by Dilpreet BhullarOct 28, 2021
Not uncommonly, the sculptor plays with the material to achieve the reality of a tangible art piece. This practice is a lesser-viable option for a painter, working with a canvas, since its flat dimension for many is not an invitation to play with its material fabric. When the Italian painter-sculptor, Agostino Bonalumi, delicately twisted the material of canvas to give it an appearance of the bulge volumes and concave spaces - dotted with the undulating linear elements and geometric pattern – the canvas itself became a work of art. To achieve this shape, Bonalumi began to use the wooden or steel elements positioned behind the canvas itself. Emblematic of Bonalumi’s work, this style remained consistent in his practice, driven by both the sculptural and the environmental-cum architectural fields.
The exhibition, Small Gems, curated by Nicolo Cardi and Fabrizio Bonalumi at the Cardi Gallery in Milan, in collaboration with Archivio Bonalumi, highlights the works of small dimensions created by Bonalumi during the long course of his works spread at the five-decade stretch. The selection of works at the display has not frequented the spaces of the exhibition. Along with his contemporaries of the post-war period such as Enrico Baj, Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani, Bonalumi pioneered a new visual language to create paintings, which stood apart from the dominant trends of the then gestural abstraction in the paintings. The vinyl-coated monochromatic canvases, which he formally termed ‘extroflections’, acquired a novel shape when the artist contorted the canvas in all possible manners from its back. Interestingly, the saturated colour tones and monochromatic combinations of these canvases could be easily perceived as the three-dimensional forms of the sculpture at a quick glance.
In an interview with STIR, Giacomo Nicolodi, the chief marketing officer of the Cardi Gallery, mentions, “The exhibition Small Gems is an intimate exhibition-process, a sort of journey through the inner aesthetic of the maestro. The exhibition welcomes the visitor with a first floor made up of works from the 1960s-70s: the small gems here are the experiment with the shaped canvases and particular materials such as cirè. White dominates the room and the multiplicity of techniques used by the artist Bonalumi are quite evident. A hint of sculpture, a connection, takes place in the centre of the gallery with the sculpture Rapporti from 1978.”
He continues to say, “In the wake of the first sculpture, the visitor is welcomed to the second floor with a room dedicated only to bronzes. It is in this part of the exhibition that curators of the exhibition make evident the transformative process of the shaped canvases, a breaking point and at the same time a turning point for the artist who was able to follow the transformative process of his canvases that became more and more material, more and more sculptural. The bronzes, therefore, follow the stylistic code of his canvases with gentle and curved protrusions capable of guiding you into the world of the maestro. All the bronzes are editions dated from 1969 to 2007.”
The exhibition carefully leads the viewers to the journey of understanding Bonalumi works - convex canvases to his sculptural production - from the perspective of both the conceptual and artistic path. The Small Gems are not blueprints of the larger works, but they have been conceived and created from the same practice as that of larger works. Bonalumi created projects which were an amalgamation of drawings and small-scale three-dimensional models of his ‘extroflections’. Once Bonalumi stated, “I generally start with something I have created, making the ‘project’ become an autonomous work later on. There is always an aspect of ambiguity in all my works. For me, it is like constantly checking the meaning of the research, and you never know where it will take you.” These works, ‘extroflections’, mostly conceived in the early 1970s could be indeed seen as independent artworks.
The post-war period has served as a decisive moment for Italian art, which was made visible through Bochner Boetti Fontana’s spatialism and Arte Povera promoted by Alighiero Boetti, Jannis Kounellis and Mario Merz. The choice to retrace the works produced in the post-period, in the current times driven by partisan politics could be of interest to many. Talking about the parallel and difference between the past, when the works were produced, and the current context when the works are displayed, Nicolodi states, “The periods change and evolve, nothing remains the same except the message of the maestro in that precise period who decided to get out of the one-dimensionality of the canvas. We do not believe there is any particular reference to the socio-cultural situation of the moment but the resonance of our exhibition lies precisely in that message that the maestro wanted to convey, get out of conventions, create, invent and dream like a true artist knows how to do undoubtedly followed a common sentiment in these months of harsh confinement.”
With the exhibition, Nicolodi hopes that the gallery has brought the never-before-seen works not just to the gallery, but to the city to let the visitors “understand what a revolutionary, in the aesthetics of forms, Bonalumi was.”
The exhibition Small Gems runs at Cardi Gallery in Milan until August 6, 2021.