3 ottobre 2022
by Maria Rita Nocchi

Capogrossi hits the sign

 Surface 553
 Surface 553

From drawing to "sign." Unmistakable and enigmatic, the “sign” granted Giuseppe Capogrossi (1900-1972) a place among the most iconic Italian painters of the twentieth century. Arranged on the canvas in a sinuous and only apparently casual way, such a "sign" is the culmination of a tormented artistic journey that had begun at least twenty years earlier. Historian and art critic Giulio Carlo Argan, one of the prominent figures closest to the artist, said that he sought refuge with him several times in the late nineteen-forties, because he was deeply troubled and agitated by the understanding that his language was inexorably changing and the fact that he did not know yet what path he was destined to take. He would realize it soon and achieve success. Rome’s Galleria del Secolo exhibited his new works in 1950. He was a star at the Venice Biennale of 1954, with his first, sensational, personal showroom dedicated to his research of signs.

50 years after his death, which occurred in Rome on October 9, 1972, Capogrossi returns to his city with a major exhibition titled Capogrossi. Behind the scenes, at the National Gallery of Modern Art, from September 21 to November 6. The exhibit is organized by the Capogrossi Archive Foundation, which came up with a series of initiatives to bring back into public view the complexity and coherence of a major artist from the twentieth century. Capogrossi’s artwork is back in Rome after more than 20 years, with an exhibition that launches the initiatives of the project Capogrossi. The sign in Italian museums and institutions. As explained by curator Romana Morelli to Mag 861: "The Foundation has conceived this project to bring together all the institutions that own works by Capogrossi and understand how much he has been appreciated, valued, and purchased, in short, the artist’s fortunes in the 50 years after his death."

On display, a selection of over thirty paintings and about twenty works on paper, from National Gallery collections (the most numerous), the Capogrossi Archive Foundation, and private collections. There is a very rich archival section, featuring the documents of the National Gallery of Modern Art’s Historical Fund (of which the painter’s daughter Olga Capogrossi is a donor), and of the Foundation's archive. There are photographic portraits of Capogrossi with prominent figures of the time, exhibition catalogs, magazines, letters, and newspaper articles. Morelli reveals that “Capogrossi was a very shy man with close ties to his family, friends, and city. He would attend official and art events but would not go out of his way to find them. He loved nature rather than the city.”

The artist’s figurative and sign-based works, both strongly evocative, are shown next to each other, to invite reflection on their juxtaposition and get a sense of their connection; therein lies the novelty of the exhibit. The curator points out that "Capogrossi extracts the sign from the figures and the reality around him, therefore, the tonal and sign-based paintings together form the pieces of a puzzle, so that Capogrossi's true physiognomy may be gleaned, by following a non-chronological formal concept along with the use of space and color”.

Capogrossi was a coherent artist focused on his research. “From the beginning, I tried not to be satisfied with the appearance of nature. I have always thought that space is a reality within our consciousness, and I have set out to define it. At first, I used natural images, comparisons, and affinities from the visible world; as I went on, I tried to express my inner sense of space directly,” he wrote.

The works on exhibit include some that have been almost inaccessible for several years, and thus

particularly appreciable. Such as Reclining Nude, a beautiful figure of a woman, a local model named Antonietta, painted in 1940 at Corrado Anticoli’s studio, a favorite place of Capogrossi’s youth.

According to art critics, this painting contains Capogrossi’s subsequent stylistic developments in a nutshell. It was last exhibited in 1986, in Spoleto, on occasion of the 29th Festival dei Due Mondi. Another noteworthy piece is Surface 274, of 1958, from a private collection, shown for the last time in 1964, on occasion of the solo show with Lucio Fontana at Osaka’s Gutai Pinacotheca. The idea was suggested to the painter by Argan. Curator Morelli tells us the singular story of Surface 68: “A young Milanese entrepreneur by the name of Gianfranco Moglia bought the painting for 200,000 lire in 1954; it happens rarely that such an important work would remain in the same hands for such a long time.” Paintings by the Roman artist have adorned important buildings. There is a picture of Queen Elizabeth II, wearing a suit and white hat, talking to Angela Merkel in the State Chancellery, with Capogrossi’s Surface 328 in the background.

In addition to paintings, the show features a large tapestry conceived by Capogrossi while he was developing the compositional motif of Surface 33, woven in wool by the famous Arazzeria Scassa of Asti for the ocean liner Michelangelo. There are also Albisola ceramic dishes that go back to the Futurist era. In Albisola, Capogrossi would meet with Lucio Fontana during long summer vacations, and others from the world of informal art. Lastly, we have two precious examples of the fabulous jewels designed by the artist and crafted by master goldsmith and jeweler Massimo Fumanti.

The documents tell the artist's life, marked by his father’s untimely death in 1907. After coming back to Rome from fighting in World War I, his desire to become an artist was opposed by his mother, who wanted him to become a lawyer instead. He obeyed his mother’s wishes and earned his Law degree, which certificate is displayed in a showcase. However, when his mother gets him a job at the Ministry of War Pensions, he tells her in a letter that he will follow a different path, whereupon he would encounter the most important artists of the Roman scene between the two wars. The 1940s, devastated by the war, marked a period of great economic difficulties, but then came the turning point. On display is the congratulation letter by critic Carlo Giulio Argan for his Venice Biennale show of 1954. It reads as follows: "You are one of the few who are much more concerned with form rather than the canvas, and who realize that the latter may have to be sacrificed to save the former, Thus, I think that your position is generous and human, even if some may consider it secluded and abstractly contemplative.”

Finally, there is a postcard by Palma Bucarelli, Rome’s National Gallery’s historic director and superintendent from 1942 to 1975: "To the first who hit the sign".


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