by Fausto Melotti at Bicocca Hangar - Milan
The sculpture had already been displayed at Forte di Belvedere in Florence and in Villa Arconati park in Bollate (Milan)
The monumental sculpture “The Sequence”, by Fausto Melotti (1901-1986), milanese artist of international renown, after a careful restauration under Fausto Melotti archive’s supervision and with the masterly consulting of Arnaldo Pomodoro, has been made usable again and exposed in the garden area realized at the entrance of "Hangar Bicocca", the show floor recently created in Milan in the Bicocca area.
The sequence is one of the most significant works that the artist has left us, testimony of his long and complicated formal research based on a deep knowledge of history and on the natural, harmonic and linguistic links that the pure form can draw and interact from musical experiences.
Realized in 1981, it’s a monumental work, 22 metres long, 7 metres high and 10 metres wide. It is composed by a series of iron sheets, vertical and layered in deep on three undulate levels that recall, in a tension to movement, the running of fingers along a musical keyboard. The sculpture had already been displayed at Forte di Belvedere in Florence and in Villa Arconati park in Bollate.
We have visited Bicocca Hangar in Milan, mega show floor realized in Bicocca area, close to the new buildings realized by Vittorio Gregotti, and included in the field of Bicocca Project as an industrial object involved in recovery.
The Hangar on its inside, apart from the gigantic show area, divided in two rooms of different height, has a bookshop and a snack bar area.
The outside has been transformed into a garden, with a wide parking lot located in the front. The garden, especially in its front part, is constitued by different arboreal species of great scenic effect, in its simple and modern settlement. In the centre, the big iron sculpture dominates, unusual in its dimensions for the Master, but not in its geometrical and perfectly harmonic scores, of great plastic and scenic effect.
It appeared to us from afar like an archeological find, and immense megalith, because of its fascinating connection with the paleoindustrial presences and the architectural modern figures of the context. A mix whose metaphysical climate has been and still is able to realize Melotti’s idea of surreal and even random harmonies, born from the real material to later become surreal through the vision that light, reverberations, colours and atmosphere accidentally generate in infinite variants.
Fausto Melotti was born in Rovereto, city of the Austro-Hungarian empire, where he attended Royal Elizabethan School, but at the outbreak of First World War he moved to Florence where he finished his high school studies. In the Tuscan city Melotti, in possession of natural expressive qualities and a really pronounced manual hability, got in touch with some men of letters and avant-garde artists, and had a chance to closely observe the works of some artists from Florentine Renaissance like Giotto, Simone Martini, Botticelli, Donatello, Michelangelo. Essential was his relationship with his native town, and with the fervent panorama that enlivened Rovereto during those years: Fortunato Depero, the architect Gino Pollini- one of the founders of italian rationalism thanks to group 7-, the famous composer Rizzardo Zadonai and others lived there during that time. Subsequently he graduated from Polytechnic in Milan, after studying electrical engineering. After several musical studies he decided to devote himself to sculpture: he studied in Turin at first, in Pietro Canonica’s studio, then, starting from 1928, at Brera Academy in Milan, under the guidance of the great milanese sculptor Adolfo Wildt. He worked for Richard Ginori company with his friend Gio Ponti.
His style changed during the years, even if he always kept a really personal refinement, aimed at structuring the room by following rhythms of musical “taste”; even the more traditional sculptures linked to the twentieth century, like the work made out of chalk presented at the V Triennale of Milan in 1933, or all the sculptures prepared between Rome and Carrara in 1941 for the Universal Eur Exhibition in Rome, are full of that particular love for the poetry of materials. Evident his connections with the twentieth century, with Metaphysical art, but most of all with Rationalism and with all the artists linked to Milione Gallery in Milan, especially Lucio Fontana. His carving always had a more mental nature, and at the sime time was subjected to a synthesis, in terms of methods and materials: ceramic and chalk but most of all his really light sculptures made of steel, were soaked with a surreal and ironic vein. Up to the extreme consequences in the works that followed the official award of 1967, obtained thanks to an exhibition in Milan. He teached and directed the Royal Art School of Cantù, now State Art Institute I.S.A. Cantù.
His carving was characterized by linear and geometrical elements, and he wanted to exclude, as he expressly said, every kind of modeling, in favour of an absolute formal pureness (his degree in electrical engineering and his studies in music could have contributed to this research of moderation and rational order).
He devoted himself also to ceracmic, reaching an outcome of really high quality (Letter to Fontana, 1944, Milan, private collection) and realized, starting from 1931, the series of Small theatres made out of coloured earthenware or many different materials (Wotan’s sleep 1958, Trent, Modern and Contemporary Art Museum).
Starting from 1970, when he was close to his seventies, though he never contradicted his principles of harmonic occupation of the abstractionism’s room, he released a genuine and unmistakable poetic inspiration with some fragile and air constructions made out of thin copper strings, of transparent metal nets, of mobile gauze rags, and using meaningful titles like Wind in the shed, The sound of horn in the forest, The moon and the wind, The snow.
The wide production of Melotti has always been animated by a double, but not contradictory tension: on the one hand, a tension towards the allusive, symbolic form (The self-portrait, 1962, Milan, The sound of horn in the forest, 1970, Milan, Mulas Collection), on the other hand a tension towards rhythmic and structural invention (Plumb-bob, steel, 1968; Art of plastic counterpoint n. 1, steel, 1970).
His creations have an haunting charm, where carving, if you can still use this term, rather than “anti-carving”, becomes a really calculated play of semblances and spaces, smiley and sometimes lightly ironic; but “a play- as Melotti asserts- that becomes poetry when it succeeds”.
Complex artistic personality, Fausto Melotti (Rovereto/TN 1901 - Milan 1986) has covered a long and rich cultural walk that had its foundamental stages in Florence, Turin, Milan and obviously his native town.
His education started, as Giuseppe Appella specified (in Fausto Melotti 1901-1986, Rome – Milan 1987, pp. 11-19), in Florence where he finished his high school studies after leaving Rovereto at the outbreak of First Worls War.
In Florence, city of european culture, worked many avant-garde artists and men of letters, but most of all you could find numerous historical and artistic attestations of the past: Melotti had the chance to admire in some florentine museums the great works of art created by italian masters like Giotto, Simone Martini, Botticelli, Donatello and Michelangelo.
Carlo Belli (1903-1991), who reached him some time later, reminds that his cousin, really matured, conveyed the spirit of that town to him. One day at Bargello Museum, he managed to make him understand Donatello’s Saint George: “ ‘You can see that silence circulates around it’. I found myself struck. I accepted the concept of silence as the power in carving”. And even after a long time, Carlo believes that for them, adolescents at the time, that one was “a formative stay…fundamental axis around which our first humanistic acquisition will develop”.
The two-year period spent in another Tuscan city like Pisa, allowed Melotti to assimilate the spirit of some remarkable architectural works, of Gothic and Romanesque sculptures (Nicola and Giovanni Pisano), at the same time as the precious works coming from Middle Ages (capitals and relieves, mosaics and enamels, dry goods and ivories). An iconographical and stilistic world that will emerge here and there in his enameled ceramics and in his small theatres.
It was only in 1919 that Melotti reached a total integration in the lively cultural life of his Rovereto “rich in living lights”. At that time the city was popular for being the place that had produced the philosopher Antonio Serbati Rosmini (1797-1855), whose works were almost compulsorily read by the citizens, and two “european” characters, not known by the kids of that time, the futurist globetrotter painter Iras Baldessari and the decadent poet Lionello Fiumi.
Belli tells with pride that the kids of Rovereto, animated by a desire for renewal, wanted to “remake the world” in their own way, avoiding the usual protest that characterizes kids and using “fantasy” instead, and were constantly in search of bright ideas that could cause furore in public opinion.
Melotti himself recalls with enthusiasm in some interview the numerous personalities who lived in his town, and made it an avant-garde centre in many intellectual fields: in figurative arts, in archaeology, in music and literature. First of all the futurist Fortunato Depero (1892-1960), the already mature architect and painter M. Sandonà, the architect G. Tiella, the future architects A. Libera, G. Pollini and L. Baldessari, M. Untersteiner luminary in classic philology, the archaeologist F. Halberr, P. Orsi scholar of Magna Greece, the poet R. Prati, the men of letters S. Branzi and C. G. Stoffella (who supplied these young artists with texts, obtained in France, by Valery, J. Cocteau, M. Proust and A. Gide), the famous musician R. Zandonai.
Many of these figures used to discuss all morning long in the backshop of Cobelli pharmacy: Belli almost always participated, while Melotti went only sometimes, due to his bashful nature; they were fascinated especially by the expedition accounts of the archaeologists Orsi and Halberr, by the reports of their minings respectively in Locri (Calabria) and in the ancient Crete, and were swayed by the myth of those ancient people.
Even from the point of view of its school education, Rovereto was an avant-garde town. It is particularly interesting to remind that, starting from the nineteenth century, there had been a “Royal School” (subsequently names “Elizabethan”), attended also by Melotti, where a lot of room was given to technical notions and to graphical activities, promoting the artistical capabilities of the students; after this school, you could directly be admitted to Polytechnic.
The first significant experience of young Melotti, was his hanging around with Fortunato Depero, who had “entered the history of modern painting, since his godfathers were Balla and Boccioni; though he was a mate of our crazy evenings, we were already considering him a figure”, and in the period that went from 1919 to 1924 devoted himself to the sector of decorative arts.
The manifesto Futurist reconstruction of the universe (1915) reveals how enthusiastically the subscribers, Balla and Depero, were planning to create a new reality, bringing into everyday life some objects able to “reconstruct the universe by brightening it up, namely by integrally recreating it “, finding “the abstract equivalents of all the shapes and the elements of the universe itself, then we will combine them together, following the whims of our inspiration, so as to create some plastic complexes that we’ll put in motion”. A fundamental component of this statement is the will to use any kind of matter and material (steel and cotton strings, clothes, coloured cardboards and glasses, metal nets, mirrors, etc.) so as to build plastic complexes, provided that they mantained an eye-catching characteristic.
No doubt that this aspect, together with the intention of the two futurists to impose the artist’s creativity in all the environment of man, in the urban space, in the mores, impressed the young people of Rovereto, to whom Depero was also able to transmit his vital energy, kept alive by a happy fantasy. He had constituted an Art House with his name in the town, placed the following year in the most spacious and luminous saloons of Keppel House.
The machine of Art House started up right when Melotti started coming back to Rovereto more frequently, while he began his studies in engineering in Milan.
Depero, who was helped by his wife in his handicraft laboratory, encouraged the young people next to him to take up the road of applied arts so that they could become worthy companions of figurative arts.
With his manual hability and through humble materials then considered “anti-artistic” – as it is explained in the manifesto of 1915 – he was able to express all his language: a synthetic and linear style made of strong colours, of geometrical shapes that created joints, full of sense of dynamism. In the creations from the Twenties in particular you can see a metaphysical valency, as Carlo Belli had detected in Kn (Milan 1935): “Depero painted, without knowing it, the most beautiful metaphysical pictures produced by this movement. …(The procession of the big doll – The house of the wizard – Unknown village) spectacular visions of a magic naturalism, superior to De Chirico himself. At that time Depero was more than ever an active member of futurism, but the metaphysical Muse was in the air”; as P. Fossati has more recently explained: “Depero was …invested with a sort of osmosis between futurism and metaphysical muse, …the rising and substantial wave that impregnated the dynamic atmosphere of Depero with a tense and mysterious scenography was the metaphysical one, and it wasn’t hard to lose the elements of futurism by that time disfigured in it ” (in The suspended image…, Turin 1971, pp. 179-180).
The metaphysical air that influenced Depero’s solutions, detaching him from the other futurists, probably comes from his experience in the theatrical field: he painted some abstract figures such as puppets, mannequins, and he insterted them in cubical coloured spaces.
According to G. Marzari and P. Setti, the young people from Rovereto, though admiring the aesthetical novelites of Depero (for example the above cited Kn of Belli), still “show a substantial indifference for the hand-crafted production of the Art House, deducing that the folkloristic themes of applied art’s products, certainly let down those ones like Belli, Melotti and Pollini who have directed their interests towards the art as vanguard ” (in Fausto Melotti, Luigi Figini, Gino Pollini, Renata Melotti, Rovereto 1984, p. 15).
This hypothesis seems confirmed if you read a statement by Melotti himself, written in the occasion of the death of the illustrious fellow citizen: “…laboratory of pillows and tapestries, in which – he – dispersed and vulgarized his painting”, but you have to think that the sculptor was not expressing with the spirit of yore, but as a mature man who looked at the past. And yet in the same article you could find an emotion in the account of the preparation of the futuristic Vigil organized on January 10th 1923. He in fact writes:
“We all had lent, by working so as to cut and glue papers, coloured cardboards, tack on puppets, flowers, gadgets that would stun the rooms in which… the entire bourgeoisie of Italia Club was about to be subjected to the futurist electroshock”.
And the people who took part in the big vigil definitely had a shock, due to the harsh colours of the rooms and the furnishing, for the strange images (galloping knights, huge flowers) that covered the walls, for the phosphorescent stalactites of many colours (reversed pyramid-shaped) that came out of the ceiling, and for the original final idea constitued by the sudden coming out of the organizers dressed up as ‘locomotives’. An out-and-out theatrical performance with music and lights that Melotti seemed to recall with pleasure, living the involvement of that time again. The fact that he took part in these discussions and worked in these sectors of applied art when he hadn’t got busy in any artistic activity yet, was a notable impulse for him.
Nothing, though, can tell us whether the artist gained knowledge of ceramic techniques while he was in Rovereto, but this would be an extremely important piece of information since it would allow us to situate the cultural context of Rovereto, and to understand what kind of thoughts about art young Melotti could have incubated.
It was in Turin, after a stay of about three years (1925-27), that fausto Melotti learned the trade of sculptor, by following the teaching of his uncle Carlo Fait (1877-1968), who worked in the studio of the famous Pietro Canonica (1869-1959), attending Albertina Academy at the same time. Melotti won’t recall this experience with much pleasure in the following years, because it had been considered by him devoid of any real artistic value; it was important, though, because it determined his choice of seriously devoting himself to sculpture.
When Melotti, already graduated, settled in Milan (1928), after the short Turinese break, he decided to definitively follow his aptitude.
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Milan, July 26th 2011 (first italian edition)
Lesa, september 24th 2011 (english edition)
(The pictures are dedicated to Maria Elena)
Text and pictures by Enrico Mercatali
(translated from italian by Penelope Mirotti)