Claudio Abate was born in 1943 in Rome, a city that he is very attached to and still lives in today. Already as a teenager he showed interest in the world of art and photography. The son of a painter who was friends with De Chirico, in 1955 he started his career as a photographer with Michelangelo Como in Via Margutta. He would later take over this studio and move it to Via del Babuino, at the time a fulcrum of activity in Roman culture. His portrait of Mario Schifano and his work with the Press Service Agency date from 1959. From 1961 to 1963 he worked for Life Magazine as assistant to Eric Lessing, one of the founders of the Magnum photo agency. During this same period he started to take photographs for the magazine Sipario, and hence became the endorser of the avant-garde theatre of Carmelo Bene, for whom he was to be stage photographer for eleven years.
Some shots taken during the staging of Christo ’63 date from 1963. He actively took part in the sixties scene and his photographs, as well as providing precious testimony, are often the only proof of events of which otherwise we would not have any record. Complex works of environmental art – hard to trace to a single point of view – are portrayed in a single, never celebrative image, in the attempt to capture the relationship between the work, the surroundings and the spectator. His photos at the Attico di Sargentini of Kounellis’ Horses (1969) are memorable; likewise the photo depicting Lo Zodiaco by Gino De Dominicis (1970): in this case Abate managed to grasp in a single shot the ellipse created by the objects and individuals on the stage set. In 1969 he took part in the Septième Biennale de Paris exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne.
After the so-called ‘hot years’ when he became the photographer/reader of avant-garde contemporary art, he experimented his own language. This led to his Contatti con la superficie sensibile, comprising black and white works created through direct contact with light-sensitised photographic paper, presented at the Incontri internazionali d’Arte at Palazzo Taverna in Rome in 1972.
In 1977 he took part in the Fotografi e Fotografie group exhibition curated by Italo Mussa in Rome. And it was in this city that in 1979 he was to hold his first personal exhibition, curated by Achille Bonito Oliva, at the Centro Culturale dell’Immagine, Il Fotogramma. In the same year in Bologna, at Studio Cavalieri, again Bonito Oliva was to present La malattia dell’occhio where Abate introduced the typical anamorphic twist used in painting to the field of image. Dating from 1983 is his Il Progetto per un monumento al cinema, not a photograph as such, but a complex work comprising an enormous silhouette of Michelangelo Antonioni contact printed with frames from one of the director’s full-length films.
In the 1980s he approached colour for the first time, and while retaining his intimate dialogue with the work and the artists, he abandoned loyal descriptions of reality to highlight its mystery.
Dating from 1986 are the solo exhibition Contatti a occhio nudo, at Galleria Ugo Ferranti in Rome and a fundamental photographic work on the works of Joseph Beuys: the project, strongly desired by Beuys’ wife, was created after the artist’s death and the photographs were put on display for the first time in 2006 at Galleria dell’Oca in Rome in Claudio Abate: Block Beuys.
Over the years, his work alongside artists has not diminished by any means: after moving to the district of San Lorenzo in Rome, in the 1980s he started to associate with what was defined as the ‘La Nuova Scuola Romana’. In the post-modern climate of those years, Abate established a close relationship with the so-called ‘Neue Wilden’, in particular with Markus Lupertz and A.R. Penk, later becoming their personal photographer.
Instead in 1987 he took part in group exhibitions at the Stux Gallery in New York, and in the Colombella Premio Florenzi 87, VIII photographic exhibition, held at the Centro Studi at Villa La Colombella; and in 1988, at the Galleria Civica in Modena, he took part in Storie dell’occhio/1, Fotografi ed eventi artistici in Italia dal ’60 all’80 and in D’apres Man Ray, at Galleria Il Fotogramma, Rome–London.
In 1989 he presented his works in the one-man exhibitions: Daguerre–mania, curated by Mussa, at the Centro Culturale Musoni, in 1991 Joseph Beuys – Claudio Abate, at the Bocchi studio in Rome and in 1993 Punti Cardinali dell’Arte at Giardini di Castello on occasion of the XLV Venice Biennial. In 1995 he held a personal exhibition at the Sprovieri gallery – Le Cornacchie, in Rome, and in 1996, again in Rome, he took part in the group exhibition Martiri e Santi at the Attico cultural association. In 1998 he exhibited at the Museo Laboratorio d’Arte Contemporanea at “La Sapienza” University in Rome. Then in 1999 he exhibited at Galleria Eventi and in 2000 at Studio Lipoli, again in Rome. Dating from 2001 is the great retrospective Claudio Abate, Vent’anni in atelier at the Académie de France at the Villa Medici in Rome. In 2002, together with Piero Pompili he put on Sotto il cielo di Tor Bella Monaca, at the Spazio per l’Arte Contemporanea in Tor Bella Monaca in Rome; he then held the personal exhibitions Roma Around 1970, at the West London Projects & Sprovieri in London and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, and lastly MACRO in Rome dedicated a personal exhibition to him in the Protagonisti cycle. In 2003 and 2004 he took part in the group exhibitions Piazza del popolo. Sessanta – Settanta at Cafè Notegen and Incontri…dalla collezione di Graziella Lonardi Contemporary at the Villa Medici in Rome; in Milan, Occhio per occhio, quando la fotografia guarda l’arte; in Venice, Meet Photography, at Giardini di Castello, and in Moscow, Cinquième mois International de la Photographie a Moscou. Since 1990 the photographer has been involving his artist friends in his dark room work. Using light to draw on photographic paper they came up with some unexpected results, which they presented in Rome in 2005 in the Obscura exhibition at the Associazione Mara Coccia. In the same year he presented Christo a Roma: fotografie di Claudio Abate at Art Book & Sushi in Rome. In 2006 he put on 6+6, curated by L. Benedetti, at the Fondazione Pastificio Cerere in Rome. Again in Rome he also presented Hadrianeum in the Temple of Hadrian, while in Paris he took part in Une Histoire Privée at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. In 2007 he held a large retrospective at the MART di Trento e Rovereto and in 2008 personal exhibitions at the One Piece Art gallery in Rome and at Galleria Il Ponte in Florence. In December 2009 another important retrospective Claudio Abate. Photographe. Installation & Performance Art was held in Bordeaux. On June 2010, the exhibition Scatti ritrovati. Claudio Abate per Gino de Dominicis was presented for the first time at Mara Coccia gallery in Rome.