Dialogue between Antonio Calderara and Antonio Scaccabarozzi from 1970 to 1975
by Angela Madesani
translated by David Stanton
It was Natascia Rouchota, Antonio Scaccabarozzi’s wife, who first put forward the idea for this exhibition, which I have been asked to curate. The title, however, is mine: I have chosen it in order to allow the visitor to fully comprehend the epistolary and intimate nature of this event. Rather than a two-person show, it is the account of a fortunate meeting between two outstanding artists for whom their practice was their principal raison d’être.
The exhibition focuses on the encounter between two intelligent and generous people of different generations who came from contrasting backgrounds: Calderara was born into a middle-class family in 1903 in Abbiategrasso (a town near Milan), while Scaccabarozzi, whose origins were working-class, was born in Merate (a small town north of Monza) in 1936. This essay will not focus on the specific nature of these artists’ works — which has already been covered with great competence elsewhere — but rather on the relationship between the two individuals who shared a common attitude to both life and art.
We shall never know the precise circumstances of their first meeting, although it certainly took place in 1970. According to Scaccabarozzi’s wife (1), the encounter was arranged by Maria Cernuschi, Gino Ghiringhelli’s estranged wife, who founded the Galleria Il Milione in Milan with him in the early 1930s. A very practical woman, she had the interests of young artists at heart and had already donated, while she was still alive, her splendid collection of abstract painting to the municipality of Genoa. Maria Cernuschi had a house in San Remo, in Liguria, where Anna Maria Azzoni also had a home: since Calderara and his wife, Carmela, were often guests of the latter, it is more than likely that they met Cernuschi there on various occasions.
In 1969 Scaccabarozzi had started to produce his Strutturali (Structural Works), a work programme based on method, which was, however, most successful when this was made redundant, allowing, as he put it, unexpected aspects to come to the fore one after the other. He created works that could be seen from different viewpoints: use of the typewriter to form a series of dots in relief on paper; wooden works; works consisting of punched canvas; works having environmental dimensions; dattilopie (patterns created with a typewriter). ’For him this was a mental activity that became physical, only to turn out to be poetic (2). This was the moment at which the young artist started to use the ‘sign’, the dot that for a long time was to become the focus of his interest.
With the ‘sign’ he had attained a certain fame and prestige, especially thanks to the esteem of Antonio Calderara, an artist who lived on Lake Orta and had many acquaintances in the artistic circles of Germany and Switzerland. Calderara’s
generosity taught Scaccabarozzi to behave in the same way, even though this was a somewhat rare quality in the art world. (3)
In the same year, Scaccabarozzi — a theoretician of his own work who was as perceptive as he was meticulous — wrote:
The way the different groups are organized allows either a continuous or limited treatment of the phenomenon, the energy of which is based on the duality that is established at all levels of the concept: duality within the unit, between the direction and the very precise section; duality, between the specific function of the unit and the general destiny of the whole; duality in the relationship of the groups of the whole, which are always in a state of tension; the accumulations of the shifting and rotating elements that, as they expand, then gradually decrease, generate energy, as they are within the construction in a bilateral relationship of forces. The engaging of the forms will cause the spectator to move in order to observe the progressive and dynamic transformation of the image from a two- dimensional to a spatial one (4).
Material in the Archivio Antonio Scaccabarozzi reveals that the first exhibition featuring the two artists together was held in May 1970 at the Centro La Comune in Brescia, where Scaccabarozzi had already had a show in February of the same year. The exhibition’s title ‘Riusciranno i nostri artisti a fare la storia dell’arte? Antologia di materiali del centro la comune e delle edizioni amodulo’ (Will Our Artists Be Able to Make Art History? Anthology of Material from the Centro La Comune and Edizioni Amodulo) derived from that of Ettore Scola’s 1968 film Riusciranno i nostri eroi a ritrovare l'amico misteriosamente scomparso in Africa? (Will Our Heroes Be Able to Find Their Friend Who has Mysteriously Disappeared in Africa?) This was the last exhibition held at the Centro La Comune, which was managed by Sarenco (5), who also published the generalcatalogue of Edizioni Amodulo entitled 20 titoli x 20 operazioni d’avanguardia (20 titles for 20 avant-garde operations), comprising the works of the two artists. In Scaccabarozzi’s copy, the artist himself wrote in pencil next to the note explaining that the volume was published in fifty copies with an essay by Achille Bonito Oliva that the book was never published, which was, in fact, what happened (6).
In November 1970 the two artists were once again united in Bergamo at the Centro Internazionale Ricerche Plastiche, in an exhibition devoted to international multiple art organized by the Galleria Colophon in Milan, and the Galleria Sincron and Edizioni Amodulo in Brescia. In the same month they had another show, ‘Aspetti del visivo’ (Apects of the Visual World), at the Galleria Santa Chiara in Brescia.
Certainly a friendly relationship developed between the two artists (7), to the extent that for the New Year in 1970 Calderara sent Scaccabarozzi a rather special greetings card, one he had received from the Galleria La Polena in Genoa (8), designed by one of the leading European graphic artists at that time, Fronzoni (9), and published by Nava in Milan, well-known for their quality. In it he wrote, in green ink:
I’m sending you this greetings card I got from Polena so you can admire Fronzoni’s design. It looks like a Scaccabarozzi to me. If I’m wrong, let me know.
The tone is unequivocal, expressing trust, familiarity and tutelage on the part of the senior artist with regard to the younger one.
In January 1971, on the occasion of an exhibition entitled ‘Appunti sul nostro tempo. Nuove forme di pittura’ (Notes on Our Times. New Forms of Painting) (10), which, from 16 to 24 January 1971, was hosted by the Associazione Artistica ‘Ottone Rosai’ in Lonato, near Brescia, with works by such artists as Marina Apollonio, Mirella Bentivoglio, Antonio Calderara, Giovanni Campus, Sandro De Alexandris, Jochen Gerz, Emilio Isgrò, Ugo La Pietra, Bruno Munari, Antonio Scaccabarozzi, Timm Ulrichs, Angelo Verga and Arturo Vermi, the journal NAC (11) reported the criticism of Ennio Moruzzi of the Associazione Artistica ‘Ottone Rosai’: ‘As far as the presence of the artists listed in the catalogue is concerned, apart from the works by Calderara, [Franco] Fabiano and a few others, the rest is silence, just as the critics or art correspondents are silent (even though we are now accustomed to this)...’.
On 29 January Calderara wrote a letter to Scaccabarozzi from San Remo:
How glad I am to read in your letter that belief in poetry is still alive. I not only believe in it, but I am convinced that without poetry, art cannot exist.
The image that I sent you is cold, mechanical and useless, and your reaction, pregnant with humanity, cannot but give me great satisfaction.
I hope that the sentimental crisis that you mentioned has managed to find the right balance and order so it can turn out to be a positive experience. These are facts of life and one mustn’t abandon oneself to them; we must never lose our self-control.
I sincerely hope you will be able to get over this crisis and, having attained peace of mind, be able to work with new-found enthusiasm. Do try to visit the Galleria Milano where, as you know, I had talked about you before leaving.
Thank you for your esteem, which is reciprocal. But don’t regard me as a great friend: I’m a friend without great.
With Carmela and Anna Maria, best regards to you and your wife (12).
Antonio Calderara, Corso Mazzini 191 I, 18038 San Remo
Unfortunately we do not have Scaccabarozzi’s reply to which Calderara referred. Maybe it was the letter the artist sent in reply to the greetings card from the Galleria La Polena Calderara had sent him? In view of the description of the image, it probably was. The reference to the Galleria Milano is interesting because this Milanese gallery was directed by Carla Pellegrini, who handled Calderara’s work. It is very likely that, as usual, Scaccabarozzi never went to the gallery to ask for an exhibition: this was not how he functioned. He preferred people to look for him rather than go in search of an opportunity.
In May 1971 the two artists participated in the exhibition ‘bianco e bianco’ (white and white) at the Galleria Uxa in Novara (13), together with artists of the standing of Piero Manzoni, Enrico Castellani, Lucio Fontana, Jorrit Tornquist, Paolo Scheggi, Turi Simeti, Raimund Girke and others.
In December 1971 Calderara wrote another letter to Scaccabarozzi, sending him the addresses of Virgilio Guidi and Raimund Girke and expressing his approval of the young man’s decision to begin his own collection. Probably he was referring to the works that were to be the starting point of the activity as an art dealer of the architect and painter Giorgio Casati, who was encouraged— thanks to the relationships he established with artists that Scaccabarozzi knew in Switzerland and Germany — to open a gallery in his own area. In a sense, this paralleled Calderara’s decision to open a small museum in his house in Vacciago, on Lake Orta, where a mixed-media work on paper by his young friend, dated 1974, is on display (14).
Thus, when Scaccabarozzi met the young, cultivated and well-to-do Giorgio Casati, he suggested opening a contemporary art gallery in Brianza (the area between Monza and Lake Como) that would be inaugurated with a show devoted to his own work. Opening in Osnago in 1970, the gallery, originally called La Capelletta, was directed by Casati and his wife, Gabriella Marchesi. The following year, the gallery, which participated in Art Basel, moved to nearby Merate, where, until it closed a few years later, in 1979, it was known as Studio Casati. Here artists of the calibre of Dadamaino, Joseph Beuys, Gianni Colombo, François Morellet, Jorrit Tornquist, Grazia Varisco, Giuseppe Spagnulo, Nanni Valentini and Herbert Distel held exhibitions or did stints as artist in residence.
This was, once again, a common feature of the two artists: a desire to take art to places where you would not normally expect to find it. Both brought the public to their own stamping grounds, places where they mediated, lived and worked. Critics, collectors and art lovers came to Merate and Vacciago not only from Milan, but also from the rest of Italy and abroad. The chance to admire a work by Calderara in the place that had inspired its creation was a very different matter from seeing it on show in an international museum, and the same applied to Scaccabarozzi. In the first decade of the 2000s I had the opportunity to meet Scaccabarozzi in his studio in Montevecchia (near Merate) and was able to sense the light, spirit and atmosphere of the green and well-watered places that, I believe, played a decisive role in helping me to appreciate his work.
The two artists can be found together in March 1972 in the tenth issue of Lotta Poetica, a magazine edited by Paul de Vree and Sarenco and published in Brescia and Belgium (15). Scaccabarozzi edited two pages of the catalogue Arte sistematica, in which, apart from his own work, he featured that of Ewert Hilgemann, Ad Dekkers and Herman de Vreis, while, on the back cover, there was an advertisement for a book published by Edizioni Amodulo with a silk-screen print by Calderara. In September and October, as mentioned above, they were together again at the Galleria Uxa in Novara and, from 25 November to 22 December, they both participated in a show at the Galerie Thomas Keller in Munich.
In 1974 and 1975 Scaccabarozzi brought colour into his work, eliminating the reliefs: the fluorescent yellow and white used hitherto were not regarded as colours, but served to increase the visibility of his works. From 1974 he started to produce his Prevalenze (Prevalences). In his catalogue essay for the exhibition at the Studio Casati in Merate, Vanni Scheiwiller wrote:
PREVALENZE is the title of the present works, because, after all, we do not know what prevails: the structures, spaces or colours, a vertical or a horizontal. The colour only serves to distinguish the verticals from the horizontals. The artist offers a general idea in which small works develop, leaving the choice of possibilities to the spectator.
This is the art of doubt that far from offering certain answers, raises further questions, enhancing the spectator’s role, as was the case with Calderara’s abstract works.
In 1975, once again, Scaccabarozzi and Calderara were involved together in a series of exhibitions: from 22 January to 3 February at Il Cortilaccio in Turin; in November 1975 Studio Casati participated in Art Cologne, showing the work of both artists; again together, they took part in ‘Momenti e tendenze del Costruttivismo’ (Moments and Tendencies of Constructivism), with Gianni Colombo, Dadamaino, Hsiao-Chin, François Morellet and Jorrit Tornquist, at the Galleria Buonaparte in Milan.
In the last few years of his life, the health of Calderara, who had a chronic heart condition, deteriorated noticeably, and this is perhaps why few letters between the two artists have been found. Theirs was a relationship that was more conceptual than real, continuing for Scaccabarozzi until the end of his days, in August 2008, thirty years after the death of his friend.
- - From a conversation between the present writer and Natascia Rouchota, December
- - Scheiwiller, catalogue essay for an exhibition of Scaccabarozzi’s works at Studio Casati, Merate, 1975. 3 - N. Rouchata, Antonio Scaccabarozzi. L’emozione del metodo, Crocetti Editore, Milan, 2012, p. 27.
- - Scaccabarozzi, Antonio Scaccabarozzi, Centro La Comune, Brescia, 1970; consisting of two sheets fastened together with circular self-adhesive labels, this brief publication accompanied the exhibition held at the Centro La Comune from 7 to 13 February 1970.
- - Sarenco (1945–2017), pseudonym of Isaia Mabellini, was an artist, curator and gallery owner from Brescia who was particularly well known in the visual poetry
- - Antonio Scaccabarozzi ‘A&T’, the design using typewriter dots, essay by Achille Bonito Oliva: this edition contains six dattilopie in fifty copies, signed by the artist, price 150,000
- - While a number of Calderara’s letters, reproduced here, are present in the Archivio Antonio Scaccabarozzi, none of Scaccabarozzi’s letters are to be found in the Archivio Antonio
- - In the period from the 1960s to the 1980s, the Galleria La Polena in Genoa, whose director was Edoardo Manzoni, assisted by another leading Genoese gallery owner, Rosa Leonardi, brought works by exponents of movements such as Spatialism, Arte Nucleare, Op Art and Kinetic Art to the
- - AG Fronzoni, otherwise known as Angiolo Giuseppe Fronzoni (b. Pistoia, 5 March 1923–d. Milan, February 2002), was an Italian industrial designer, educator, graphic artist and
- - According to Moruzzi, the exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue, which, however, I have not been able to find either in the Archivio Scaccabarozzi or in the Sistema Bibliotecario Nazionale (National Library Service). (A copy is, however, available on the website of a Paris bookstore).
- - NAC, Notiziaro di Arte Contemporanea, Edizioni Dedalo, March
- - Carmela and Anna Maria are respectively Calderara’s wife and secretary, while in Scaccabarozzi’s case, this was his first
- -The Galleria d’Arte Contemporanea Uxa was founded in Novara in 1970 by the Czech art historian and curator Miroslava Hajek, who, as a result of the Soviet invasion in 1968, had fled from her country, where she was only able to return after From 1970 to 2000 the cultural centre UXA – Studio d’arte Contemporanea , which she directed, focused particularly on the work of artists using the new technologies and media, playing an important role in the artistic and cultural scene.
- - Antonio Scaccabarozzi, Untitled, mixed media on paper, 40 x 40 , 1974.
- - In this periodical, very much in the spirit of the 1970s, besides articles on visual poetry, attacks on the art magazine Flash Art, described as a ‘servant of bourgeois power’, there was a demand for the dismissal of Palma Bucarelli, director of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (GNAM) in Rome, due to her ‘involvement in the shameful Enea Ferrari affair’ (an attempt to overstate the role in Piero Manzoni’s artistic training of Enea Ferrari, a painter from Manzoni’s hometown, Soncino, in Lombardy).
- In this periodical, very much in the spirit of the 1970s, besides articles on visual poetry, attacks on the art magazine Flash Art, described as a ‘servant of bourgeois power’, there was a demand for the dismissal of Palma Bucarelli, director of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (GNAM) in Rome, due to her ‘involvement in the shameful Enea Ferrari affair’ (an attempt to overstate the role in Piero Manzoni’s artistic training of Enea Ferrari, a painter from Manzoni’s hometown, Soncino, in Lombardy