by Kabir AwatramaniAug 24, 2020
In mid-March, the Tate Modern opened a retrospective of Andy Warhol, whose various explorations into pop art, its post-Dada tendencies, made him the most recognisable proponent of the movement. Meanwhile, across the Thames, whose location can incidentally work as a metaphor for the transatlantic differences in terms of global influence after the Second World War, the works of a relatively more obscure pioneer of the pop art aesthetic have been on view at Cardi Gallery in London since March 3, 2020. The artist in focus here is Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Rotella, an important figure in post-war Europe’s art scene with loose associations with groups such as the Ultra-Lettrist and Pierre Restany’s Nouveau Réalisme along with the mechanical art movement of the early 1960s.
Rotella’s active career spanned over 50 years, through which time he enjoyed considerable attention from many important art institutions around Europe and America, especially as one of the pioneers of the décollage, or a reverse collage where the artwork is produced to be the subtraction of elements of existing images rather than their addition. Rotella began creating these works in 1953, along with his retro d’affiches, literally meaning the ‘backside of posters’, as a result of him taking to the streets after an artistic crisis to collect posters and hoarding of the walls to use as material. Though he is mostly known for these works, his output is in no way limited to these and was one of the first artists to realise the potential of more mechanical methods in artistic production.
According to Joe La Placa, the director at the London branch of Cardi Gallery, “I think that he turned towards forms of mass reproduction because he was interested, ultimately, in documenting his time and of course the 60s was a great time when advertising and art was merging… So, Rotella, after working with his décollages and retro d’affiches, starts experimenting with photographic emulsion onto canvas, and I would suggest that he was doing this before Andy Warhol or Robert Rauschenberg and certainly doing it in a different way. The approach of Rotella was that he wanted to document the icons of his time. He particularly distances himself from Warhol and Rauschenberg in the 1964 (Venice) Biennale and did not show the photo emulsions but chose to show the retro d’affiches and the décollages because he didn’t want to confuse their work from his. Rotella wanted something much more direct, he wanted a more media-oriented type, so he could capture these iconic milestones, these moments of his time. He said that Rauschenberg and Warhol were much more interested in painting.”
The preferential difference between Rotella and his western contemporaries is well reflected in the prices of artworks; while the auction records of American artists such as Warhol and Rauschenberg stand at around 105 million dollars and 89 million dollars respectively, Rotella’s highlight on the monetary front is an untitled décollage from 1964, which was auctioned at Phillips in 2016 at the sum of 1,082,500 dollars. The show at Cardi Gallery hopes to rectify this contrast and redefine his status in relation to his American peers. As La Placa argues, “Rotella is much more a father of pop art than maybe even Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg”.
The choice of featuring artypos and photo emulsion is essential in an attempt to change public perceptions about the Italian maestro by putting his lesser-known, yet vital artworks up for display. As his international acclaim has been almost completely focussed around his décollages, probably as a result of their being featured at the 1964 Biennale, with the presentation of these important milestones in the history of pop art in a city like London, which is at the epicentre of the international art world, the exhibition hopes to actively expand his popular legacy by bringing then to the notice of a new generation of artists and art aficionados.
Beyond the exhibition, the artist’s history is scheduled to be further expanded upon later this year with the publishing of the second volume of Rotella’s Catalogue Raisonné by art-historian Germano Celant.
(The exhibition ‘MIMMO ROTELLA. Beyond Décollage: Photo Emulsions and Artypos 1963-1980’ is on display at Cardi Gallery, London, till July 31, 2020)