In my extensive reading on the fascinating history of collecting, one phrase that has stuck with me is Calouste Gulbenkian’s prompt retort to someone who asked if they could so much as see his collection: “Would I let a stranger into my harem?” This line is quoted by Kenneth Clark in his introduction to Douglas Cooper’s volume “Great Private Collections”, to which Clark adds: “and at least two great collectors have solemnly assured me that, like Sardanapalus with his wives, they would have wanted their collections to be burned when they died. This obsessive love also has a charming side. Many great collections have been put together by men who once held high positions, and who consequently no longer have many illusions about the nature of their fellow men and women; for them, paintings become the only friends they can trust”.[1] In spite of this, we all know what Gulbenkian went on to achieve in Lisbon, when in 1956 he created his foundation, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, arguably the most important in Portugal.

In the early 20th century, especially in the English-speaking world, entrepreneurs, wealthy middle-class individuals, financiers and high society women mainly played the role of patrons, amassing important collections that often became the object of impressive donations to museums or to their own foundations, open to the public, thus associating their image with support for the cultural heritage of their city or indeed their nation. In Italy, this was mainly a phenomenon of the post-war period. Notable examples include the Jucker, Boschi Di Stefano and Mattioli collections, which are now part of the artistic heritage of Milan’s Civic Museums; the Cini Foundation in Venice, founded in 1951; or the Panza di Biumo collection in Varese, donated with the villa of the same name to the Italian National Trust (FAI) in 1996. In the same period, the art scene in Parma was remarkably vibrant for a provincial city.

Consider, for example, the creation of the Communication Research Centre and Archive (CSAC) founded by Arturo Carlo Quintavalle in 1968, which brought together thousands of photographs, drawings, designs and works of fashion and graphic design, as well as an important collection of artworks; the Magnani Rocca Foundation, with its rare masterpieces, which was inaugurated in 1990; and the Franco Maria Ricci Collection, inaugurated at the Labirinto della Masone, open to the public since 2015. Parma’s banks have also played an important role in protecting the city’s private artistic heritage. The Cariparma Foundation Museum, for instance, mainly showcases local figurative culture, while the Banca Monte Foundation collected and curated works primarily by Parma-born artists over a number of years, culminating in the creation of the APE Parma Museum in 2018.

In recent decades, major changes have inevitably strengthened the relationship between contemporary art and the world of economics and finance. This, in turn, has led to the increasing prominence of international collectors who, often in close contact with the directors of the most important museums, are even able to influence the processes involved in the promotion of artists. This is an interesting subject – albeit rather too complex to be addressed here – but it has prompted me to ask myself an intriguing question: how many collectors have I met who, when buying a work, didn’t ask themselves the question of whether it would increase in value over time? I believe none, but equally, the most important thing is that the interest in a particular work remains in them, even if it is associated with the pleasure of buying a work by an as yet unknown artist that may increase in value over time; the satisfaction of having chosen well boosts the self-esteem of collectors, who rightly believe that they have a keen and discerning eye.

Returning to the collection that concerns us more closely, I cannot but begin with an essential starting point, namely the exhibition that was held in 1982 at the Galleria D’Arte Consigli, entitled “Painting and Sculpture of the 20th Century, 1910–1980”, which was curated by Igino Consigli, Gianni Cavazzini and Roberto Tassi and documented in a valuable catalogue from which I embarked on my research.[2]

I am still struck by the introduction by Attilio Bertolucci who, recalling Abbess Giovanna Piacenza, who commissioned Correggio to adorn her “chamber” in the convent of San Paolo with frescoes, and the Farnese collections, which were eventually dispersed with many masterpieces transferred from Parma to Naples by the Bourbons, writes that that exhibition demonstrated: “the continuation and spread of a tradition and passion, which is to be encouraged, of investing one’s money, whether modest or large sums, in works of art. This is the ideal: that paintings or sculptures purchased for personal, egoistic pleasure (sacred selfishness) are not dispersed and, where possible, are shared with everyone, both inhabitants and outsiders, for collective enjoyment in a city such as Parma, which still retains its sense of community and civic values, despite the necessarily vulgar spirit of consumerism, which pervades a little of everything and everyone”. That point in time and that exhibition marked the beginning of this initiative to research and show how art collecting in Parma has developed over the last forty years. This comparison will be extremely exciting, not least because browsing through the works in the catalogue for that exhibition is truly impressive. Indeed, among the collectors who all wished to remain anonymous, we can recognise the many masterpieces that were soon to be exhibited permanently at the Magnani Rocca Foundation in 1990, just as we recognise many works by Pietro Barilla that were exhibited in a temporary exhibition also at the Magnani Rocca Foundation in 1993. These two important corpuses were joined by others with incredible masterpieces from other collections that contributed to making that exhibition an event worthy of a great museum.

What I set out to do was to try to give as faithful an idea as possible of art collecting in Parma today, starting from the catalogue for the exhibition of forty years ago, to understand how much it has changed, but also, following a historical and artistic thread, to offer visitors to Palazzo del Governatore as exhaustive an overview as possible of contemporary art from Dada to Arte Povera and beyond. Initially, I wanted to find out whether most of the works exhibited at the time have remained in the city and then to identify how tastes in art have changed. With a few rare exceptions, most of the paintings and sculptures can still be viewed, naturally at the Magnani Rocca Foundation and in other important venues such as the Barilla Collection. I was also able to discover, with the invaluable help of prominent gallery owners in Parma, that the city’s love for contemporary art is still very strong. It was not easy to initiate contact with the collectors, many of whom, while internationally minded, prefer to share their passion only with their closest friends. It was, however, a real delight when I stepped into their homes or professional studios to discover truly important works and hear the knowledge and passion with which they talked about them. I also had the opportunity to view works that had not been loaned, and took care to seek them out in other collections, so as to gain as complete an impression as possible of Parma’s art collecting scene. I had not, for example, initially asked the Barilla family about Picasso’s 1962 work Femme sur un fauteuil, but having discovered that Parma houses several works by this great master, I felt it was important that its presence be documented. There is just one artist that I miss very much and that is Piero Manzoni, not only because he is one of the greatest artists of the Novecento Italiano, but also because a collector in Parma owns his important 1958 work Acrome, which was included in the 1982 catalogue but which the owner has been unwilling to lend out since then. I could have obtained Artist’s Shit by the same artist, which I personally find absolutely brilliant, due to the impact it had at its time and its biting irony. However, without at least one other work by Manzoni, it would probably only have prompted many visitors to utter the usual clichés and would not have helped them understand that this artist was not only important from a conceptual point of view, but also produced masterpieces of great formal refinement.


[1] Pittura e Scultura del XX Secolo 1910–1980, edited by Gianni Cavazzini, Igino Consigli and Roberto Tassi, 1982

[2] Le Grandi Collezioni Private, edited by Douglas Cooper, Feltrinelli Editore, Milan, 1963, p. 12


The First World War brought with it a reaction against what artists saw as the senseless and terrifying violence of their time, despite the fact that some of their colleagues had expressed great enthusiasm for the war. These included the Futurists, of which we have two works on display by Severini (1883–1966): an iconic dancer from 1913 and a still life that verges on Cubism. After the devastating effects of the war, the Futurists, with all their vital and optimistic energy, could only be followed by a violent dramatic reaction such as that of the Expressionists, evident in the powerful watercolour The Madwoman by Otto Dix (1891–1969), and by the “frivolous and desperate nihilism” of the various Dada movements that had already emerged during the war.


The most intellectual and ingenious of the Dadaists was Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968), who, as early as 1913 at the Armory Show in New York, provided the most sensational attraction with his masterpiece Nude Descending a Staircase, described in a newspaper of the time as “an explosion in a carpenter’s workshop”, marking the start of Duchamp’s fame. Shortly afterwards, the artist embarked on his most irreverent venture: the creation of his “readymades”, an invention that those who knew him well attributed to the personality of the artist, a man of superior intelligence who considered life a melancholic game that was not to be taken too seriously. For Duchamp, the total absurdity of life and the contingent nature of a world stripped of all value were the logical consequences of “cogito, ergo sum”.

His willingness to cut ties with artistic conventions, traditional criteria of aesthetic judgement and cultural conditioning manifested itself in all its disruptive irony with the creation of the exhibited work Fountain, a porcelain urinal signed “R. Mutt”. This ostensibly simple and merely mocking piece is also to be read – including in relation to his seminal and never finished work, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, 1915–1923 – in terms of great cultural depth with references to hermetic androgyny and alchemy, as also emphasised by Arturo Schwarz; indeed, it is no coincidence that the material chosen by Duchamp is glass.

Duchamp was the first to argue for the importance of multiples and did not fail to produce significant ones, such as the 1934 aquatint The Bride, printed in two hundred copies, in collaboration with his brother Jacques Villon, for the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris. This work is reminiscent of The Large Glass, both in terms of its title and composition; indeed, we can note the same juxtaposition of mechanical elements, in this case combined with visceral shapes.

Continuing this ribellion against normative thinking and all conventions, in L.H.O.O.Q. – the famous Mona Lisa with a moustache of 1919 – the artist again expresses his adherence to hermetic philosophy, namely the notion of androgyny, whose indistinct blend of male and female reflects primeval chaos. The title is a play on words; the letters pronounced in French sound like Elle a chaud au cul (She has a hot arse), but can also be read in English as “look”. This is both a declaration of non-conformism but also testament to the artist’s sophisticated intellectualism.


Surrealism (whose first manifesto was published by André Breton in 1924) emerged in the French capital largely in response to Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, and was heavily influenced by the concept of psychic automatism and the desire to move beyond Dada. The metaphysical artist de Chirico was already recognised as a significant precursor in this cultural environment. It was in this environment, which he found especially conducive, that he created a series of unforgettable masterpieces such as Le Consolateur, a solemn painting with great artistic integrity, which, following his glorious and intense metaphysical phase, represents the culmination of this theme. De Chirico himself often analysed his own works and in the case of these, produced between 1938 and 1942, he wrote: “We find mannequins so unsettling because they are, in a way, parodies of humans… they are a make-believe reality, indeed a sad and monstrous reality. We will disappear, but the mannequins will remain”. I dare say that the artist’s enlightening words need no further additions, especially after coming up with an irreverent oxymoron of a Consulateur who cannot even console himself.

Victor Brauner (1903–1966) moved to Paris in 1930, where, together with Brancusi, he was one of the most important Romanian artists in the French capital and where he joined the Surrealist group through Yves Tanguy. In his Sans Titre of 1931, one feature of his art, influenced by Breton, is evident: the evocative power of an ancestral religiosity, verging on Jungian archetypes.

Another Surrealist, more attentive to the Jungian collective unconscious than to the psychoanalytic individual unconscious, was Roberto Sebastian Matta (1911–2002). He developed a very personal style centred on psychic morphologies, using the technique of automatism, in which the splashes of colour spread out on the canvas determined the brush strokes, forms and construction.

The restless and experimental work of Man Ray (1890–1976) represents a transitional phase between Dada and Surrealism. From 1920 onwards, he began to make use of the readymade, turning everyday objects into works of art with minimal or no intervention.


The twentieth century was also marked by a significant number of artists who worked predominantly outside the mainstream movements, reaffirming through their works the need for entirely personal, often solitary research paths, even though they were often influenced by the historical avant-garde.

The life and work of Picasso have been scrutinised in hundreds of texts, more than that of any other artist of the last century, and it is clear that his long life and multifaceted body of work left their mark on the 20th century.

In his long career, Picasso (1881–1973) lived through almost all the major artistic movements, while always remaining true to himself. As we can observe in his 1962 work Femme sur un fauteuil, a portrait of his second wife, Picasso’s later style is characterised by an important synthesis. Critics have often noted the juxtaposition of two methods of painting, one elliptical and stenographic, comprising ideograms, and the other more textural.

The works of Marc Chagall (1887–1985) display influences from the various movements he encountered in France and Germany: Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism and Surrealism; his style has, however, always remained unmistakable and deeply Russian.

In Le couple devant le peintre, we find the artist’s most cherished themes, such as that of love imbued with poetry, recounted by drawing on his customary fantasy world. Chagall’s couples can fly over cities and rural landscapes, and in this we can also glimpse a strong dreamlike component mediated by French Surrealism.

Edward Hopper (1882–1967) was only slightly older than the other American artist in the exhibition Man Ray, but could not be further removed from his world and style. He is undoubtedly the most important representative of American Realism, and one of the most popular artists of the 20th century, particularly for his unforgettable vision of solitary, pensive figures glimpsed behind the illuminated windows of anonymous flats.


Although we cannot overlook Giorgio Morandi’s (1890–1964) commitment to both Valori Plastici and metaphysical art, in the context of which he left few authentic masterpieces, throughout his long career, he carried out a continuous and highly personal solitary exploration based on subtle variations in his ideational register. Combined with an impeccable painting technique and a profound sensitivity, this led him to provoke strong emotional shifts even in works of the same period, including his memorable landscapes.

Immediately after the war, Ottone Rosai (1895–1957) inaugurated a decade of masterpieces, still lifes and original figures in interiors, characterised by an original, purified form of realism rooted in the stark simplicity of Giotto.

In the post-war period, his painting became more articulated and rarefied, as we see especially in his landscapes, with the distinctive Via San Leonardo.

Filippo De Pisis (1896–1956) created some of his masterpieces during his Parisian years, such as this Still life of 1926, which attests to the artist’s growth. In addition to de Pisis’s usual existential sadness, expressed with the transience of every natural element torn from the earth, we also find compositional delicacy and classical references as a counterbalance.


Felice Casorati (1883–1963) was part of the Magical Realism movement, which was distinguished by a “realism” that was almost an oxymoron, as it carried with it a deeply disorientating – indeed magical – tension. Casorati also passionately pursued a return to classicism, not merely for the sake of restoring compositional order, but also as a symbol of the recovery of his mental composure after the horrors of war.

Mario Sironi (1885–1961) was one of the founders of the Novecento Italiano in 1922, with the so-called “return to order”, which he also expressed through his exquisite mural painting. This unfortunately glorified the fascist regime, in which he had initially blindly seen only the potential for the rebirth of Italy and not the future horrors.

In the post-war period, he completely abandoned this monumental style and his painting became dark and dramatic, within a deliberately synthetic and reduced spatiality.

Amos Nattini (1892–1985), whose refined drawing La marchesa Casati in on display, is represented in one of Parma’s most important collections, “Amos Nattini: la Collezione Cagnin”. This cultured and refined artist became famous for illustrating the Divine Comedy.

Marino Marini (1901–1980), a sculptor with an international outlook, was initially inspired by the naturalist approach of Medardo Rosso. Before long, with an irresistible attraction to the archaic, the artist’s own distinctive style emerged. This was achieved through the fusion of typologies and symbols derived from Etruscan, Roman and Egyptian art with the latest developments in 20th-century sculpture.


Virgilio Guidi (1891–1984), moved permanently to Venice in 1927 and, due to the allure he always managed to convey in his depictions of the lagoon city, he became famous as the painter par excellence of 20th-century Venice. Light is immediately recognisable as the defining quality of his seascapes, which show us another side to Venice, including the industrial outskirts. These viewpoints are far removed from the traditional images associated with the Grand Tour, even when he focuses on the San Marco basin, a subject that he never abandoned.

A solitary, introspective and taciturn artist, Mušič (1909–2005) was deeply affected by his experience in Dachau concentration camp, to which he bore witness in his striking paintings with their ghostly lightness and haunting brush strokes. After that hellish experience, Mušič settled in Venice, where he was able to immerse himself in the fusion of Eastern and Western influences that he had always sought, and his style found its impetus in ancient Dalmatian motifs transposed from memory. The famous horses, which can be observed in this 1950 work, exhibit a distinctive physical appearance. Their legs are thin and hoofless, reminiscent of creatures that emerged from the caves of prehistory, the steppes of Asia, or the dreams of the artist’s childhood in Dalmatia. These horses appear as if they are from a fairy tale, symbolising the unstoppable passage of time.

At the same time, he also began to paint half-length portraits, resembling masks – self-portraits that show a face deeply marked by past experience.

Antonio Ligabue (1899–1965), who has always been considered stylistically close to Henri Rousseau, Le Douanier – despite never having known his work and having a very different character – was quite detached from any trend or movement. Each of Ligabue’s works expresses his existential torment and his inability to control his emotions, except in the almost magical fusion apparent in many of his works.

Ligabue’s mystery is almost inexplicable and to understand it, we must delve into a primitivism that is not cultural but deeply rooted in his personal nature.


The French critic Michel Tapié described the new artistic trend that arose out of this traumatic post-war climate as Informal or “art autre”, emphasising the rupture with previous forms of art.

This artistic trend encapsulated the change in the perception of humanity from being at the centre of the universe to being trapped in a never-ending hell. Its European pioneer is acknowledged to be Jean Fautrier, whose 1945 Otages series was inspired by the victims of the holocaust, whom he painted in a sort of pictorial magma that made them barely distinguishable from the background, alluding to the fate of these lonely and abandoned hostages, with a technique later known as “tachisme”.

Within Art Informel, Georges Mathieu (1921–2012) is considered the father of Lyrical Abstraction. Mathieu quickly turned his attention to exploring abstract and expressionist art forms, centred on gestural automatism closely linked to the emotional and instinctual sphere. He is widely credited as the pioneer of a style that stems directly from the manipulation of colour and which predates even Pollock’s dripping technique.

Another very significant artist, within the aptly named trend of “Lyrical Abstraction”, is Hans Hartung (1904–1989), who focused on a formula composed of bundles of brushstrokes and distinctive heavy black calligraphy, which sought to express a sense of freedom from the nightmare of the immediate past through its changing forms.

A movement that sought its own autonomous space in the same period as the Informal movement was CoBrA, considered one of the major reference points of the European Informal movement for the role it played in transcending the divide between figuration and abstraction typical of that period. The main features of this movement, as evidenced by the work of Pierre Alechinsky (1927), were very brightly coloured painting, violent brushstrokes and distorted human figures in exaggerated poses, inspired by primitive art, but also by Nordic expressionism with its fantastic and grotesque motifs.


In the aftermath of the Second World War, after the horrors of the concentration camps and the dropping of the atomic bomb, a feeling of profound pessimism prevailed among artists, as they were forced to acknowledge that the progress of science had not only failed to stop humanity’s most base instincts, but had actually been used to satisfy them.

After 1945, the protagonists of Italian Informalism, affected by the same existential malaise, sought a definitive break from the realistic depictions of the Return to Order of the 1930s, not least because they considered the reality that had unfolded during the war years too terrible to be depicted. Their disillusionment also extended to Geometric Abstractionism, which with its strict rules presupposed a positive vision of man capable of rationalising and dominating reality.

A textural trend, which often involved the creation of pictorial spaces by superimposing various types of materials on an artistic surface, also prevailed in Italy, as seen in Alberto Burri’s (1915–1995) “Sacchi”, made using the sacks that once contained American aid for the war-torn Italian people.

In his 1963 work Rosso Plastica, Burri chose to set fire to these glossy, unattractive wrappers, but he incorporated the concepts of transparency and destructive transformation into the image, resurrecting it in intangible figurative forms.

In his 1970 work Superficie 708, Giuseppe Capogrossi (1900–1972) exhibits his characteristic ‘combs’, which, in their repetitiveness, recall alphabets of languages that we cannot read, but whose effect of consequentiality and order is such as to imply the presence of meaning.

Gastone Novelli (1925–1968) focused on the communication of art as language, in which “symbols can allude to the organic or the inorganic”, and in Il terrore viene (Terror is coming), we can observe all its expressive charge, contrasting the title of the work with its appearance, where very light, almost silvery tones prevail, symbolising an illusory peace.

Peggy Guggenheim referred to Giuseppe Santomaso (1907–1990), along with Tancredi and Vedova, “my new Pollock”, and this comparison gives us an understanding of how close this artist was to the artistic conception of American Expressionism, which we are fortunate enough to be able to admire through one of his masterpieces, Rosso Veneziano. Together with Emilio Vedova, who always had a great interest in political and social battles, Santomaso was a representative of both Lyrical Abstraction and Abstract Expressionism.



Afro Basaldella (1912–1976) appropriated a new freedom of expression where the spectres of an underlying figuration are transformed into images and in the development of brushstrokes and the substance of colour create a space that is none other than the space of memory. Mirko Basaldella (1910–1969), Afro’s brother, carved out a prominent space for himself between Primitivism, New Figuration and Informalism. Drawing on Surrealism and with intense expressiveness, he presented a world of unsettling presences, new totems and fantastical animals, in which the artist’s constant and omnivorous interest in primitive and non-European art is evident.

On display are two works by Carlo Mattioli (1911–1994): a Still Life from 1962 and a Green Landscape from 1978, of considerable compositional integrity.

Mattioli tackled the subject of still lifes with great intensity in the 1960s, certainly not by looking at Morandi’s latest masterpieces, but perhaps by drawing on De Staël and his claustrophobic spaces. In this Still Life, everything is nocturnal; perhaps the artist, in composing it, was already contemplating the fragments of nature outside his studio, such as those solitary trees – real remnants of the past that would soon become the protagonists of so many of his canvases.

In the 1950s, Toti Scialoja (1914–1998) became involved in the abstract-concrete movement. In line with developments in American painting, he deconstructed the image, freeing it from its naturalistic contents, to recompose it in a whirlwind of symbolic dynamism, and even abandoned the use of a paintbrush, replacing it with a paint-soaked rag.


The work of Mattia Moreni (1920–1999) is imbued with a gestural fervour that plunges him into a constant, frantic quest for texture, which relentlessly collides and appears in perpetual metamorphosis. From 1964 to 1975, he focused on his ‘Watermelons’ series, rich in allegorical and sexual connotations, one of the most significant pieces in which is La povera anguria in scatola come la nevrosi (Poor tinned watermelon like neurosis).

Piero Gilardi (1942–2023) was active in Turin from the early 1960s with new techniques and materials, using not only paint but also lacquer and, most importantly, introducing the use of polyurethane foam, a petroleum derivative. The works that brought him international acclaim are his nature carpets, of which our 1967 ‘Watermelon’ is part. These are blocks on which the artist models a wide variety of objects with this pliable, foam rubber-like material, faithfully reproducing them in vibrant hues inspired by imaginary vegetable gardens and orchards, on which viewers are invited to walk.

These depictions, with their invitation to participate and destroy, also set the scene for the impending tragic events of the imminent destruction of nature.


Fortunately, we are able to feature at least one of the protagonists of American Abstract Expressionism, the revolutionary and ingenious counterpart from across the Atlantic, which emerged to finally impose a new American focus in the European-dominated art world, with its own content and a new stylistic signature, often linked to a gesturality connected to the unconscious and to typically American archetypes. Conrad Marca-Relli (1913–2000) was the undisputed driving force behind the group of geniuses that included Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.

He created one of his most famous works, The Death of Jackson Pollock (1956), after being asked to identify the body of his friend, who had been the victim of a tragic road accident. There are two works by this artist: Seated Figure from 1956, and a later one documenting his move to Parma in 1997, at the request of the gallery owner Giuseppe Niccoli.

The Informalism of Ennio Morlotti (1910–1992) has its own distinctive character, not only in comparison to Pollock’s more extreme American approach during the same period, but also in comparison to European Art Informel. His tension remains strong but is more composed, as if a lingering fascination for the landscape might be able to calm him and help him forget the revealed nature of humanity.


The post-war period was not only characterised by a gloomy pessimism and bewilderment at what human nature had been capable of causing, but also by a renewed optimism about the positive developments in terms of new scientific advancements, which, among other things, sent humans into space for the first time in 1961. Everyday life was also changing rapidly, thanks in part to the technological breakthroughs that were entering homes, such as television. And thanks to Lucio Fontana (1899–1968), one of the most important Italian movements, Spatialism, was born. The artist, who for years had always remained poised between abstraction and expressionist figuration, created his first paintings in 1949 by punching holes in canvases, perhaps also stimulated by his experience as a sculptor.

Between 1940 and 1947, he lived again in Buenos Aires, where he and other abstract artists drew up the “Manifesto Bianco” in 1947, in which he laid down the foundations of the Spatialist movement, hoping to revitalise art by incorporating the dimensions of time and space, also understood as the sum of the absolute categories of direction, sound and light.

The ‘buchi’ (holes) series, of which the 1962 work Concetto Spaziale is part, lasted from 1949 to 1968 and is characterised by constellations of holes made on the surface of the canvas. As Fontana himself declared: “The discovery of the cosmos is a new dimension, it is the infinite: so when I pierce this canvas, which was basic to all the arts, then I have created an infinite dimension, a hole that for me is the very base of all contemporary art, for those who want to understand it. Otherwise, just keep saying it’s a bus and that’s it…”

The artist conceived his ‘tagli’ (cuts) in 1959, establishing a continuum between the space of the cut canvas and the instantaneous time-gesture of the cut, all in a chromatic and formal purity that also becomes a symbol of a new passage into a spiritual dimension.

Roberto Crippa (1921–1972) was one of the signatories of the third “Manifesto of Spatialism” of 1950. His passion for aerobatic flight is certainly one of the main sources for his dynamic ‘Spirali’ (spirals), veritable vortices tangled up in themselves, but which seem to leave the canvas towards cosmic dimensions.

His fascination with new scientific discoveries and space travel also shines through in his ‘Spirali’, as we often find references to the motions of atoms around molecules, the Earth, the Moon and the stars of our solar system.


One of the most important Kinetic and Programmed Art groups, Gruppo T, was founded in Milan in 1959 by Davide Boriani, Gabriele De Vecchi, Grazia Varisco, Giovanni Anceschi and Gianni Colombo. This movement focused on the study of the mechanisms of vision and optical and light phenomena. The intention was to go beyond the traditional notion of art as expression and to aim to involve the viewer on a perceptive and psychological level, especially through a new relationship between art and technology. However, having lost the freshness and enthusiasm of the successful experiments of the early years, the enthusiasm for this type of art faded and many had begun to wonder whether Kinetic Art was really art or an optical illusion, a mere visual trick.


As much as Informalism, seemingly without rules and limits, confronts us with the abyss, Concrete Art seems to offer us a barrier in an apparent absence of emotionality, as shown in all the work of

Max Bill (1908–1994). Following initial experiments inspired by the work of Paul Klee, Bill began to favour abstract geometric compositions and after his works of the 1940s, heavily influenced in De Stijl, he found his own personal style. He produced small and large canvases with simple geometric surfaces, rectangles and triangles, and juxtapositions of primary colours.

He was always a great experimenter with a very refined technique and although he mainly used a palette knife approach, he obtains results that appear to be immaterial, as can be seen in our 1972–73 work, Vibration.

Victor Vasarely (1906–1997), one of the undisputed pioneers of Optical Art, was profoundly inspired by the spirit of Bauhaus but went beyond the technical applications of this style, focusing mainly on the geometric abstraction of Kazimir Malevićh and Piet Mondrian. His investigation into perception and its capacity to create virtual and ambiguous, permutable images – known as binary structures – while using precise geometric criteria, represents one of the most in-depth and compelling investigations in the field of optical and perceptual research, inspired by the organisation and arrangement of the universe.


Enrico Castellani’s (1930–2017) strictly monochromatic surfaces are almost always tempera on canvas, and a series of nails, fixed on the outside and inside of the canvas, creates ever-changing concave and convex areas with a quilted effect. Without changing its natural elasticity, the canvas thus assumes a rhythm that guides our eye. Light, which is absorbed, reflected or transformed into shadow, is also a fundamental protagonist of these refined compositions. All this is evident in our 1987 piece, Superficie Bianca, where the relief and the presence of the corners, like the positive and negative created by light, eliminate each other, constituting an almost imaginary vision that seems to magically appear out of nowhere. It gives us a powerful optical sensation, similar to vertigo, as if we were standing in front of different focal points or mysterious star systems.

Agostino Ferrari, one of the founders of the “Cenobio” group, always sought to return painting to degree zero, which for Ferrari was the primordial moment in which signs could be freed from the value they assume in written language, to become pure emotional symbols in true non-meaningful writing. His 1992 work N.E.S.O (Nord Est Sud Ovest) displays the sign even more prominently in the foreground, with black sand replacing the paint and giving the fabric of the work a more dynamic feel. The background becomes the origin of the signs, born beyond the canvas, which, charged with new energy, seem to move towards the spectator, inviting them to enter this mysterious space.


In 1958, Agostino Bonalumi (1935–2013) joined the Zero group that Lucio Fontana founded in his Milanese studio. His character, and probably his technical and scientific training, prompted him from the outset to seek a synthesis of logic and aesthetics that stood in contrast to the psycho-emotional excess of Informalism. In his 1966 work Estroflessione Bianca, we can see all the characteristics of the artist: his rigorous and austere character, the pictorial media that are symmetrically expressed in the iridescent flow of light and simultaneously convey permanence and change. The morphological analysis of the pictorial field is implemented in the eversions and introversions of the canvas, which tends towards a spatiality behind/inside the work itself.

From the mid-1960s onwards, Antonio Scaccabarozzi’s (1936–2008) work revisited influences from Concrete Art, Programmed Art and New Abstraction, defining his visual language as “Dynamic Static Equilibrium’, with explicit reference to Neoplasticism and European Kinetism, and his relationship and comparison with Enrico Castellani and Agostino Bonalumi was inevitable and fundamental. In his Collana rossa-Essenziale, the paint is self-supporting in that, when combined with glue, it becomes independent of the substrate and can be displayed by fixing it directly to the wall with nails.

The painting becomes completely autonomous and absolute, the vertical format is a ‘necklace’ reminiscent of a column, emphasising his impatience with traditional substrates and expressing, in its suspension in space, a sense of estrangement, a kind of meditation on the fragility of existence.

Dadamaino (1930–2004) was consistently successful in combining approaches that were almost scientific in their rigour with her surprising emotional power; indeed, her first experiments, works such as Moduli a volumi sfasati, from 1960 onwards, follow the scientific method of perceptual research. However, although the systematic arrangement of the engravings and the grid configuration suggest a precise and rigorous order, the dexterity of the artist’s gesture and the lack of alignment between the substrates make each cut irregular and produce an alienating effect.

In the late 1960s, she mainly focused on the exploration of colour and all its possible variations, leading to the creation of the Fluorescenti and later the Cromorilievi, which defy rationality by contrasting the rigidly geometric scheme of the square boards, on which solid shapes are applied, with colours and shadows that give the works a dynamic effect.


Fabio Mauri (1926–2009), one of Italy’s most important conceptual artists, thoroughly investigated the development of ideologies and their repercussions on society.

The recurring themes in his work have consistently been found to be rooted in the history of humanity, with a focus on the desire for power in the Adlerian sense, as a sense of being that perceives life as an expansive and self-surpassing force, with the ultimate aim of understanding the horrific mechanisms of violence and conformity.

The 1995 works Estintore Ariano 1 and Estintore Ariano 2 perfectly exemplify Mauri’s style, which favours the use of found objects, repainted and charged with a powerful meaning in a philosophical-political sense; once again, the theme of racism emerges, which is linked to the crematorium ovens of the Nazi concentration camps and introduces a sort of disturbing oxymoron: the Aryan fire extinguisher that can put out fire. The work is linked to Ebrea, the performance held in Venice in 1971. Mauri, who was not Jewish, identified with that naked body, in that skin, imagining taking on its tragic fate.

In his 1995 work Luce Ariana, he synthesises all this with a projector that illuminates two paintings, one of which bears only the name “Ellen” and another informal one where Jewish symbols can barely be glimpsed, as if to remind us that even the worst horrors can be forgotten. The 1992 installation Studenti leads the viewer into the classrooms of an art school during an imaginary break. All that remains are signs of human presence, traces of a finished performance and images of the Tiananmen Square executions after the student demonstrations in China in 1989.

An artist as attentive as Mauri to socio-political issues was Pietro Cascella (1921–2008); indeed in 1957, he won the competition to create the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism, his most important monumental work, erected at Birkenau camp – a continuum of anthropomorphic forms embedded in each other, rising just above the horizon in the Polish camp and simply a square slab of black granite, with the triangle emblem of the prisoners in the centre. In Parma, we have no less than three large sculptures by the same artist, one of which, La fontana delle tre religioni (The Fountain of the Three Religions), was installed in front of the Municipal Offices (DUC) in 2019. This sculpture can be seen as a symbol of civilisation and brotherhood, values that currently seem overwhelmed by hatred.


Atanasio Soldati (1896–1953), one of the leading figures in Italian Geometric Abstraction, always rejected the easiest and most trivial solutions and strived to consistently pursue art that was a pure expression of balanced relationships between form and colour. He himself wrote: “Neither reproductions of nature, nor sensations of life”.

In this beautiful landscape of 1943, the sky, houses and street become pure geometric elements and intricate colour relationships. Their recognisability only has value because of this, and the shapes are freed in iterations and duplications, positives and negatives, harmonic balances that find their natural catalyst in the chromatic construction.

The rigorous and consistent artistic exploration of Piero Dorazio (1927–2005) always focused on the value of sign-colour-light, realised through textures of very fine colour marks with intense light effects, or in criss-cross bands of colour, or in spreads in which variously arranged patches on the canvas are dilated. The result is always geometrically coordinated compositions subjected to a careful study and subdivision of space.

Dorazio’s 1976 work Nelle ore IV is a masterpiece of the artist’s maturity and a true synthesis of his philosophy: “Abstract painting represents nothing more than itself, since it consists of elements of vision: colour, space, matter, size and movement all contribute to transmitting sensation and emotions”.

Fausto Melotti (1901–1986) had a rigorous university education in engineering, but also in music and art, and in 1935 he joined the Parisian “Abstraction-Création” movement. After focusing on ceramics for a number of years, from 1959 onwards he began to mainly use materials such as brass, steel and copper to create aerial and multiform three-dimensional constructions imbued with lyricism, which seem to follow the rhythms of musical phrases built on the rules of counterpoint and synthesised a kind of “musical abstraction” within the figurative arts.


From 1947 onwards, Achille Perilli (1927–2021) strongly criticised the “sick” painting of expressionism, to which he contrasted “Cézanne, then Les Fauves and Cubism”, and also in opposition to Guttuso’s socialist realism, he sought to reconcile abstract art with their Marxist ideology. He was an advocate of a structured but not realistic art; he believed in the formal definition of images, free not only from realism but also from psychological and symbolist elements, and he sought an objectivity based exclusively on form-colour elements.

Pietro Consagra (1929–2005) always sought to imbue his work also with a political-social dimension, and indeed his sculptures are always intended to be in opposition to the celebration of ‘power’.

Rigorously abstract, he created frontal sculptures, such as his Colloqui, made of iron, bronze, steel and burnt wood, and his numerous ‘transparent iron’ pieces, where there is a lack of realistic representation, but a sensitivity that creates pure forms that seek to converse with the observer, abandoning all narrative or descriptive intent.

Lorenzo Guerrini (1914–2002) also pursued a quest against banality and clichés, transforming, in the 1950s, the traditional idea of medals, understood as celebratory or commemorative objects, into three-dimensional objects with a life of their own, which he termed ‘plastic imprints’.

Another great protagonist of Italian abstraction was Ettore Colla, who based his artistic exploration on the use of iron and other recycled materials to create deeply allusive sculptures, always far removed from irreverent Dada nihilism and, if anything, in search of distant narratives.


Conceptual Art developed after 1960 and the expression was first used in 1967 by Solomon Sol LeWitt (1928–2007), one of its main exponents, in Paragraphs on Conceptual Art. This artist investigated the themes of presence and the location of artwork, key elements of that trend, and the centrality of the artistic process itself. The creation of his artwork was no longer entrusted to his skill, but left to industrial production. Even in this articulated graphite cube from 1981, we have a representation that is totally dependent on the subjectivity and emotionality of the artist and is intended to mentally engage the viewer and interact with their modes of perception.

In 1957, Bernard Aubertin (1934–2015), met Yves Klein who stimulated in him the search for a personal style, between abstract and conceptual art, prompting him to start painting his famous monochrome works ‘rouge total’. He focused on the colour red due to its power to convey the idea of fire as pure energy, and soon added nails, iron wire, matches, candles and other materials to these canvases, all of which could be linked to the primal idea of fire. From the 1960s onwards, it was no longer enough for him to evoke fire with red and he began to actually use it by using lit matches that created colour variations on his abstract compositions, to convey to the viewer not its destructive value but its transformative power. As in our Tableau clous from the 1970s, fire thus takes on an almost metaphysical symbolic value of spiritual energy and rebirth.

Vincenzo Agnetti (1936–1981), artist, theorist and author of essays on art and experimental novels, has always been suspended between art production and philosophical speculation.

In the late 1950s, he joined the Azimuth group, artists who sought to reclaim the material object as a pure phenomenon; they emphasised elementary units and made use of standard modular elements and often industrial materials.

His skill in choosing and juxtaposing words, sometimes associated with synthetic signs, evokes in the viewer images and deep meditations on the mysterious meaning of existence and leads them, amid oxymorons and questions, to the realisation that: “at the end of our days, we will leave this world with a smile on our lips, because in spite of everything, it was good to live without understanding”.


Emilio Isgrò (1937–) created his first ‘erasures’ of text in encyclopaedias and books as early as 1964, contributing to the birth of conceptual art. The 1973 work Le Biblioteche shows us the full meaning of Isgrò’s art, whose erasures gave a new identity to both signs and words, which acquire new values in his works.

Isgrò does not erase in order to censor; his actions are never destructive, but they serve to reveal a word that has not been erased and bring it back to the fore and into contact with other distant words, thus creating an intriguing new message that unleashes new meanings. In Formiche Ants from 1998, he demonstrates a dynamism that relates to the slow and meticulous nature of industriousness, of respecting a role, of fulfilling an obligation.

In 1973, a large sculpture by Staccioli resembling an invasion of war machines, of which we have a sketch on display, was placed in Piazza della Steccata in Parma. These huge wheels of military vehicles, in their essentiality, introduced a new element that became fundamental in the development of Staccioli’s work.

From the very beginning of his artistic experience, Joseph Kosuth (1945) showed great interest in Freud, psychoanalysis and Duchamp’s idea of the  readymade; in this vein, he questioned conventional artistic definitions and procedures and focused above all on language, experimenting with linguistic devices such as quotations, repetitions, oxymorons and negations, often mixed with objects and photographs. With this procedure, he sought to stimulate the viewer to get involved in order to understand and enter into the complexity of different cultural codes.

In his 1968 work Definition, he emphasises “green” in all its various possibilities and applications, departing from or comparing words in English with their Latin counterparts and others related to them, as characterised by the colour green.

Alessandro Algardi (1945–) said in 2017 of his works: “My work is based on the merger or fusion of two languages: writing and painting. The language of writing is a code based on signs that allows us to communicate and transfer our feelings, ideas and thoughts beyond time and space”.

Gianni Caravaggio (1968–) expresses himself through the proximity of materials evidently belonging to different eras that intertwine. The simplicity of gesture and form make his works poetic and incisive and take the viewer on a journey through imaginary, metaphysical spaces and times. His 2008 work Divoratore di spazio is a minimalist form in marble, a cube on which spheres of various materials are grafted, as if to suggest an impossibility of perfection seen in a positive way as a conceptual and sentimental enrichment that goes beyond the human dimension.


Alighiero Boetti (1940–1994), always poised between Conceptual Art and Arte Povera, had a very particular and personal path;

he was so fascinated by his trip to Afghanistan in 1971 that he continued to go there regularly at least twice a year, until the Soviet invasion of 1979 prevented him from doing so.

It is said that to pretend to ignore a situation that should actually be confronted is to pretend in the face of reality applies to one of Boetti’s best-known techniques since 1971, when in Afghanistan he was deeply impressed by the ancient art of linen thread embroidery, practiced by local women and decided to commission them to do the work they would rigorously do by hand; thus the famous tapestries that made him famous all over the world were born. They show a continuous play of mirror images in pairs of right and left, high and low, words and images, to draw our attention to the duality of human nature and society, between coherence and contradiction; the struggle to reconstruct the sentence with the various letters, deliberately positioned in an ambiguous way, forces us to rework the construct of the image and also to think independently. In the end, however, are we sure that our reading is the only one possible?

Aldo Mondino (1938–2005) was an unconventional artist, always poised between ironic conceptualism and the extemporary redefinition of the tools of painting and sculpture. He was eclectic, irreverent and imaginative, close to Arte Povera without ever really being part of it, exuberant and ironic to the point of paroxysm, a lover of games and puns, close to surrealism in terms of culture and temperament but always outside any rigid characterisation.

In Ali. Omaggio a Boetti from 1994, a veritable triptych, we find all his ironic charge, his scathing mark and vivid colours, whose predominant feature is the blue of an infinite sky in which a myriad of black and white birds move. In the handwriting that reads: “Ali Ali|Alighiero|ilA ilA” we find his fascination for the East, expressing his admiration for his artist friend Alighiero Boetti who, in turn, had shown the same passion for this culture.


The Transavantgarde emerged in a historical period, defined as ‘post-modern’, not only of economic crisis but also of profound ideological disappointment due to the waning of the great illusions of the past, which had inspired revolutionary utopias and promoted great social cohesion of an international nature. With the disappearance of these illusions, artists began to work not only individually but also within their national, or even regional, context, rediscovering their deepest cultural roots. Also part of this new approach was a return to figuration, often with allegorical and mythological intentions, and to traditional painting, at a time when it seemed unthinkable to turn to oils and brushes.

The father of the Transavantgarde was Achille Bonito Oliva, who in a famous article in Flash Art had introduced the most significant artists who would be part of the group, namely Mimmo Paladino, Enzo Cucchi, Nicola De Maria and Francesco Clemente. It was the 1980 Venice Biennale, curated by the same critic, that firmly established the Transavantgarde, part of a wide-ranging artistic phenomenon that, under different names, appeared throughout Europe. One of the key characteristics of these artists, who were in fact very different from each other, was their desire to eliminate an active relationship with the viewer from their works, as they believed in the possibility of finalising the creative process to deliver fully realised works to the audience, in clear contrast to Arte Povera. Another recurring element is the cultured references to the masters of the twentieth century and of the past.

Mimmo Paladino (1948–) appropriated a Gothic iconography that intertwines human, animal and plant figures, typical of Lombard art, of which many traces remain in the artist’s native territory, Benevento.

In his 1990 work Il bacio di Giuda, the artist displays his lifelong interest in classical mythology, ancient Egypt, the Etruscan world, pre-Roman civilisations and primitive art, as well as Christian culture. The two faces with their abstract and suspended expressions, absorbed in an alienating atmosphere, derive from an ancestral, almost shamanic, archaic and dreamlike metaphysical perspective.

The 1999 work Il Sapiente fully represents the most fascinating and typical components of Paladino’s language, the delimitation of a mysterious, almost dreamlike place. Against this backdrop, the fragile figure of the ‘Sapiente’ (Wise One) stands out in bright white, sprinkled with numbers that seem tragically self-referential, suggesting the impossibility of truly understanding the meaning of existence.

In the 1980s, Nicola De Maria (1954–) played a fundamental role in all the exhibitions of the Transavantgarde, but soon dissociated himself from the group, favouring a style closer to abstraction. In his 1987 work Testa di un angelo, the protagonist is an intense orange colour against which, as if on a musical staff, small, brightly coloured pieces stand out harmoniously, recurring elements of De Maria’s expressive grammar, which with a few well-balanced elements composes an artistic and poetic creation. The theme of an angelic presence, evoked by the artist in several works, also seems to stem from his desire to reconstruct a world far removed from the many acts of brutality that surround us.

Georg Baselitz (1938–) is one of the most prominent exponents of German informal painting. His pictorial exploration is characterised by dense matter and a choice of violent colours of an expressionist nature on large paintings. Since 1969, he has begun to turn figures into paintings characterised by autobiographical memories of places and people. Astonishment is not the only objective; it is the way of representing freedom.

In his 1981 Composition , he depicts a strictly upside-down male figure who, thanks to the technique used, appears as a ghost in a mysterious cosmic dimension.



In the 1980s, Giuseppe Maraniello (1945–) participated in a number of exhibitions curated by Renato Barilli and became an exponent of the Nuovi-Nuovi movement. Although this movement was contemporary with the Transavantgarde, contrary to the latter, which proposed a return to a neo-expressionist figurativism, the Nuovi-Nuovi were closely aligned with American artistic approaches that drew on kitsch and decoration and try to overcome the emotional zeroing of Minimalism and Conceptualism. Maraniello soon embarked on a very personal path, actually very closely aligned with Arte Povera, both in terms of the use of materials and the fusion of painting and sculpture.

His sculptures are imbued with an archaicness oscillating between archetypes, primitive folklore and ancient spirituality, which emerges from cables, rods, bound wood, bowls of coloured powder, and is often populated with fantastic or alchemical references.

The 1994 work Vasi comunicanti presents two figures that seem to be constructed in uncertain space-time balances, conceived in a precarious equilibrium between weights and counterweights. It is a sculpture, with its intentional depiction of fragility, that grows in height in a sort of archaic mythological dimension and features at its end a duel between two unlikely contenders – a struggle as old as time that cannot but result in yet another terrible leap into the endless void.


Pop Art arrived in Italy thanks to the 1964 Biennial, and the Italian artists, united in Rome under the name of Scuola di Piazza del Popolo, were confronted with a language that had already been codified, first in England then in the United States, and which was difficult to popularise in Italy, not least because of its economic backwardness.

One of the first to pick up on these new trends, especially due to his time spent in New York, where he had frequented Andy Warhol’s Factory, was Mario Schifano (1934–1998), who started painting cityscapes and motorway views with a characteristically photographic composition.

His 1974 work Composizione della serie del Futurismo rivisitato is part of a series of the same name, which begins with the image of the five Futurist artists; it is a sincere tribute to this iconic group, stylishly dressed with walking sticks and bowler hats, immortalised in a photograph taken in Paris in 1912.

In the 1960s, Franco Angeli (1935–1988) began to paint the symbolism of power, initially swastikas, crosses and crescents, covered with veils that filtered its objective violence. In the work on display, Untitled, it is no coincidence that the ‘hammer and sickle’ is revealed through the brushwork.

Renato Mambor (1936–2014) began his career in the 1960s, producing cold, depersonalised figural images; with this technique, he expressly sought to eliminate all individuality, all perspective dimensions. This is evident in the 1964 work Uomini statistici, which, with its vivid, violent colours and unique combination of elements, retains a powerful expressive and communicative impact.

Sergio Lombardo created several series between 1958 and 1966, among the most significant of which were his ‘Gesti Tipici’, in which he painted the leading political figures of the time. The 1962 work Enrico Mattei, which forms part of this series, is a portrait of this key industrial leader and founder of Eni, which under his leadership became a multinational oil company and major player in the post-war economic miracle.

In 1965, Cesare Tacchi (1940–2014) exhibited a number of object-paintings aimed at transcending the boundaries of traditional two-dimensional canvas paintings; these include his padded, protruding canvases such as our 1963 piece Gold Woman, which emerges from a black enamel background to challenge, in an ironic and mocking way, the consumerist culture of the time and the notion of ‘bourgeois good taste’.

In the 1960s, Gino Marotta (1935–2012) began using synthetic materials such as methacrylates, which he transformed through industrial processes into natural forms from the plant and animal world, to explore the dichotomy between natural and artificial. Fiore, his 1967 sculpture, appears in all its poetic slenderness, a creature of this imaginary world, an archetypal symbol of that Eden that we can hardly yet imagine.

Giuliano Vangi’s (1931–) Donna con le calze rosse is stiffened in a forced, almost unnatural position as if to show her existential angst and convey her inner demons.

In this same context, we also have Vito Hannibal Acconci, an Italian-American artist, one of the most controversial and debated figures of the twentieth century, who used his own body as the subject of photographs, films, videos and performances


Gina Pane (1939–1990) held a number of performance workshops at the Centre Georges Pompidou from 1975 to 1990, and then went on to perform her ‘Actions’, which took place in the absence of an audience and were documented by a series of photographs.

In the 1970s, her artistic exploration became more complex and a series of performances emerged in which the audience was present and the artist’s body was tortured, as a way of drawing attention to the tormented and painful relationship between humans and nature. When she then showed her body injured by razor blades, or by nails sticking up from a staircase, each wound symbolised every woman who suffers abuse.

Sentimental Action, which was held in 1973 at Luciano Inga Pin’s Galleria Diagramma in Milan, represents the synthesis and culmination of all her performances, as it contains all the themes that the artist had previously expressed. The woman wears a white dress, a symbol of purity, and there is the red of blood that enters the scene through a bouquet of red roses, from which the protagonist pulls out thorns and uses them to wound her arms.

Gina Pane’s message is dramatically true and undeniable in these times and cannot fail to deeply affect us.

Next to the work of Gina Pane is

Gino De Dominicis’ (1947–1997) sculpture. In his 1970 work Lettera sull’immortalità del corpo, his main theoretical text, he theorises that everything that exists, insofar as it is mortal, is illusory; man is only part of a phenomenology, governed by natural laws.

The Seconda soluzione d’Immortalità (L’Universo è Immobile), which was presented at the 1972 Venice Biennale, caused quite a stir. It featured a young man with Down’s syndrome, sitting in a corner looking at three works that had already been exhibited separately on other occasions, emphasising that the syndrome is not an illness but a different state of being.

From the late 1970s, increasingly secluded and eluding any categorisation, he devoted himself almost exclusively to drawing and painting. In his 1988 work Dance, we see two slender figures, barely defined, finally hovering free against a background of shades of blue, between sky and sea.

Trademarks, from 1970–2001, denotes a characteristic sign but also a form of intellectual property; the term, transformed into a title, conveys the meaning of the action realised by Acconci in 1970. The artist appears naked and bites himself violently, to the point that he leaves the marks of his teeth on his skin.



In the second half of the 1970s, Bruno Ceccobelli (1952–) was part of the group of artists who settled in the former Cerere pasta factory in Rome, together with Pizzi Cannella, Tirelli, Bianchi, Gallo and Nunzio, who later became known as the Nuova Scuola Romana or Officina di San Lorenzo.

Esseri alati abitano is a work from 1981 that is full of meanings and references to the Zen culture that has always fascinated this artist. The artwork can be appreciated with its two doors either open or closed. Its allusion to an ancient tabernacle is evident, as is the reference to alchemical transformation. With the doors closed, we can see between two heads in profile and a hand, a lock, reminiscent of a kofun – an ancient Japanese burial mound – which emphasises the need to find an appropriate key to the work we are looking at and invites us to open it; once the doors have been opened, we find ourselves in front of a circle, a fundamental Zen symbol of enlightenment, but which here, in an impenetrable blackness, acquires the opposite meaning, and we would like to close it again, or perhaps, we would like never to have seen this image that questions us about life and death, about the enigmatic past and the illusory present, about a possibility of transformation that over the centuries has left only disturbing silhouettes and traces.

Giuseppe Gallo (1954–) has made his mark with a more explicit recourse to figuration, albeit in the form of fragments or quotations. His language is extremely cultured and refined, rich in cross-references, and the artist often also draws on a symbolic cipher based on recurring iconographic elements, not without an ironic component. Poetry is also part of his creativity, and one of his works contains a poem that begins: “Light, I process you as creator of shadows. Shadow, I condemn you for complicity”. Indeed, Gallo has always wanted to express a visual poetry, confronting nature in a geometric and poetic approach. In Michelangelo sogna Brancusi (Michelangelo Dreams of Brancusi)  from 2011, also the title of his retrospective at the MART in Rovereto in 2023, one of the recurrent concepts in his works returns, namely the search for a continuity with art across all eras, as the object of every artist has always been “man with all his fears, his gods, his hopes”.

Salvo (1947–) was a very special artist who moved from Arte Povera to Conceptual Art, finally coming to figurative painting in 1973, which was certainly an unconventional choice at the time.

He was known for his incredible memory; he was an avid reader who in many interviews promptly responded with quotations from authors and philosophers from all eras and backgrounds. He transposed this wealth of culture with lightness and irony into his works, from the initial photomontages, to the “Lapidi” (tombstones) engraved, like ours, with the inscription-title L’Idiota, in which he lightly and with macabre irony refers to tombstones.

In 1982, Felice Levini (1956–) also began his pictorial exploration that looked to Seurat’s Divisionism and resulted in very vivid and decorative two-dimensional spotted images. The evermore eclectic artist expressed himself through painting, sculpture, installations and performances, and the images that arose from his research are often the result of a fusion and synthesis of these different techniques. He always drew casually and ironically from literature, mythology, nature, but also from the contemporary languages of digital communication, and in this way represents spaces that are both physical and ideal, where seemingly playful signs project us into cosmic space-time dimensions.

In 1917, in his solo show in Parma at the Galleria Niccoli, La volpe sa molte cose ma l’istrice ne sa una grande (from Archilochus), he highlighted “some central elements in his style… In this new project, designed specifically for the gallery spaces, the artist continues his research between pictorial and object, between abstract and figurative, in a series of dualisms in which the role of the text is central, as well as that of the self-portrait”.


Arte Povera was born in the second half of the 1960s as a result of exhibitions and articles by the critic Germano Celant, who coined the name of the movement and its conception as ‘asystematic guerrilla warfare’ in open conflict with traditional art. With the aim of reclaiming the original structures of the language of contemporary society in order to challenge its habits and semantic conformities, the use of “poor” materials such as rags, iron, wood, sand, plastic and industrial waste was formalised.

In the late 1950s, Michelangelo Pistoletto (1933–) expressed his pictorial activity with several self-portraits and canvases prepared with metal prints and later on mirror-polished steel surfaces.

Pistoletto’s entire artistic exploration is centred on the relationship between life and art, between objects and behaviour, including that of the viewers, who through the recurring mirrors, or paths, that they are invited to follow, necessarily fall within the works themselves; works that exist precisely because of this close relationship, just as his famous Venere degli stracci (Venus of the Rags), with its perfect forms, exists only because of the relationship with the disordered colour of the rags.

In his 2007 installation Hunger, the artist addresses the theme of hunger in absolute terms; the image is one of a disarming essentiality, with no trace of life, the materials are anonymous and cold, every trace of colour has disappeared. There is no tragedy; we are past that, in a dimension where there is no trace of life. Hunger seems to be about emotionality, about affection, about food disappearing from the face of the earth, it is about a hunger that overwhelms us, taking away all hope. The installation also takes us back to the essentiality of monastic spaces, but confronts us with their uselessness, in a world that has inexorably lost any spiritual dimension, because even religions still show themselves as allegiances capable of unleashing horrific devastation.


In the works of Kounellis (1936–2017), the most noticeable feature is the use of everyday materials, entirely eschewing concessions to mere representation. His installations took the form of veritable stage sets that filled spaces, inviting viewers to be an active part of them, together with, at times, live animals – parrots and especially horses – and references to ancient art, contrasting with the geometries constructed with materials from the industrial world. He also introduced fire, the mythical and symbolic element par excellence, generated by a blowtorch.

Subsequently, the disturbing presence of soot replaced the fire and the live animals were symbolically replaced by the dramatic presence of embalmed animals.

Rosa is part of an enchanting series of these schematic, almost geometric flowers, dating back to the period of Kounellis’ early experiments in Arte Povera, in the 1960s, a time when the artist also looked to American Pop Art.

Even these highly unnatural flowers do not fail to communicate to us a feeling of loss of a profound sense of existence, almost more painful than the presence of the blood, flesh, breath and warmth of animals.

Gilberto Zorio (1944–) has always been interested in alchemic processes, represented by vases, basins, glass and lead stills, symbols of ancient transformations, brought back to life as if to emphasise an artistic procedure that lays bare its elements, to replace traditional representation with the direct involvement of materials. As is evident in Stromboli, the work is never finished in itself, but is in continuous evolution; it is a proud process in which natural elements meet artificial ones, thus highlighting the creative force and energy of life.

The 1994 work Stella di gomma represents one of Zorio’s favourite subjects since 1972; because as energy is the constant that runs through the artist’s entire oeuvre, this cosmic figure has become an archetypal form that refers to an idea of tension and vitality.

Claudio Parmiggiani (1943–) is best known for his ‘Delocazioni’, which date back to the 1970s and were often created with the use of dust, fire and smoke, reflecting the artist’s lifelong interest in alchemy, which he studied in depth in Renaissance texts. These works, composed of ephemeral elements, lead us to reflect on the theme of absence and the passage of time in its visible traces.

Testa di Pan con ramo (1980) highlights Parmiggiani’s relationship with classical art and, with the insertion of the branch, the continuous intertwining of history with natural events; the placement on display in front of the wall of Scultura d’ombra(2010), a symbol in this case of collective memory, enhances both works by enriching them with further meanings.