Hains - Rotella
artyp˛ decollages saffa
1 December 2012 - 15 March 2013
It was in 1960 in Milan, at the Galleria Apollinaire directed by Guido Le Noci, that Pierre Restany gave rise to Nouveau Réalisme, the current spawning the group of the so-called Affichistes: François Dufrêne (Paris, 1930-1982), Raymond Hains (Saint Brieuc, 1926 – Paris, 2005), Mimmo Rotella (Catanzaro, 1918 - Milan, 2006) and Jacques Villeglé (Quimper, 1926). In 1962 the same Galleria Apollinaire dedicated them a group exhibition and in 1963, again in Milan, Arturo Schwarz organised the exhibition L'affiche lacerato, elemento base della realtà urbana, again presented by Pierre Restany. Mimmo Rotella always followed a separate path to that of the French artists, even though their “thefts”, namely ripping the posters from the walls of the cities of Rome and Paris, correspond in part.
Hains and Rotella are the two artists that developed their work most, also in different spheres from décollage, the former preferring a more intellectual, abstract approach, often with a strongly political bent, the second a more aesthetic approach, favouring film advertising images.
The exhibition at Galleria Il Ponte contemplates sixteen works by the two artists, gathering a set of their works from the 1950s to the end of the 1980s, almost as if to reconstruct the atmosphere of the time. In their likenesses, the two artists nevertheless appear clearly distinct. On display by Rotella are his retros d'affiches, revealing, in the informel climate of those years, traces of Roman plaster; film posters, which, beyond the tears, conserve the charm of an époque; artypò “...quadri fatti con prove di stampa ...” (works using typographic proofs), coperture or “blanks”, and sovrapitture (overpaintings), giving an all-round image of his vivacity of expression.
Instead, the works by Hains, curious explorer interested in history, religion, music, theatre and cinema, include among others Nixon Hitler, a décollage with a political slant, two further works linked to Mirò and Dubuffet, and Saffa, his giant matchsticks, which he conceived for the first time in ’64, at the beginning of his Italian period, for the exhibition at the Venetian Galleria del Leone.
Text by Mauro Panzera
The 1950s saw a great deal of activity blossom in Europe and the United States in terms of thinking and poetics: a genuine reconsideration of the theoretical universe relating to aesthetic thought. Whereas no dominating trend emerged strongly in the debate, much risky experimentalism did – at times it was like going back to the Dada universe, and just think of Lettrism – but it prepared the seedbed for the powerful flourishing of art in the 1960s. The 1950s were the breeding ground, in Europe, for the birth and growth of the society of images, of simulacra, whose artistic/political formulation would be given by the theory of Guy Debord with his category of the Society of the Spectacle.
The first consequence of this movement is that it threw the art system into crisis, through the tool of contamination, and, artistically speaking, by quashing the notion of “material for art”.
Even though my methodological choices would prefer a history to a sociology within art, here the storyline had to deal with one of the most devastating facts in time, the Second World War, its geographical extension, and its determination to involve the unarmed populations. The result was destruction, which conditioned the immediate future. But it also built a new mythological plotline, entrusted to images and freed thanks to a technological innovation: television. It is pointless to refer to the research of Roland Barthes, to the establishment of a concept of design, to the effort made by humankind to fit into new models of living.
But there is always something old hiding in the new; for the twentieth century the revolutionary word was the “cinematograph”, which really did cook up legends, and generate a chain of products relating to information and advertising.
First of all, we had the film poster. Coming from the art of illustration, it saw many maestros at work, above all in Italy (see the work of Carlantonio Longi). In the desolated cities of the post-war period, all of a uniform dust-grey hue, these illustrations gave a hint of colour, depicted the universe of humankind. Capable of publicising the star of the moment, they also summed up the plot of the film: these posters were picture stories.
In second place the artists felt the moral duty to criticise the society around them.
The ferment of the 1950s produced a phenomenon known as Neo-avantgarde and among the first situations to investigate is Nouveau Réalisme, a European, Franco-Italian movement intending to oppose the voices arriving from the United States which would fall under the label of Pop Art.
The year is 1959-1960, and a large group forms of mainly French artists. Spontaneously banding together, they even decide to lay down a common declaration. The artists were Arman, Cesar, Cristo, Deschamps, Dufrene, Hains, Yves Klein, Raysse, Mimmo Rotella, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Spoerri, Tinguely, Villeglé and Pierre Restany, the group’s organiser and theorist. The movement did not give itself a conceptual structure, but it did sign a manifesto in which real and realism were declined as such: Nouveaux Réalistes=new ways of perceiving the real. This shows us how important the thinking of Yves Klein was, alongside the theories of Restany. With the introduction of terms such as real realism, it becomes clear that what counted most was to defend individual freedom to produce and not obedience to a certain line. The Neo-avantgarde opened all the cans of worms to hand in the immediate post-war period.
I won’t speak of the specific development of the group; I am interested in reasoning about two artists, Hains and Rotella, who were to join the group later, but whose initial work, their period of experimentation, dates from the beginning of the 1950s. Besides, the difficulty in narrating the history of contemporary art arises precisely from the gap between an artist’s beginnings and the discovery of their image and identity; the ability to recognise an artist by analysing his or her works.
Neither of these two affichistes was aware of the other’s work. But the poster is not an illustration: since it is an object that has been taken, for each of them it is like a ready-made piece. It is not always not manipulated, at times it is given a profound interpretation, as the poster itself is the invention of an artist.
We need to bear in mind that on one hand Rotella started off as a painter, an abstract painter, and it was only after a creative crisis taking him to the United States that he approached photography. On the other hand, Hains was already linked to the groups working around visual poetry and documentary cinema. And when they found themselves working with the same material, the results would be very distant from each other; since, at that point, Hains, more sensitive to the relationship between work of art and reality, had already produced La Palissade while Rotella had dived head on into the Italian universe of Cinecittà.
Rotella was to give us a wide range of uses and treatments of a torn poster; from the tearing operation to putting back together an image with a sense; as a born painter it was nevertheless a case of proposing an image which had its own strong identity inside. Hence we have the construction of a film-star mythology, its impossible dream and unachievable beauty. Rotella did not transform these images into critical places.
Hains took a different attitude: critical towards the society of his time, he tried to overcome the distance between the gallery hosting the work of art and the outside, the social sphere: from this point of view, for Hains the work La Palissade became a manifesto of his artistic intentions.
Vobarno, 23 November 2012 Mauro Panzera