Cortesi Gallery
Lucio Fontana, "Concetto spaziale. Teatrino", 1965, red water-based paint on canvas and dark red lacquered wooden frame, 130×130 cm, photo by Bruno Bani, courtesy Cortesi Gallery, Lugano - London (detail).

CHE FARE? Vision and Engagement in Post-War International Art of the 60s and the 70s

Artists: Alighiero Boetti, Agostino Bonalumi, Enrico Castellani, Lucio Fontana, Gianfranco Pardi, Paolo Scheggi, Heinz Mack, Ivan Picelj, Otto Piene, Jesus-Rafael Soto, Gunther Uecker, Grazia Varisco.


Exhibition dates: 1 - 12 February 2017 Gstaad - Switzerland

Preview: 2 February 2017, 6 - 8pm



“What is to be done?” In 1902, Lenin incited the proletariat to organise itself into a movement, signing one of his best-known political works worldwide.


His polemical speech was republished in Italy several times between World War II and the 70s, during equally revolutionary moments for social, economic, political and cultural transformations. It was read and received enthusiastically, not only by students and workers who were demonstrating at the time, but also by artists, engaged in a movement that could truly represent their brave, free and revolutionary time.



This question characterises and interprets the intellectual tension and cultural ferment expressed by the international artworks from the 60s and the 70s selected by Cortesi Gallery for the exhibition.


Vision, utopia, commitment, action, involvement; new materials - industrial, plastic and recycled - were taking over traditional painting and sculpture; the extension of the work in the space, moving towards the fourth dimension and the analysis of the relationship between perception and image formation, kinetic, action and reaction, calling on the public to become active participant of the work ....


These are the main themes introduced and explored by artists that, between the late 50s and the early 70s, founded a real international movement, mainly represented by Group Zero (founded in Dusseldorf in 1958, from the vision of Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, Günter Uecker), New Tendencies (started in Zagreb in 1961), and other important work centres and research groups across Europe, which not only reached the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Italy, but also the United States and Japan.


In the first room, the show gives a nod to Maurizio Cattelan’s Toilet Paper project. An artist from a few generations later, he represents, in a sense, an “heir” to the ruthlessness of the 60s, and always aimed at a constant and radical political-linguistic revolution of the image.


The exhibition continues in the second room with Lucio Fontana, Agostino Bonalumi and Paolo Scheggi. The first work displayed, Concetto spaziale, Teatrino (Red) (Spatial Concept-Little Theater-Red) from 1965, depicts the constant challenge of the Argentine artist to overcome the two-dimensionality of the work, and its ability to deliver to humanity the post-atomic bravery of rethinking itself, overcoming its own boundaries, both spatial, temporal and conceptual. Some historical works by Agostino Bonalumi, Grigio (Grey) from 1969 and a bronze sculpture from 1967-2006, are equally visionary in showing that the canvas and the works hanging on the wall, can enter into the environment, taking on new structural tensions, making the colour an extroflected form that asks the viewer to interact with the works.


Paolo Scheggi is an artist that had an instantaneous career, like many other artists of his time. He interprets Fontana’s cuts and holes as a potential for the artwork to offer new spaces of action, vision, research. His series Intersuperfici, (Intersurfaces) which in the first few years of his artistic research was entitled Zone Riflesse (Reflected Zones), are artworks formed by three overlapping monochrome canvases, in bright yellow and deep red, that involve the viewer in a vision at multiple levels, from physical to spiritual.


The show leads from Milan, the city where Bonalumi, Scheggi and Fontana met, to Zagreb, where the international movement of New Tendencies began, via the work of Ivan Picelj, a Surface in carved wood that creates a concave and convex vibrating surface. The works of Picelj are examples of the transformation of the space, engaging research that speaks to architects and urban planners, created to inspire a better society and a culture in which to live a better life.


In the same room is Purpura y plata (Purple and Silver) by Rafael Soto from 1969, inviting our gaze to explore the chromatic shifts of the acrylic, the response of the porous wood, and the surprises that the aluminium holds in store. The artist's commitment is to offer the viewer new possibilities of perception, encouraging reflection on the power of senses. The three artists of Group Zero made a fundamental contribution to this radical transformation of materials and shapes.


Uecker’s nails, used to resemble brush strokes in Dunkles Feld (Dark Field), 1980, achieve extraordinary shadow effects, similar to those that Ivan Picelj obtained in Surface XXX. In his Erzengel Michael und Gabriel (Archangel Michael and Gabriel), 1962, Heinz Mack renders a traditional theme with utterly new and unprecedented materials, such as aluminium and steel, which hint at the subject in a subtle, evocative way, leaving literal descriptions aside.


To the metal casting of the latter’s extraordinary work, answers the repetition of a pictorial sign in Mack’s Dynamische Struktur (Dynamic Structure) from 1962, where the eye glides incessantly from right to left, following the occurrence of the painting, freed from any rules. Finally, in Tschernosion by Otto Piene, the intense gestural painting ignites the surface, creating a vortex of energies that call for an active reaction from the public, both emotional and conceptual.


The image becomes an architectural construction in the artistic research of Gianfranco Pardi, where the riots seem to subside in the organisation of materials and the clear design of a possible new Architettura (Architecture), as painting, sculpture and drawing converge.


CHE FARE? It is not a question asked only by artists, but an invitation: offering us new visions, full of promise, hope, ethical commitment; the work asks us to be visionaries.


Ilaria Bignotti