Many great artists begin to show interest in the working mechanics of nature at a very young age. Such was the great polymath Leonardo Da Vinci, producing remarkable technical drawings of the surrounding world from his preteen age. Flower petals, birds in flight, human anatomy and intricate sketches of cogs, springs and wheels, made up his dream machines that were never to be. Another great Italian, this time "only" painter, draughtsman and sculptor, Agostino Bonalumi, showed similar interests at a similar age as the great renaissance man. Beginning as a student of technical and mechanical drawing, he exhibited his first works at the Premio Nazionale Città di Vimercate in 1948, all when he was just thirteen years old. Fast forward to 2016 and Cortesi Gallery is proud to present its first London exhibition dedicated to the great Bonalumi. The exhibition is titled I Wish to Meet Architects, a title that he used to name one of his exhibitions in 1969, making a clear statement that he wished to find new forms of space for his art to be displayed in.
A leading figure in hypothetical and somewhat lenient quest to transform the dialectic of painting that procreated during the 1960s, Agostino Bonalumi is regarded as one of the forerunners in the innovation of the ‘shaped canvas’, or as he called it, estroflesse (extro-flexed canvas). Back then, it was only in the spirit of time to try and combine sculpture, synthetic painting and architecture in one specific form of creative habitat. That, of course, was building upon the modern tradition of the “synthesis of arts”, a theory originating from the thirties that sought to create just the kind of living art that Agostino had envisioned. Years of meticulous work, leading to exuberant displays of creativity and invention had brought about a collaboration with Enrico Castellani, and the making of the first extro-flexed canvas, aiming to free, not ostracize, the painting from the glass prison that is the traditional frame.
Bonalumi showed an environmental side of his personality as a direct consequence of his personal strive to free the art from consumerism and transcend the limits of money-orientated society. 1967 brought about the key exhibition for the artist, Lo Spazio dell’immagine (The Space of Image) in Foligno, Italy. The exhibition brought together some of the, at the time, best-known names in the Italian art community, asking them to create their own vision of the modern living environment. There, Bonalumi showed us Blu Aditabile, which would become his very first fundamental work in the genre. Over the period of six years that followed, Bonalumi almost solely produced environments that were made from the combinable extro-flexed modules. These works came very close to achieving the “organic” ideal of living space that many artists and architects are still striving for today. These shaped-canvas modules were lining the floors and walls of the 1968 display at the Museum Ostwall in Dortmund and at his solo exhibit at the Venice Biennale in 1970, they shifted the traditional showrooms into surreal, nature-inspired, breathing spaces. Linking this form of art to architectural concepts Bonalumi wanted to create a sort of alternative to the object-orientated framework, all in the name of rebellion against the art market, and as an attempt to explore a form of art that could transform the very perception of the observer.
In each of Bonalumi’s environments, the traditional perception of the artwork is transcended and the innocent bystander is pulled inside the art piece itself, all senses dominated by the spectacle. Cortesi Gallery will proudly be presenting one of his capital works, Bianco (White, 1969), hailing from the very era in which the artist produced some of his most immersive and awe-inspiring works. Bianco, the eight-meter-long magnum opus, will be shown alongside eleven significant works from the same 60’s and 70’s era. During the opening, a recently published catalogue, raisonné Agostino Bonalumi, Skira 2015, will be presented by Marco Meneguzzo. Meneguzzo will also be the curator of the show and has produced the catalogue in collaboration with Agostino’s son, Fabrizio. The published catalogue will be corresponding with the exhibition, and it includes an essay by Meneguzzo. This text explores the environmental aspects of Bonalumi’s works, offering profound insight into the work and practice of the artist. The exhibition will be open from March 15th, 2016, until May 21st from 6:00 - 8.30 pm at the Cortesi Gallery in London.
Feature image - Agostino Bonalumi - Bianco - 1969 - vinyl tempera on extro-flexed canvas - all images courtesy of Cortesi Gallery unless specified differently