between these two centers we find the great thinker and philosopher Edoardo Persico. Born in Naples in 1900, in 1920 Persico met Piero Gobetti in Paris, collaborating with “Rivoluzione liberale”. In Turin between 1927 and 1929 he frequented the art historian Lionello Venturi, sharing his passion for Impressionism. We must not forget that in 1926, the same year as the first exhibition of Novecento, Venturi published Il gusto dei primitivi, in which he compared the “Italian primates” with their modern French counterparts – Giotto with Cézanne – concluding: “To abandon oneself to personal impressions, express them immediately, impetuously, without caring for the rules: this is the new dawn of art glimpsed by Cézanne”[5]. Forced into exile in 1931 in the United States for refusing to swear an oath to Fascism, Venturi returned to Rome in 1945: his masterful lessons at the University became a beacon for the young artists of Forma 1.
In Milan, instead, Persico promoted the Gruppo dei Sei through Piero Maria Bardi’s Galleria Belvedere. In 1927 he joined the editorial board of the architectural magazine “La Casa Bella”, directing it three years later with Giuseppe Pagano. His faith in an art of ethical commitment and moral tension, a tormented Catholicism, a necromantic view, and the conviction that after the decline of the classical world the only pictorial civilization in Europe was to be found in France, from Ingres to Cézanne[6], made him a legendary and charismatic figure.
Guttuso was amongst the assiduous visitors to the Milanese cenacle, where he brought the adhesion of the artists of the Roman School, from Mario Mafai and Scipione to Fausto Pirandello who, against the rhetoric of the Regime, adopted formal deformation and chromatic brightness. Without counting that, in close contact with the leaders of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) Mario Alicata and Antonello Trombadori, Guttuso controlled the tempers of the Party in terms of cultural policy. In 1938, when the Regime threw down the mask to reveal its true racist and liberticidal nature with the promulgation of The Racial Laws, the various hearths of opposition united under the vast container of Corrente that, in contrast to the autarky of the Novecento, claimed its references in Futurism, Impressionism and Expressionism, while being very prudent towards Abstraction. The importance of Corrente is well expressed in the words of Giuseppe Marchiori: “In the narrowness of Italian life, Corrente is a beacon that attracts all free men, oppressed by rhetoric and clichés. We are missing a cultural environment such as that of Paris”[7]. The magazine’s collaborators, a true cultural forum of international and interdisciplinary opposition, included the Milanese rationalist architects B.B.P.R. (Gian Luigi Banfi, Lodovico Barbiano di Belgiojoso, Enrico Peressutti, Ernesto Nathan Rogers), critics such as Giulio Carlo Argan, philosophers, musicians and scholars, poets, cineastes, thinkers, and a dense group of artists. Their common terrain: the indissolubility of the aesthetic factor from its ethic and civil counterparts. On 10 June 1940, publication of “Corrente” was suspended by the Regime. The last issues already began to define its two future souls: one realist, the other committed to defending the autonomy of art.
After losing the War, the attempt made by the Nuova Secessione Artistica was thus that of returning to the discussion precisely where it had been left by Corrente, re-proposing the coexistence between trends that, we anticipate, without the binding agent of anti-fascist commitment, quickly proved incompatible. “With us, already large and developed, were the photographs of Guernica, and Guernica became part of Italian history. We aspired to Guernica, we asked Guernica to provide the strongest terms, the most decisive impetus”[8]Guernica, a modern though non-abstract canvas, “the most terribly moral work of art in all of history”, as Argan[9] defined it, was the compromise at the heart of the last attempt for national artistic reconciliation. In a Neo-Cubist, rather than Expressionist reading.
The attempt failed, with the responsibility falling entirely on the cultural policy pursued by Italy’s PCI, in league with Moscow.
Between October and November 1948, Bologna hosted the Prima mostra nazionale d’arte contemporanea, logically witness to the participation of all of the artists from the Fronte Nuovo delle Arti (the abstract branch of the Nuova Secessione Artistica), from Guttuso to Renato Birolli, from Nino Franchina to Ennio Morlotti to Emilio Vedova to Turcato. Like a thunderbolt in a clear sky, the closing speech by Roderigo di Castiglia, alias Palmiro Togliatti, secretary of the PCI, struck out at the exhibition from the pages of “Rinascita”, the Party’s official publication: “It is a collection of monstrous things […]. How can one call this material ‘art’ and even ‘new art’, and how is it possible that Bologna, a city with such strong cultural and artistic traditions, is home to so many good people willing to confirm, by their authority, in front of the public, this exposition of horrors and monkeyshine as an artistic event?”[10]. The exhibitors, dismayed, sought to re-stitch the fracture, defending the un-defendable: an autonomous art, though at the service of the working class. The effect of Togliatti’s attack was devastating. Many gave in to the intimidations, beginning with Guttuso, from this moment onwards the bitter enemy of “non figurative” art. “The aesthetic ideals of Moscow were contrasted with the experimental liberty of Paris. The Western world became, within this naïve mythology of the common people, the reflection of what was to be negated. Every previous Cubist, Picassoist or Expressionist experience appeared to have been forgotten. Even the movement behind Corrente was interpreted, according to this political approach, as an antecedent to Socialist Realism”[11]. For at least the next twenty years, Togliatti’s and Guttuso’s opinions, the Party’s official point of view, led to the systematic excommunication of any intellectual and creative autonomy.
It thus comes as no surprise that the artists of Forma 1 distanced themselves and tenaciously laid claim to the separation between political commitment and artistic creation. Who was the point of reference? The elevated and noble figure of Elio Vittorini, an anti-fascist, militant communist, bitter enemy of any ideological sclerosis and strenuous defender of freedom of thought and culture. Born in Syracuse in 1908, after participating in the anti-fascist struggle in the ranks of the PCI, in 1945 he moved on to direct the Milanese edition of “Unità”, the Party’s daily paper, launching “Politecnico”, in September of the same year. A weekly publication until 6 April 1946, it became a monthly at the end of 1947. Here we mention only the famous article “Suonare il piffero per la rivoluzione?” (Playing the Pipe for the Revolution?) in response to Togliatti. After recalling his education as an autodidact, his membership in the Party as the devotion to “a struggle and to mankind”, he claimed the possibility to be a communist even while being a Kantian, a Hegelian or an Existentialist. “It is according to his cultural pertinence, and not his more or less accidental political impertinence, that a writer is to be judged. And we who have the feeling that writers we know to be at the top of their class are being treated as scribblers, are under the impression that we are being belittled, that culture itself is being belittled”. He concluded, dismayed: “In my dealings with a few political comrades I have been able to observe a tendency to lend us the quality of ‘revolutionaries’ to the degree that we ‘play the pipe’ around the revolutionary problems raised by politics; that is, to the degree that we assume political problems and translate them into ‘bel-canto’; using words, images and figures”[12]. Vittorini continued his passionate struggle within the Party until 1951 when, exiling himself, he decried the incompatibility between politics and culture.
Accardi joined the PCI in 1947 hoping to contribute to the renewal of society. However, the illusion that the political and the artistic avant-garde could move forward hand in hand lasted only a couple of years. At the end of 1956, also in the wake of indignation at the Soviet invasion of Hungary, she chose not to renew her Party membership. Updating the language of art to the needs of the time: this was the obligation of a committed artist.

What Abstraction

Accardi confirmed this on 13 November 1947 by signing a letter to “Unità” entitled “Gli astrattisti” (The Abstract Artists): “The months following the Liberation were witness to a return to realism with academic and antiquated premises…there was a return to the nineteenth century because we had not understood that a revolution of content is possible only if defined by a formal language dialectically evolved with respect to the culture that preceded it”[13]. This generated the first three paragraphs of the “Manifesto Forma 1”: “In art there exists only the traditional and inventive reality of pure form. We recognize in Formalism the only means for subtracting ourselves from decadent, psychological and expressionist influences. The canvas and the sculpture present means of expression: color, drawing, plastic masses, and finally a harmony of pure forms. Form is both means and end […]”[14]. Thus formalism and not political apathy. The stakes were very high: in fact, in post-war Italy Forma 1 was the first to raise the issue of modern painting for a new and democratic society, in continuity with the abstract movement of the ‘30s and not separated from the rest of Europe. As Argan acutely intuited: “The artists of Forma 1 understood before the others that a revolution in art is more useful, to the ends of the revolution, than an art for the revolution”[15].
We have already mentioned the members of the group. Only two issues of the homonymous magazine were printed: the first, in March 1947, as a work of reconnaissance; the second, in May 1950, dedicated to Vasilij Kandinskij. The articles structuring the first, signed by Consagra, Guerrini, Turcato, Perilli and Dorazio, reveal enemies, points of reference and the declension of abstraction. In “Perchè la pittura” (Why Painting), for example, Guerrini, speaking to his Milanese friends of Oltre Guernica (Beyond Guernica), declares: “We are not at all on your side, because we wish to be modern and fight for modern art […]. We see you as being dangerously off course. Why? Because Expressionism is reaction; because the emphasis on content over form is reaction; because provincialism is reaction; because lack of clarity is reaction; because culturalism is reaction”[16]. To reiterate the primacy of form and the reference to Europe that, in the colored and contemptuous words of Perilli, is “Cézanne, then fauve and Cubism: in other words Matisse and Picasso”[17]. What was the preferred model of abstraction? That which was distant from any idealist hypothesis. Both Consagra in “Teorema della scultura” (Theorem of Sculpture), and Perilli in “Astrattisti a Milano” (Abstract Artists in Milan), step back from any geometric axiom. In fact, Consagra elected Constantin Brâncuşi as the most important modern sculptor, because he privileged the oval, while the group’s manifesto reads: “In our work we use the forms of objective reality as the means for creating objective abstract forms, we are interested in the form of the lemon, and not the lemon”[18]. Thus form, though induced by the object, and not a priori. The position was reiterated by Perilli in his review of the  Mostra internazionale d’arte astratta e concreta, organized in Milan by Max Bill, Max Huber and the architect Lanfranco Bombelli: “While for us form, for its appurtenance to reality, is considered in its environment, […] for the abstract artists form has value on its own”, separate from any problem of space or light[19]. Hence geometry “as hypothesis and not certainty”[20]. Of the possibilities of abstraction listed by Perilli, the Eastern, the Swiss and the American, Forma 1 opted without hesitation for the first, for Kandinskij, whose abstraction was “fantasy, music, freedom of emotion”[21]. On show in Milan were Hans Arp, Auguste Herbin, Kandinsky, Georges Vantongerloo and, amongst the Italians, the Lombard abstract artists of the 1930s, from Osvaldo Licini to Manlio Rho, from Mario Radice to Luigi Veronesi. Instead, for Arte astratta in Italia at the Galleria di Roma in 1948, the same year as Togliatti’s anathema, the artists of Forma 1 were also present.
However, the most important rallying call for the “abstract” and “concrete” artists was the exhibition Arte astratta e concreta in Italia, at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome in ‘51. It was organized by the Art Club, the association founded in Rome in ’45 by Enrico Prampolini and the Polish painter Josef Jarema: based in Via Margutta, its honorary committee included Giorgio de Chirico, Gino Severini, Filippo de Pisis and Lionello Venturi. It was a point of reference for the research of Italian abstract artists: the shows organized here, including no less than 8 of the work of Forma 1 between 1947 and the following two years, were decisive in “guiding the provincial Roman taste of this period towards Europe and the modern style”[22].In 1950, at the same time as the publication of “Forma 2” dedicated to Kandinskij, and the publication of the magazine “Spazio”, animated by the architect Luigi Moretti, Dorazio, Guerrini and Perilli opened the gallery-bookshop Age d’Or in Via del Babuino: this reference for American and European artists passing through Rome, from Mark Rothko to Friedensreich Hundertwasser, also hosted jazz concerts.
It was here, in 1950, that Accardi held her first solo show, presented by Turcato.
The 1951 exhibition was Forma 1’s swansong; from here each moved on to pursue individual paths but, as Perilli explained, with an indelible imprinting: “No one ever ceded in terms of quality. Forma 1 offered me a base for everything I ever did afterwards, I conserved the same type of dialectic”[23]. During the dark ages of the post-modern reflux, in fact, the abstraction of Forma, as that of the Como-based group in the 1930s, was an impregnable modern outpost. They later showed together in 1965, 1967, ten years later and yet again in 1998 and 2001[24].

Synthesis as Integration

“Form is both means and end; the canvas must also be able to serve as a decorative complement to a naked wall, sculpture, even as the furnishing of a room – the end of the work of art is utility, harmonious beauty, weightlessness”[25], the fourth point of the “Manifesto di Forma” tells us.
The signees thus shared the definition of the synthesis of the arts championed during the immediate post-war period by modern architects and abstract artists: the submission of the minor arts to their big sister architecture. Rome was not without its shining examples: from the frieze carved by Amerigo Tot crowning the flexing and luminous ceiling of the hall of the Termini Rail Station, to the Mausoleo delle Fosse Ardeatine, Italy’s first modern memorial, inaugurated in 1949. Art and architecture magazines were the primary means of diffusion.
While the first hosted architects – Ernesto Nathan Rogers, director of “Casabella”, contributed to the 1951 catalogue Arte astratta e concreta in Italia[26] -, “Domus”, directed by Giò Ponti, opened up towards artistic debate, above all abstract. In 1946 the magazine published “Considerazioni sull’arte astratta” (Considerations on Abstract Art) by Venturi and, the same year, two pieces by Max Bill on concrete painting. In 1950, the Roman architect Moretti founded “Spazio” in Milan, a monthly review of the arts and architecture with a modern layout, rich with images and details, followed the successive year by the opening of the homonymous gallery. A convinced Modernist, notwithstanding his equally convinced past as a fascist militant, Moretti firmly believed in the dialogue between the arts and the osmosis between the ancient and the contemporary. While his “Trasfigurazioni di strutture murarie” (Transfigurations of Masonry Structures) is an exhaustive treatment of Tuscan Romanic architecture, beginning with the opportunity for mural painting in modern architecture[27], elsewhere he illustrates the most important contemporary realizations – from Pier Luigi Nervi to Adalberto Libera and Carlo Mollino, from Ignazio Gardella and Vico Magistretti to the “couples” Vincenzo Monaco – Amedeo Luccichenti, Mario Paniconi – Giulio Pediconi. The encounter and understanding with the artists of Forma 1 took place between 1949 and 1950, founded on the axis of Futurism-Abstraction from the 1930s, identified as the premise to contemporary abstract-concrete solutions. The first issue was entirely dedicated to Futurism, while the fourth, from 1951, realized entirely by Perilli, Dorazio and Guerrini, was dedicated to “Punto sull’arte non obiettiva” (A Point on Non-Objective Art). The cover was designed by Alberto Magnelli; the headway was in Futurism, Cubism and Neo-Plasticism, while the contemporary ranged from the United States to Mexico to Europe.
After the opening of a Roman editorial office, in 1951 it was Paris: this marked the beginning of the partnership between Moretti and Michel Tapiè, and the privileged relationship of both with Accardi, at the time working on her white and black canvases.
We cannot therefore remain silent, at the conclusion of this paragraph that, contextually with the “Manifesto Forma 1” – in reality one year earlier – the “Manifiesto Blanco”, prepared in Buenos Aires by Lucio Fontana and his pupils at the Accademia di Altamira, offered a much more radical alternative to the synthesis of the arts: not integration, but rather the overcoming of the prerogatives of each – the surface for painting, matter for sculpture, three-dimensional space for architecture – in the name of a “higher art”.
“A change in essence and form […]; the overcoming of painting, of sculpture, of poetry and music […]; a higher art in accordance with the needs of a new spirit […]; a break with previous art to make way for new conceptions […]; the passage from abstraction to dynamism”[28]. The effect was explosive: in sweeping away a discussion worn down in the alternative between abstraction and representation, in the call for an art consonant with the needs of the time, the “Manifiesto”, which borrowed its tone from the Futurists, modernized its lesson and translated the representation of movement into dynamism in space and real time. Concetti spaziali (Spatial Concepts) are, in terms of painting, sculpture and environment, the coherent result of these premises.
Even if, as a “decorator”, Fontana himself participated as a member of the group of Milanese abstract artists in the 1930s, and collaborated on more than one occasion with the same city’s rationalist architects. Even Accardi, as we will see, oscillated between the two possibilities.


The last station of the show coincides with the headway of Accardi’s abstract approach: the first Scomposizione is from 1947, the same year as the Mostra internazionale d’arte astratta e concreta in Milan, the same as Vittorini’s article “Suonare il piffero per la rivoluzione”, the same as the “Manifesto Forma 1”. If the title takes us back to Cubism and in particular, as a result of the predilection for the triangular form, to Jacques Villon – Accardi made her first trip to Paris at the end of 1946 – she insists that her reference is above all the Compenetrazioni irridescenti (Iridescent Co-penetrations) of Giacomo Balla, and thus Futurism, the Russian avant-garde, acquired from her discipleship with Angelo Maria Ripellino at the Centro sperimentale di cinematografia in Rome. To a greater degree, what motivates Scomposizione is the desire to bring an end to the naturalist image through the abstraction of flat form and colors, devoid of illusionism and tonalism.
In the Senza titolo (Untitled) from 1951, however, when the collective history of Forma 1 had just come to an end, the image was once again present, abstract though plastic, isolated and standing out from the background. The reference is Magnelli, in Paris since 1931, for whom Dorazio nurtured a true veneration: “The canvases that he patiently presented, one by one on a robust easel, left us defeated provincials open mouthed, accustomed at best to Roman tonal painting and the leaden and white leaden color of ‘900. Here, the safety and the rigorous architecture of the composition of each image resulted in the ‘choral singing’ (as he said) of the vivid and dissonant colors that arrived each time, unpredictable, new…”[29].
However, already in 1953, a so-called year of crisis, these powerful forms exploded and fragmented into a myriad of signs, circles, filiforms, quadrangles and polygons: they linked and dissolved in a centrifugal manner, beyond the limits of the painting. Casual in appearance, in reality they were guided by a design faithfully represented on the canvas. Composition and de-structuring, freedom and self-control, “rigorous necessity” and “unpredictable play”, they are, we anticipate, dichotomies that vitalize the artist’s entire development[30]. A crucial step occurred between 1953 and the following year, which she herself speaks about. The canvases of the Forma period, whose language uniformed, rather than distinguished its protagonists, were a sort of abstract apprenticeship: “Until 1954 it was about taking possession of formal means, an experimentation with language”[31]. Having learned the language, it was necessary to personalize it and, above all, render it current: “Sign painting resulted from my desire for a tabula rasa…The abandonment of the sign, once essential, and later structural, was certainly born of the sense that the artist always has of the contemporaneity of culture during his time…Structuralism was a topical discovery…I gave an image to the structuralist vision of the world…the signs that repeat in my paintings with phenomenal variations, though always faithful to themselves and repeatable”[32]. If the tabula rasa belonged to “a post-war period by now distant from the historic avant-garde”[33], hence to the abstract-concrete approach that inspired her debut, the option for the recognizable sign, consequently individual and repeatable, and therefore capable of being related to other signs, was the “contemporary” alternative to both tradition and the contemporaneity of a gestural, casual and uncontrolled informel. Using pieces of paper set on the ground, Accardi traced white signs on a black background. She wanted to destroy the easel painting, the perspectival distance between the artist and the work: in the name of Jackson Pollock, whose drippings she undoubtedly saw in Peggy Guggenheim’s collection shown during the 1948 Venice Biennale, where Accardi presented Composizione astratta (Abstract Composition) from the same year. However, looking to Pollock in 1955, no less than three years prior to the great retrospective at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome, was a radical and prophetic choice, the identical one made at the turn of the same decade by two other generations of artists, that of Enrico Castellani, to be precise, and that of Jannis Kounellis, even though their updating of Pollock’s lesson went “beyond painting”. Again, if Accardi’s choice of white and black confesses the influence of photography and cinema, if the white on black averts any assonance with writing, and if its simultaneous inversion in black on white definitively announced the equivalency between figure and ground and thus the end of any illusionism, the following declaration already contains the prophecy of the sicofoils: “The light of white floods the canvas…the surface becomes void. I wanted precisely to flood the surface and render it a void”[34], in other words, to visually perforate it.
In 1954, during an exhibition at the Galleria L’Asterisco in Rome with Giuseppe Capogrossi, Consagra, Perilli, Sanfilippo and Turcato, the theoretician of art autre Michel Tapié discovered the work of Accardi, inviting her the following year to the Galerie Rive Droite in Paris, together with, amongst others, Sam Francis, Georges Mathieu, Serge Poliakoff and Alberto Burri. The second stop for this show was Moretti’s Spazio in Rome, where the initial list was broadened to include Capogrossi and Franz Kline. With respect to the new structure of reference, if Accardi declared to have come across the work of Mathieu, and that of Mark Tobey, after working on the white and black canvases, she recognizes a decisive influence in Hans Hartung[35]. While we have already mentioned Pollock, the painting of Kline, with its strong brush strokes in black on white, was still too heroic and definitive, impossible to break down and relate to. Finally, Accardi is comparable to Capogrossi for the recognizability of the sign and its structural organization, though without his univocity. In other words, the “rigorous necessity” but not the “unpredictable play”[36].
The rhythm of exhibitions grew rapid. Tapié, who constantly followed her work, presented her in 1957 at L’Ariete in Milan and the following year at La Salita in Rome, the Galleria Schmela in Düsseldorf, the Galerie Stadler in Paris, where she regularly showed after 1956 and, again, at Notizie in Turin in 1959; alternatively with Tobey, Kline, Capogrossi and Mathieu, the French critic’s preferred formation during this period. As we will see, these were the leading galleries in hosting experimental research and heterodox encounters.
Some time around 1957 the white and black canvasses introduced subdivisions and sectors, as recalled in the titles Labirinto con settoriA settori and Grande a settori (Labyrinth with Sectors, A Sectors and Large A Sectors), fragmenting and complicating the unity of the painting. Works with a strong visual impact: in the areas into which the surface is divided the colors themselves alternatively play the role of figure and ground. Celant speaks of the “baroque” while also evoking the fourteenth century polyptychs with the central figure of the Madonna, surrounded by those of the saints and their stories, presented in the predella[37]. However, Accardi prefers the “contemporary” reference to typographical layout, to advertising, to publicity, cinema or, what is more, photography[38], as attested to by the titles Positivo-Negativo and Negativo-Positivo (Positive Negative and Negative Positive). Finally, it is worth mentioning Venturi’s comment in occasion of Accardi’s first personal show in New York, at the Parma Gallery, in 1961. These “interweavings”, as he nominated them, precisely for their reductionism, for their “not being distracted by pleasure”, give the painting “a moral certainty”[39]. A term confirmed by the artist herself when she declared: “A sign painting has been transformed in a controllable and designable manner, method not system, as a moral fact that tends towards a sublimation”[40].
It is also worth mentioning, with reference to the white and back, the large Integrazioni (Integrations) from 1958, in which the white signs come together in circular agglomerations, as in Integrazione ovale (Oval Integration), or extend across the entire surface, as in Integrazione lunga: the intent was to corrode and empty the surface using tangles of white light.
“All the white-black was a radicalization; I wished to find a color that was as radical as white-black. I also needed to release the tension of that world in which I had immersed myself…otherwise I risked dragging myself towards an emptiness. I cannot abide the repetition of a style that does not maintain tension, while I love repetition as recovery”[41]. Having said this, in 1959 Accardi reintroduced color: first it was the Integrazioni that were tinted red, purple, turquoise, various shades of gray, possibly within a circular and oval form that contained them. The next step was that of overlapping the Integrazioni with a sort of irregular grid, as in Grande rettangolo rosso  (Large Red Rectangle), or in Bianco nero chiuso (White Black Closed)(13), shown in New York in 1961. Having built up the courage, in 1962 the canvases, returning to the structure “of sectors” from 1957, became true explosions: red-blue; orange-green; red-green; orange-turquoise; blue-violet unite, alternate reciprocally exchanging position and role. Of equal force and intensity, they generate, along the surface of contact, a sort of flash that confounds their identity. “Placing the spectator in front of an instable and precarious reading”, forcing him to abandon himself to “a sort of state of hypnosis and suspension”[42]: this was the objective. The means of achieving it were entirely new and scientifically confirmed. The effect of “brilliance” was obtained by exploiting an elementary property of color: placing one color beside another, pure or mixed, but in any case “clean, in other words equivalent to a ray of colored light, creates a flash along the margins of contact that is lighter than the two original colors”[43]. It is the “additive” property of light, already latent in the Impressionist works and in Matisse, though never utilized at such a large scale, with such a multitude of signs. “An attempt to arrive as close as possible at full light, almost white”[44], to once again destroy the surface, as in the white and black paintings.
What of the signs? Around 1963 there was a brusque change in direction of the “controllable method”. The tangles of Integrazione were disintegrated and pulverized in singular, elementary scratches, similar to one another, placed to saturate the surface according to a “casual order”[45], to use another antinomy or oxymoron.
Rosso turchese is a sort of manifesto. The level application of signs across the entire surface was soon followed, however, by the complication of the image: different colors organize the signs in overlapping horizontal bands; in Otto volante (Flying Eight), pink insinuates its way into the blue surface; elsewhere the lines of writing flex and slope; signs painted with force and thickness create a checkerboard on the surface or a sequence of diagonal bands. Again, in Stella (Star), six triangles are tinted red to contrast with orange, or orange to contrast with fuchsia. An homage to Frank Stella, they are from 1964, the year of the Venice Biennale when, led by Robert Rauschenberg, Pop Art made its forceful landing in Italy. At the same Biennale, Accardi presented ten pieces in a dedicated room, invited at the suggestion of Lucio Fontana, a member of the jury. They included, amongst others, Labirinto con settori from 1956, Integrazione from 1959, Verdearancio (Greenorange) from 196, Omaggio al Presidente Kennedy (Homage to President Kennedy) from 1964, in memory of John F. Kennedy. They were presented in the catalogue by Carla Lonzi, the critic and art historian active in the Galleria Notizie in Turin, directed by Luciano Pistoi, where Accardi showed since 1959: a crossroads for artists of different generations, provenances and tendencies, from Giuseppe Pinot Gallizio to Castellani, from the Roman artists Franco Angeli, Tano Festa and Mario Schifano to the future protagonists ofArte Povera Luciano Fabro, Kounellis and Giulio Paolini.
“The passing of time is one of the true pleasures for me”[46], Accardi claimed with regards to the pernickety job of filling the surfaces with indecipherable writings. Lonzi also insisted on time, comparing the instantaneous and tangled “duration” of Pollock with Accardi’s “ordering experience of temporal succession”. The signs, once tested in a sort of “graphic monomania”, are now simplified and grouped together “based on an inventory”. “Accardi found a means of visualizing the chaos of psychic stimuli, of classifying them by morphological affinity…controlling their indefinite flow”. However, what is more, for the first time Lonzi mentions a feminine specificity “in the ancestral attitude towards moving back and forth through the existential mystery of being that something else in which it is impossible to recognize oneself in the image proposed by society”[47]. In front of such blinding works, Gillo Dorfles spoke of an assonance with the post-painterly abstraction of Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Stella (invited to the same Biennale by Alan R. Solomon), baptized by Clement Greenberg precisely in 1964 with the homonymous exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum. What is more, this is supported by a photograph from 1965 of Carla Accardi at the Galleria Notizie standing in front of one of Noland’s chevrons.
In reality, as proven by her successive development, while often “shaping” the canvas, Accardi proceeded to the antipodes of the post-painterly painters who, rather than destroying the canvas, increased its strength to the point of translating it into an object.
More pertinent is the reading of Umbro Apollonio, the critic attentive to the “new trends” of Programmatic and Kinetic Art, which made its first appearance in Italy in 1959, with the constitution of Gruppo T in Milan and Gruppo N in Padua. After underlining the rhythmic structure used to organize the signs, far from any causality, Apollonio properly placed Accardi’s work amongst informel research, “whose shifting sands she deftly avoided” and the perceptive, whose cold mechanical nature she evaded. The sign was thus “quantity of structure and activation of space”[48]. Apollonio’s text is from 1965, the year of the second Nuove Tendenze Biennial in Zagreb, and the exhibition The Responsive Eye in New York, intent on expropriating the European primogeniture of the Kinetic phenomena. However, 1965 was also the year when Accardi, part of the collective show at the Galleria Notizie with Castellani, Paolini, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Cy Twombly, presented Rotoli (Rolls) (work on show), the first works to move beyond the canvas, painted with fluorescent colors on a transparent support of sicofoil. The investigation aimed at “deconsecrating the canvas”, pursued by Accardi since her debut, reached its apex: devoid of support and frame, the signs float in space and, thanks to the form assumed by the material, subject to its own whims, they overlap, multiplying the chromatic and luminous effects. “Light has found new mediums: plastic and fluorescent colors. The canvas ceased to exist because I exposed the support and rendered my signs anonymous”[49], where anonymous is intended as analogous. With regards to color: “The fluorescent color expresses the progressive search for an ever greater light because it seems to be illuminated by a ray of sunshine, while the normal color, even if it is a red cadmium pigment, always appears slightly shaded”[50]. The context in which Accardi presented Rotoli confirms our initial assumption. While Castellani was already “beyond painting” in 1959, but not yet “beyond the canvas”, reducing the first to a flat application to exalt the warping of depressions and reliefs arithmetically organized across the surface, and Giulio Paolini declared, after Disegno geometrico (Geometric Design) from 1960, the impossibility of the canvas, showing only the preliminaries, frame, canvas, brushes and cans, Accardi reduced painting to pure light on a transparent and luminous support. Normally utilized to fabricate shoeboxes, Accardi used sicofoil until 1979, when it went out of production. However, Rotoli were still objects set in space. The same year Accardi made a further and decisive step with Tenda (Drapeshown the following year during a solo show at Notizie: 36 panels in sicofoil painted with green arabesques one side and red on the other, two colors of equal force, though non-complementary, that “fight with one another and create light”[51]. “I like the drape because I didn’t invent it. The drape is something obvious, I imagined it as an extension of painting. A drape that has nothing solid, no utility, is truly like an idea”[52]. A crucial declaration. We have already spoken of the overcoming of the canvas. However, Tenda is also a decisive contribution to the synthesis of the arts formulated in the “Manifesto Forma 1”. “I wanted to create an environment to eliminate the dichotomy that existed, during the post-war period, between architects and painters…a search for purism that was also very painful and which translated into the fact that architects were acquainted with artists, but never worked with them…To construct an ‘environment’, I created my first Tenda…”[53]. Or, “architects at the time passed through a period of incredibly rigorous functionalism. They didn’t let us contribute to anything, there was no exchange with artists”[54]. If Rationalism judged “ornament to be crime”, if Brutalism in vogue in the ‘60s used concrete in an “artistic” manner, rendering any pictorial addition incompatible, the dichotomy about which Accardi speaks is real: painting is the younger sister of architecture and as such must knuckle under. Artists were excluded from the moment of design and, in the best cases, called upon “by law” – the 2% law approved by fascism in 1942 – to intervene when things were already complete, with inevitably decorative results. Under this guise Accardi participated, from the ‘60s onwards, in competitions for public artworks. We mention a few examples. The same year she completed Tenda, for the INAIL (National Institute for Workers’ Safety) in Venice she designed Verde- argento (Green-Silver), a large panel in which the signs, in the two colors that alternate to form a checkerboard, are painted on a transparent support mounted on board. There are analogous sketches two years later for the FAO, on sicofoil and board, in which the signs are distributed across a unitary or tripartite surface. In 1989 she presented the large panel in white and black ceramic for the portico of the Town Hall in Gibellina, the village destroyed by the Belice earthquake, and whose mayor invited artists from across Italy to contribute to its reconstruction. Ten years later, in 1996, she completed the mosaic of panels for the atrium of the Re di Roma subway station in Rome , where large blue, black, red, orange and green signs are united in various combinations. Two other examples: in 2006, the window for the Church of the Santo Volto di Gesù in Rome designed by Sartogo architects, marked by a sequence of full-bodied white signs, and the 5 meter long ceramic panel for the Mostra station on the Naples subway, whose title Si dividono invano (In Vain They Divide Themselves) explains that, while it is a polyptych, the signs continually unite with one another, mindless of the divisions. In 2007, finally, Accardi collaborated with the Roman architects Giovanni D’Ambrosio and Andrea Stipa on the design of  the canopy and the gardens for the park and ride at the Monti Tiburtini station in Rome. For the first she used travertine and basalt, while the accessible garden includes a natural paving material in travertine and basalt stones of larger dimensions.
Even Lenzuoli, begun in 1973 and present in New York in three examples created specifically for the large windows overlooking Rockefeller Center, share the same spirit. They anticipate, by almost ten years, the return to painting on canvas and, hung on the wall without a frame or fixed to the windows, they are more made to measure than canvas. Painted with essential and repeated signs, they are tied back by Maurizio Fagiolo to the coeval search for “painting-painting”[55]. Once again, Accardi’s ability to capture what is taking place around her is surprising: in 1968 Fabro completed Tre modi di mettere le lenzuola (Three Ways to Fit Sheets).
“The canvas must also serve as a decorative complement to a naked wall, and sculpture as the furnishing of a room – the end of the work of art is utility, harmonious beauty, and weightlessness”, the “Manifesto Forma 1” reads. If Accardi created the aforementioned works under the guise of “complement” and “utility”, Tenda is a gesture of radical insubordination of both terms. The first to rise up against the idea of synthesis as integration, as we know, was Lucio Fontana, in words in the 1946 “Manifiesto Blanco” and, above all, after 1949, with Ambienti spaziali (Spatial Environments): abrogating the “utility” of architecture in darkness, art triumphed and became the sole protagonist. Not architecture, in fact, but “spatial concepts”, the same that sanctioned, with their perforations and cuts, the end of the canvas. So Accardi’s intent is analogous to, or at least moves in the direction traced by Fontana: not only does it speak of “idea” but, dematerializing the envelope, it allows the spectator to see reality through the painting, not metaphorically, as in the artifice of perspective, but in reality, physically. “I like it because I didn’t invent it”, she insists. Form therefore is without any pretext of originality, though neither is it the aseptic cube of so many coeval environments; it is the archetype of wandering and nomadism, of a mobile and precarious habitat, the dilation of the entire space to the precariousness invoked by the surfaces. It thus comes as no surprise at this point to find a reference to the Mausoleum of Galla Placida in Ravenna, where two-dimensional and ascetic figures float in the absolute space of the golden background, rendered even more mobile, brilliant and splendid by the use of mosaic. Aware of history, Accardi, who learned the lesson of Byzantine art in her native land, updated it, translating the sacred iconography on a golden background into the laic and “contemporary” field of abstract and two-dimensional signs painted with florescent color on the luminous and transparent surface of sicofoil.
Prior to Casa labirinto (Labyrinth House) from 2000 (work on show), it is worth mentioning two other “environments”: Ambiente arancio (Orange Environment) from 1967 and Triplice tenda (Triple Drape) from 1971.
Unlike Tenda, autonomous in space, Ambiente arancio is made to fit the space of exhibition: surfaces of sicofoil painted with sunny colors and familiar objects such as an air mattress or an umbrella, allude to a beach. Hence a double code: that of the surfaces, abstract, and that of the objects, immediately recognizable. Even if, against an eventual Dadaist reading, Accardi clarifies that the objects are “aesthetic and visual facts lightly presented to the observer if the latter observes with simplicity”[56]. The surfaces are indifferently placed on walls or on the ground where, what is more, they were painted. If Tenda, whose surfaces were painted front and back, sanctions the equivalency between exterior and interior, Ambiente arancio went on to construct an exclusively exterior situation indoors. Finally, while Tenda allowed visitors to merely enter and stand, to camp out, Ambiente arancio could be traveled by moving along the paths between surfaces.
Tenda and Ambiente arancio were not present at the exhibition Lo spazio dell’immagine in Foligno in 1967, where nineteen artists were invited for the first time to create a “plastic-spatial environment”[57]: an homage to Lucio Fontana and his Ambiente spaziale a luce nera (Spatial Environment in Black Light), created almost twenty years earlier. If we consider that, with the exception of the coeval figures of Gianni Colombo and Getulio Alviani, Tenda precedes Fabro’s In-cubo by one year, and the “environments” of Castellani, Mario Ceroli, Festa, Piero Gilardi, Pino Pascali and Eliseo Mattiacci by two years, and that the list of commissioners included Umbro Apollonio, an attentive follower of her work, Accardi’s exclusion cannot be explained, if not in light of the “anti-pictorial” fundamentalism typical of those years.
“It is not a real, applicable model. It is a desire to push people to live in a different, natural manner”[58]. “An environment in which to eliminate the dichotomy, still very strong, between architecture and the visual arts”, she reiterated.[59]. Art for life, and not a hypothesis of space to be translated at the scale of architecture.
Triplice Tenda applies the passability of Ambiente arancio to the closed space of Tenda. Three transparent envelopes penetrate one another to create a sort of circular labyrinth: walking in the interstitial spaces, one arrives at the central space, able to contain a single standing figure. Once again, the intention is not to create a functional space, but the overlapping and stratification of pictorial signs, in this case pink.
Triplice tenda was part of the exhibition Ambiente/Arte Dal Futurismo alla Body Art curated by Celant for the 1976 Venice Biennale. In updating environmental research some ten years after the event in Foligno, the curator took his cues from Futurism, and offered an international panorama. Accardi’s space-light could thus be compared to those of the Californians Michael Asher and Robert Irwin, to the Projection Pieces of James Turrell and to the natural light works of Maria Nordman. Not to mention Dan Graham who, for the same occasion, created Public Space/Two Audiences: the artist divided the available space into two equal parts with a transparent and acoustically insulating wall, while the back wall of one of the two portions was clad in mirrors. Accardi showed with the same artist in Ghent in 1986, as part of Chambres d’amis, for which she created Una finestra su Gent (A Window on Ghent). Mere coincidences, which testify to a similar climate.
If the “environments” are not architecture, but “extensions of painting”[60], if their envelope is the sum of surfaces, it is no wonder that in 1966 Accardi tested the new material at the dimension of the canvas or, better yet, what remained of the canvas after eliminating its support. In the first examples, such as Verdeverde (Greengreen) (work on show) from 1966, the sicofoil covers a monochrome canvas and is painted on the back with a multitude of sinuous, almost uniform signs that are thus “anonymous”, similar to “floating commas”[61] in the form of lozenges. “Later, when I used monochrome and fluorescent, there was also transparency, how happy I was! For example, the florescent green on transparent, the maximum of brightness for me. Plastic or fluorescent were of rather bad taste, but I liked them, I wanted to…ennoble them, who knows why…because it was all light”[62]. In equal terms of signs, throughout the ‘60s, Accardi indulged herself with colors, monochrome or polychrome, applied uniformly to the transparent surface or, as in RossoverdeVerdenero and Biancoarancio (Redgreen, Greenblack and Whiteorange), all from 1967, by cutting and weaving strips of sicofoil painted with different colors to create a saturated and compact surface. During the ‘70s she announced a turning point. If the form of painting was distinguished from that of the canvas, the signs assumed a form comparable to the Greek letter “gamma”, while the tones were cooled and enriched by grays and golds. Two extraordinary examples are on display in New York: Tre triangoli (Three Triangles) (work on show), in which the sicofoil is painted and cut into three triangles directly attached to the frame, and Grigioro diagonali (Goldgray Diagonal) (work on show) from 1972, in which the same material, painted with the same colors, is cut into strips and attached to the frame along the diagonal. The work has three distinct actors: painting on sicofoil, the canvas reduced to its frame, and the reality of the wall that insinuates itself between the painting and the frame.
In Quattro triangoli arancio (Four Orange Triangles)(work on show), instead, from 1970+80, or in Due triangoli (Two Triangles) from 1972+80, or in Segni grigi (Gray Signs) from 1972+90, it is the frame that is shaped in a triangular or trapezoidal form, confirmed by the form of the painting. In experimenting with the relationship between the form of painting and the form of the support, Accardi was certainly aware of the discussion that, across the ocean, rotated around Frank Stella. Also because, after her personal show in ’61, Accardi was once again in New York to participate in ’69 with Rotoli, in the collective at the Jewish Museum of New York dedicated to Italian painting and sculpture. If, in the coincidence between the form of the painting and that of the support, and thus in the objectification of the painting, Stella saw, as of ’59, the only alternative to composition, and thus illusionism, for Accardi, as we know, the solution to the same problem lay in the abrogating the canvas and entrusting painting to space.
However, Accardi had an even more radical passage in store. Between 1975 and 1976, as proven by the extraordinary Trasparente (Transparent)(work on show) and Grande trasparente (Large Transparent) (work on show), she refused painting and entrusted the image exclusively to sicofoil, cut, woven and pulled. “Arriving at removing, removing, removing appears to me as a sign of maturity, a very refined maturity…for me it was more important to remove than to add”[63]. The visual results lead us back on the one hand to Fontana, for the cuts that open the dimension “beyond the canvas” and, on the other, to Salvatore Scarpitta. Born in New York, Scarpitta arrived in Rome in ’47, close to the artists of Forma 1, with whom he shared the pictorial and abstract period. After 1955 he showed at Plinio de Martiis’ La Tartaruga, where Accardi was also present in 1965: a cenacle analogous to Notizie, L’Ariete and La Salita. He began “ripping” the canvas in 1957: after literally tearing the canvas to shreds, Scarpitta reassembled the fragments in a new painting. Following Burri’s Gobbi (Hunchbacks) from 1949, those of Scarpitta are in absolute the first shaped canvases, even before Castellani and, across the ocean, Donald Judd and Stella. Accardi conversed with Scarpitta in the pages of Autoritratto, published in 1969 by Carla Lonzi, in absolute terms the first collection of interviews with artists. By choosing a format of interlocution, listening and accompaniment, Lonzi discussed the thaumaturgic role of the critic. The list of artists represented three different generations, and covered the entire post-war period: Accardi, Consagra and Turcato for Forma 1, Castellani for Azimuth, Alviani for the area of Programmed Art, the outsiders Scarpitta, Mimmo Rotella and Twombly and, for Arte Povera, Pascali, Fabro, Kounellis and Paolini. A fruitful and, for Accardi, long lasting exchange. Above all with Lonzi, with whom she shared, after 1970, and for five years, a period of militant feminism in the group Rivolta Femminile, signing its constitutional manifesto, in the publishing house Scritti di Rivolta Femminile, and the management of the space on Viale Angelico, inaugurated with an exhibition of works by Artemisia Gentileschi. It was through the key of feminism that Lonzi read the transparent canvases: “Conceptualism in the key of feminism? In the recent ‘transparents’, space and ‘writing’ are no longer distinct entities: space becomes simultaneously fabric and text beginning with the ripped transparent material…I do not wish to state that the language of ‘fabric’ is more specifically feminine than painted language…I only suggest the existence of an atavic familiarity between an ancestral feminine activity and a twentieth century artist; a familiarity that in Accardi’s case does not comport risks of regression or ghettoization”[64]. If for Lonzi the feminist choice was, however, irreversible and incompatible with that of the art critic, Accardi, forced into a corner, opted for painting in order to be, as Giorgio de Marchis has stated in a none too happy expression, “an artist without an apostrophe”[65]: “I found myself on the opposite side of the radical thesis by which culture is male, and women, by being involved, were carrying out an act of betrayal”[66]. Or: “I needed to recapture my art that, in the end, was my personal reason for living”[67]. What is more, as with her political militancy: politics have to do with mankind, while artistic commitment is measured in the radicalism of linguistic choices.
“I once again began ‘using painting’, however I did not wish to return to the centre of the painting, the canvas, to plastic, so I approached painting from the margins. Later, with the sides of the triangular structure of the canvas, I made a sort of star to be set on the ground. I called this work Aethos Prometheos. It was the juxtaposition of triangles, similar to sails that could fly”[68].
Catasta on the ground, Labirinto rosso (Red Labyrinth) on the wall, Quattro trapezi azzurri (Four Blue Carpets) and Cinque triangoli bianconeri (Five Whiteblack Triangles), Grande C-Stella (Dieci triangoli bianconeri) (Large C-Star (Ten Whiteblack Triangles) and Finestra (Window), all from between 1978 and the following year, return to painting, though limiting it exclusively to the frame, which assumes different forms and is composed with other similar pieces to create varying results, on the wall or the ground. Painted frames with or without sicofoil, in any case uncontaminated by painting. Oltre (Beyond) from 1982, ten curved and painted frames on the wall, is the last work to use sicofoil. Parentesi (Parentheses) inherits its legacy: analogous curves were painted on raw canvas, in a nod to Matisse: “More than the beginning of a new discussion, a new chapter. With a great desire to reuse color”[69]. A new chapter, reminiscent of the previous ones. If 1983’s Segni misti (Mixed Signs) reuses the motif of sequential linear signs from twenty years earlier, Capriccio spagnolo 3 (Spanish Caprice 3) manages to evoke the white and black canvases of 1954.
For the 1988 Venice Biennale Accardi created a cycle of large diptychs. The novelty? To begin with, as she explains: “the double image on two or more panels with more or less slight variations in color and form”[70]; in other words, in the passage from one panel to another or, in the solution of the “painting in the painting”, the forms conserve their integrity, while changing color. Di flutti e frangiflutti, on display, is a perfect example. A green, orange and blue triptych on which signs continually connect across the entire surface, recording the interruptions of the support only in chromatic terms: orange-green on the first panel, yellow-orange on the second, and once again yellow, this time on blue, in the third. Moreover, the full bodied and plastic signs are slightly shifted on the raw canvas, almost an academically “incorrect” shadow. In 1989, for the first time, as proven by Movenze notturne (Nocturnal Movements) (work on show), Accardi combined the white and black with the raw canvas. The work is diagonally divided into two sectors, one white and one raw, reunited by the sign: black on the raw backdrop becomes, in the passage to white, raw on a white backdrop. While none of Accardi’s seasons can be called definitive, with the passing of the 1990s and the dawning of the new decade, the signs tend to thin out and increase in size, acquiring a plasticity that is one again reminiscent of Magnelli.
What is the recipe for such an indomitable creativity, always fresh, lively and curious? Accardi herself provided Carla Lonzi with the answer: “You see how quick I am: this is my self-defense that kicks in immediately. In my own way I always seek to understand them. Already a young man, when he is understood, should I believe feel somewhat impoverished, already becoming more mature, and thus enters into my group. It is pleasurable for him but at the same time he begins to lose something because it is always better not to be understood by those older than us”[71]. Carla Accardi: charming and seductive as always.


[1] C. Accardi in “Intervista con i pittori. Carla Accardi intervistata da Maurizio Clavesi”, in Marcatré, n. 8-9-10, July-August-September 1964, p. 219.
[2] C. Accardi in V. Bramanti, “Conversazione con Carla Accardi, in Id., Accardi, exhibition cat., Loggetta Lombardesca, Ravenna, February-March 1983, Essegi, Ravenna 1983, p. 85.
[3] Cf. B. Di Marino, “Forma 1 e il cinema, in E. Cristallini, A. Greco, S. Lux (ed.), Forma 1 e i suoi artisti, exhibition cat., Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, December 2000-February 2001, Gangemi Editore, Rome 2000, p. 54.
[4] Manifesto Forma 1, 15 March 1947, in Forma 1, April 1947, reprinted in G. Di Milia (ed.), Forma 1. 1947-1986, exhibition cat., Museo Civico, Gibellina, July-September 1986, Fabbri, Milan 1986, p. 101.
[5] L. Venturi, Il gusto dei Primitivi, Einaudi, Turin 1972, p. 246 (first ed. Zanichelli, Bologna 1926).
[6] Quoting of P. Gobetti in E. Persico, L’Ottocento della pittura europea, part of the conference held at the Galleria Milano on 17 February 1934, in E. Pontiggia (ed.), Edoardo Persico e gli artisti 1929-1936. Il percorso di un critico dall’Impressionismo al Primitivismo, exhibition cat., Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan, June-September 1998, Electa, Milan 1998, p. 179.
[7] G. Marchiori, Renato Birolli, Ed. di Comunità, Milan 1963, p. 12.
[8] E. Vedova, “Pagine di diario”, Galleria Blu, Milan 1960, quoted in M. De Micheli (ed.), Corrente: il movimento di arte e cultura di opposizione 1930-1945, exhibition cat., Palazzo Reale, Milano, January-April 1985, Vangelista, Milan 1985, p. 294.
[9] G. C. Argan, “Pittura italiana e cultura europea”, in Prosa, n. 3, 1946, p. 299.
[10] P. Togliatti, “Segnalazioni. Prima Mostra Nazionale d’Arte Contemporanea-Alleanza della Cultura”, in Rinascita, n. 11, November 1948.
[11] G. Marchori, “Il Fronte Nuovo delle Arti”, in Commento, n. 56-57, January-February 1958, reprinted in Il Fronte Nuovo delle Arti, Tacchini, Vercelli 1978, p. 58.
[12] E. Vittorini, “Politica e cultura. Lettera a Togliatti, in Il Politecnico, n. 35, January-March 1947, reprinted in Il Politecnico,anthology edited by M. Forti and S. Pautasso, Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, Milan 1975, pp. 120-123.
[13] “Gli astrattisti, letter signed by Accardi, Attardi, Consagra, Dorazio, Guerrini, Manisco, Maugeri, Mirabella, Peirce, Perilli, Sanfilippo, Turcato, in L’Unità, 13 November 1947.
[14] E. Vittorini, “Politica e cultura” cit., pp. 120-123.
[15] G. C. Argan, in N. Ponente (ed.), Forma I mostra documento, exhibition cat., Galleria Arco d’Alibert, Rome, October 1965, p. 15.
[16] M. Guerrini, “Perché la pittura?”, in Forma 1 cit., reprinted in G. Di Milia (ed.), Forma 1 cit., pp. 102-103.
[17] A. Perilli, “Gli espressionisti del secolo, in Forma 1 cit., March 1947, reprinted in G. Di Milia (ed.), Forma 1 cit., p. 105.
[18] Manifesto di Forma 1 cit., reprinted in G. Di Milia (ed.), Forma 1 cit., p. 101.
[19] A. Perilli, “Astrattisti a Milano, in Forma 1 cit., reprinted in G. Di Milia (ed.), Forma 1 cit., p. 107.
[20] N. Ponente, in Id. (ed.), Forma I mostra documento cit., p. 7.
[21] A. Perilli, “Astrattisti a Milano” cit., p. 107.
[22] P. Dorazio, “Ricordo di Prampolini, in Enrico Prampolini, exhibition cat., Todi 1983, quoted in E. Cristallini, Gli artisti di Forma 1 tra Europa e America, in Various Authors (ed.), Forma 1 e i suoi artisti, exhibition cat., MAMAC, Lieges, October-December 2003, Gangemi Editore, Rome 2003, p. 106.
[23] A. Perilli in “Achille Perilli: la vita delle forme”, in G. Di Milia (ed.), Forma 1 cit., pp. 30-31.
[24] Galleria Arco d’Alibert, Rome 1965; Sala della Pietra, Palazzo del Popolo, Todi, 1976; Museo Civico, Gibellina, 1986; Prague Castle Stables, Prague, 1998; Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, 2001.
[25] Manifesto di Forma 1 cit., reprinted in G. Di Milia (ed.), Forma 1 cit., p. 101.
[26] E. Nathan Rogers, “Situazione dell’arte concreta”, in Various Authors (ed.), Arte astratta e concreta in Italia, exhibition cat., Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, February 1951, Ed. Age d’Or, Rome 1951.
[27] L. Moretti, “Trasfigurazioni di strutture murarie”, in Spazio, n. 4, 1951, pp. 5-16.
[28] Manifiesto Blanco, 1946, reprinted in E. Crispolti, Fontana. Catalogo generale, Electa, Milan 1986, vol. I, pp. 34-35.
[29] P. Dorazio, “Autoritratto”, 1976, reprinted in A. Zevi, Dorazio, exhibition cat., Loggetta Lombardesca, Ravenna, October-December 1985, Essegi, Ravenna 1985, p. 83.
[30] C. Accardi, “Il segno”, in V. Bramanti, Accardi cit., p. 89.
[31] C. Accardi in “Intervista con i pittori” cit., p. 219.
[32] C. Accardi in “Conversazione” cit., p. 84.
[33] C. Accardi in P. Mania, L. Meloni (ed.), “Carla Accardi”, in Opening, n. 21, December 1993, pp. 4-6.
[34] C. Accardi, “Manifestarsi, mettersi al mondo”, proceedings of the meeting held on 13 March 1984, Accademia di Belle Arti “Pietro Vannucci”, Perugia 1984, Ed. Accademia di Belle Arti “Pietro Vannucci”, Perugia 1989, p. 14.
[35] Cf. “Entretien entre Carla Accardi et Hans-Ulrich Obrist”, in L. Bossé, H.-U. Obrist (eds.), Carla Accardi, exhibition cat., Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, January-March 2002, Paris 2002, p. 9; “Paolo Vagheggi intervista Carla Accardi. La vita non è arte, l’arte è vita”, in D. Eccher (ed.), Carla Accardi, exhibition cat., Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Rome, September 2004-January 2005, Electa, Milan 2004, p. 117.
[36] C. Accardi, “Il segno” cit., p. 89.
[37] G. Celant, Carla Accardi, Edizioni Charta, Milan 1999, p. XIX.
[38] C. Accardi in “Conversazione” cit., p. 86.
[39] L. Venturi in Carla Accardi, exhibition cat., Parma Gallery, New York 1961, reprinted in V. Bramanti, Accardi cit., pp. 127-128.
[40] C. Accardi, 1961, in G. Di Milia (ed.), Forma 1 cit., p. 112.
[41] C. Accardi in “Conversazione” cit., p. 86.
[42] C. Accardi, “Alcuni caratteri del mio lavoro”, 1964, in G. Di Milia (ed.), Forma 1 cit., p. 112.
[43] Ivi, p. 113.
[44] C. Accardi interviewed by M. Volpi, in Marcatré, n. 42, May1968, reprinted in V. Bramanti, Accardi cit., p. 94.
[45] C. Accardi, “Alcuni caratteri del mio lavoro” cit., p. 113.
[46] C. Accardi, testimonial published in S. Weller, Il complesso di Michelangelo, La Nuovo Foglio Editrice, Pollenza/Macerata 1976, p. 156.
[47] C. Lonzi, “Carla Accardi”, in XXX Esposizione Internazionale Biennale di Venezia, exhibition cat., Venice 1964, reprinted in V. Bramanti, Accardi cit., p. 130.
[48] U. Apollonio, Accardi 1964-1965, exhibition cat., Galerie Stadler, Paris, 1965, reprinted in V. Bramanti, Accardi cit., p. 131.
[49] C. Accardi in M. Carboni, “Tra utopia e formalismo”, in Il Tirreno, 21 April 1981.
[50] C. Accardi in R. Scuteri, “Carla Accardi”, in Flash Art, n. 152, October-November 1989, p. 66.
[51] C. Accardi, in Data, n. 54, October 1975, reprinted in V. Bramanti, Accardi cit., p. 95.
[52] C. Accardi in “Discorsi. Carla Lonzi e Carla Accardi”, in Marcatré, n. 23-24-25, June 1966, p. 193.
[53] C. Accardi in R. Scuteri, “Carla Accardi” cit., p. 66.
[54] C. Accardi, “Manifestarsi” cit., p. 16.
[55] M. Fagiolo, Sette lenzuoli, exhibition cat., Galleria Editalia, Rome, 1974, reprinted in V. Bramanti, Accardi cit., p. 141.
[56] C. Accardi interviewed by M. Volpi, in Marcatré cit., p. 94.
[57] Introductory note to the catalogue, in Various Authors, (eds.), Lo spazio dell’immagine, exhibition cat., Palazzo Trinci, Foligno, July-October 1967, Alfieri Edizioni d’Arte, Venice 1967, s. p.
[58] C. Accardi in “Entretien entre Carla Accardi et Hans-Ulrich Obrist” cit., p. 11.
[59] C. Accardi in “Paolo Vagheggi intervista Carla Accardi” cit., p. 121.
[60] Cf. C. Accardi in Discorsi cit., p. 193.
[61] P. Bucarelli in Id. (ed.), Carla Accardi. Opere 1965-1983, exhibition cat., ex Convento San Carlo, Erice, July-October 1983.
[62] C. Accardi in Data cit., p. 95.
[63] C. Accardi in “Discorsi” cit., p. 193.
[64] A.M. Boetti, “Carla Accardi”, in Data, n. 20, 1976, reprinted in V. Bramanti, Accardi cit., p. 143.
[65] G. De Marchis, “Carla Accardi”, in L’Espresso, 21 April 1968, reprinted in V. Bramanti, Accardi cit., p. 135.
[66] C. Accardi, Manifestarsi cit., p. 14.
[67] C. Accardi, quoted in H.-U. Obrist, “Dalla A alla Z. Pars pro toto. Carla Accardi”, in D. Eccher (ed.), Carla Accardi cit., p. 64.
[68] C. Accardi in R. Scuteri, “Carla Accardi” cit., p. 67.
[69] C. Accardi interviewed by F. Vincitorio, in L’Espresso, 22 September 1979.
[70] C. Accardi, “Alcuni caratteri del mio lavoro” cit., p. 114.
[71] C. Accardi in Discorsi cit., p. 197.

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