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Long overdue Giuseppe Capogrossi retrospective opens at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Giuseppe Capogrossi, The Rowers, 1933. Oil on canvas, 86 x 146 cm. Elena and Claudio Cerasi collection© Giuseppe Capogrossi, by SIAE 2012.

VENICE.- With Capogrossi: A Retrospective, curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection pays tribute to a major figure in the first generation of post war artists who, with his painting Surface 210 (1957), has been represented in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation since 1958. The distinctive glyph of Giuseppe Capogrossi (1900–1972), like Lucio Fontana’s gesture of piercing the canvas, or the materiality of Alberto Burri’s works, has left an indelible mark on the history of Italian art in the 20th century.

With the collaboration of the Fondazione Archivio Capogrossi, Rome, and with the patronage of the President of the Italian Republic and of the Italian Ministry of Culture, this long overdue retrospective brings together over seventy of the artist’s paintings and drawings, covering the span of his career. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is grateful to lenders public and private who have contributed works to the exhibition, notably the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome, which made available an important core of major works, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (MART) of Rovereto and Trento, the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Turin and the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The retrospective opens with a selection of the artist’s figurative paintings, including The Rowers (1933), The Storm (1933), and The Tiber in Flood (1933). The Annunciation (1933), now in the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, returns to Italy for the first time since 1933 when it was exhibited at the Musée du Jeu de Paume and subsequently donated to the Parisian museum by the Italian Government. These works, characterized by intense tonal painting and by figures and places suspended in atmosphere and light, will take the public by surprise, with their subtle intuitions of that celebrated abstract glyph that years later was to make the artist famous. In 1933 Capogrossi collaborated with Corrado Cagli and Emanuele Cavalli on the "Manifesto del primordialismo plastico", in which artists discussed the presence of the archaic in the contemporary world, and how to express it in their work. Imbued with a timeless and other-worldly quality, in these paintings one can already sense the artist’s quest for the quintessential and eternal, smoothing away extraneous detail and abstracting figures and austere landscapes in the warm tonalities of a Mediterranean twilight.

The exhibition presents works, exhibited here for the first time, that document the transition period of the 1940s, when forms were subjected to synthesis, shaped into symbols, letters and numbers that led ultimately to Capogrossi’s celebrated glyph. They are the series of his Studies for Windows of 1948-49 and the painting The Two Guitars (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome) of 1948, in which the artist walked the line between figuration and abstraction. Works produced during a sojourn in Vienna in 1949, such as Surface 011 and Surface 016, resonant with Symbolist echoes, also belong to this period, and initiate his lifelong practice of numbering his paintings with the title Superficie (surface), a classification that was to be become as singular to Capogrossi as ‘Composition’ was to Kandinsky or ‘Concetto spaziale’ to Fontana. A group of black and white works are of special interest, among them Surface 021 (1949) and Surface 678 (Carthage, 1950). Both were shown at the Galleria del Secolo in Rome in January 1950, the exhibition that marked the debut of the ‘caso Capogrossi’, the emergence of his unique and distinctive glyph: the serrated arc sometimes assembled in sequences and series, and sometimes as a dominant color note. The originality of this formal syntax qualified Capogrossi for membership of the brief but impassioned Gruppo Origine, which promoted the mark as primordial language, in contrast to the decorative tendency of abstraction.

Capogrossi: A Retrospective then traces the stages of the artist’s development from 1951, the year that brought him to international acclaim at the Parisian exhibition Véhémences confrontées, in which he was the only Italian exhibiting alongside Franz Kline, Georges Mathieu and Jackson Pollock, to the works sent to the 1954 Venice Biennale, as well as paintings such as Surface 28 (formerly Surface 25) that belonged to the dealer Leo Castelli and was exhibited in Capogrossi’s solo exhibition in Castelli’s New York gallery in 1958. The exhibition culminates with a collection of Capogrossi’s large canvases from the 1960s, such as Surface 399 (1961) and Surface 449 (1962), and concludes with the monumental Surface 385 (1960), a three meter long oval designed for the cruise ship Leonardo Da Vinci. This last, large gallery is preceded by a section of exquisite rarity: reliefs and white monochromes, such as Surface 633 (1968) and Surface 689 (1970), virtually unknown to the wider public, that testify to Capogrossi’s constant need to work from the tabula rasa and in the idiom of the positive-negative.

This exhaustive retrospective explores Capogrossi’s unique contribution to 20th-century art, tracing the evolution of his signature abstract style of grandiose orchestrations of mark and color, and its numerous variations over the subsequent decades. With his endlessly inventive deployment of his fork-like symbol, Capogrossi became synonymous with the Italian boom of the 50s and 60s, a period of optimism and rapid economic expansion.

The exhibition is accompanied by a substantial monograph edited by Luca Massimo Barbero, and published by Marsilio Editori. Commissioned in collaboration with the Fondazione Archivio Capogrossi, eleven essays cover all aspects of his career from his beginnings in the 1930s through to his international recognition in the 50s and 60s, his exhibitions, and his relations with national and international critics. A new in-depth study of his American exhibition history draws upon archival documents from the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Jewish Museum in New York.

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