WEEKLY ART COLUMN
Pietro Consagra (1920 - 2005) was one of the most important Italian sculptors of the post-war period. His work rejected three-dimensional sculpture’s traditional idea, replacing it with a more direct interaction between art and viewer.
Born in Mazzara del Vallo in Trapani (Sicily), he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Palermo. In 1947 he founded the group “Forma I” together with Carla Accardi, Piero Dorazio, Ugo Attardi, Mino Guerrini, Achille Perilli, Antonio Sanfilippo and Giulio Turcato. The group supported the structured abstraction and Marxism, rejecting popular metaphysical romanticism and the distortion of time. Consagra has an international reputation. In addition to numerous solo exhibitions in different galleries in Italy, and having participated eleven times in the Venice Biennale between 1950 and 1993, the artist exhibited works in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Gallery in London.
His concern is to liberate sculpture from the weight of historical legacy, working with bronze and iron to create almost two-dimensional sculptures. In this way, he focused on a much more open frontal view involving the work and the viewer directly.
From 1952, he produced the ‘Colloquies’ series, a set of bronze sculptures defined by their flattened surface’s plasticity: overlapping planes, voids and varying textures destabilising any guise of ‘conventional’ point of view.
In the 1960s, colour became an essential element of Pietro Consagra’s sculpture. The curved fragments and provocative colours of Consagra’s works were the most vital part of his rejection of traditional sculptural canons. Consagra said: “Art is the only way to keep yourself suspicious, susceptible, nervous, intolerant, evasive, enthusiastic, balanced, unbalanced, attentive, aggressive, lazy, imaginative, libidinous, free, elusive”. The tension between these contradictions makes Pietro Consagra’s works maintain a psychological power involving the public. Colour as an essential element was further emphasised in the works of the 1970s through the study and use of marble.
In his work, the procedure of adding and linking elements to one another in a single image remains essential, which is therefore also typical of the large-scale works intended for the city, such as La Stella di Gibellina (1982) in steel, 28 metres high. The installation erected on the road leading to Gibellina Nuova’s town is reminiscent of the village illuminations that used to be present for festivities in the past. Over time, it has also become identifiable with the Belice Valley. It was erected following the reconstruction of Gibellina with artistic criteria, as requested by the mayor Ludovico Corrao.
Consagra had solo exhibitions at the Palais des beaux-arts in Brussels (1958); the Galerie de France in Paris (1959); the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Holland (1967); and the Marlborough Galleria d’arte in Rome (1974). The artist was awarded a prize at the 1955 São Paulo Biennale, and he participated in several Venice Biennale, where he received the Einaudi Prize (1956) and the Grand Prize for Sculpture (1960). In 1962 he had his first solo exhibition in New York at the Steampfli Gallery and participated in the exhibition I Grandi Premi Della Biennale 1948-1960 at the Galleria Ca’Pesaro in Venice. In 1964 he executed a fountain in Mazzara del Vallo. In the 1960s Consagra was associated with Continuità (1961-ca. 1970), a group founded in Rome and established together with many members of Forma 1, such as Carla Accardi, Piero Dorazio and Gastone Novelli. The group claim a more vital continuity with Italian art history and the restoration of order and structure in art.
A major retrospective was held at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome (1989), where a permanent installation of his works was inaugurated in 1993. In 1991 he was the first abstract sculptor to exhibit at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The Galerie der Stadt Stuttgart, Germany, opened a permanent installation of his paintings and sculptures in 2002. A solo exhibition was organised in the same year at the Museum of Modern Art, Bolzano, Italy, then presented at Palazzo Sertoli and Palazzo Pretorio, Sondrio, Italy.