nelle collezioni del Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea

Abstract Photography from the Avant-garde to the Digital Age

Curated by Roberta Valtorta and Arianna Bianchi

The exhibition includes photographs by Olivo Barbieri, Pierre Cordier, Franco Fontana, Jean-Louis Garnell, Mario Giacomelli, Paolo Gioli, Franco Grignani, Roberto Masotti, Nino Migliori, Paolo Monti, Aaron Siskind, Luigi Veronesi and Silvio Wolf, dating from the 1930s to the first years of the new millennium, investigating how photography, the most ‘realistic’ of the arts, can deal with abstract forms. It was in the context of the collapse of the concept of ‘representation’ among the historical avant-garde, especially abstractionism and Constructivism, that photography began experimenting with abstract forms, finding expressive solutions that no longer use visible reality as a reference, but the ‘other’ realities of interiority and the imaginary. Later, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Abstract Expressionism and other forms of abstraction provided fertile ground for further experimentation, as would Pop Art and Op Art in the following decade. Some artists used techniques outside the canon such as the photogram, the chemogram, cliche-verre, blurring and, more recently, digital manipulation. Others chose traditional photography to capture aspects of reality that already offer themselves to the eye as abstract forms, removed from their context.

Centro Internazionale Scavi Scaligeri, Verona, under the aegis of ArteVerona – Modern and Contemporary Art Fair 4 October 2008-11 January 2009 Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea 15 November 2009 – 2 May 2010

Olivo Barbieri (Carpi-Modena, 1954) studied at DAMS in Bologna and has been taking photographs since the early ‘70s. He focuses on the urban landscape and architecture, often shooting at night. For many years he has been known on the international scene for his photographs and videos of the world’s great cities shot from a helicopter.

Pierre Cordier (Brussels, Belgium, 1933) is known as the inventor of the chemogram, a technique that he began practicing in 1956. He has always conducted experimental research, producing largely abstract images akin to graphic design and painting.

Franco Fontana (Modena, 1933) has been active in the field of photography since the early ‘60s. His method involves applying color to geometrized natural landscapes, to the urban landscape, the human figure and the nude in an approach characterized by simplification and stylization.

Jean-Louis Garnell (Dolo, France, 1954) is a photographer and teacher who, after taking part in publically funded DATAR Photographic Mission to document the territory, shifted his focus to domestic spaces, everyday life and objects, using different forms of composition and digital experimentation.

Mario Giacomelli (Senigallia-Ancona, 1925-2000), master of 20th-century Italian photography and one of the most renowned photographers internationally, he focused intensively on the rural landscape and the human body in all its different ages. His tendency toward abstraction gives his work a strong and sometimes dramatic expressiveness.

Paolo Gioli (Sarzano-Rovigo, 1942), among the most original and profound painters, filmmakers and photographers at the international level, has been working for years on issues of the body, the face and human identity, experimenting incessantly with the materials of photography and film, always inventing new visual codes.

Franco Grignani (Pieve di Monte Morone-Pavia, 1908-1999), architect and designer, uses photography in an experimental way, investigating perception, sub-perception, lateral vision and optical distorsions, achieving abstract results of great graphic impact.

Roberto Masotti (Ravenna, 1947) is renowned as a photographer of the theater, jazz and contemporary music, a field in which he also produces multimedia projects. From 1979 to 1996 he was the official photographer of the Teatro alla Scala with Silvia Lelli. He also conducts intensive research on the natural world.

Nino Migliori (Bologna, 1926) is a photographer and teacher. After starting out in social photography, he has continuously dedicated himself to experimental research off-camera using a range of techniques, from photograms to hydrograms to cliché-verre, of which is considered a master.

Paolo Monti (Novara, 1908 – Milan, 1982) was a great master of 20th-century Italian photography. Teacher as well as photographer, esteemed collaborator of art historians and architects, his work addressed the natural landscape, architecture, the historic centers of Italian cities and works of art.

Aaron Siskind (New York, 1903 – Providence, 1991), professor and later director of the department of photography of the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago and a founder of the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, was a master of 20th-century photography, best known for his work with abstract forms rooted in Abstract Expressionism.

Luigi Veronesi (Milan, 1908-1998), painter, graphic designer and filmmaker, is considered one of the most important artists of the abstractionist movement. As a multidimensional artist, he studied the relationship between color and music; as a photographer, he pushed the boundaries of the photogram and montage techniques.

Silvio Wolf (Milan, 1952), a multimedia artist who dedicated himself in the ’70s and ’80s to analytical research on the codes of photography. Subsequently, he has also realized projections, light and sound installations and site-specific works often based on photography.


MUFOCO EDUCATIONAL ABSTRACT PHOTOGRAPHY Cordier PIERRE CORDIER These dreamy images spark the imagine, projecting us towards unknown galaxies, immersing us in the ocean’s deepest abysses.The refined and varied colors and layers have the appearance of marble veining. The focus of Pierre Cordier’s work is the ‘chemogram’, a technique he developed in 1956, images obtained without a camera but rather through the direct action of chemicals on the emulsion paper. The lack of reproducibility makes each chemogram a unique object. Barbieri OLIVO BARBIERI The experimentations of Olivo Barbieri invariably tend towards off-camera photography, creating forms that seem like fireworks or lunar landscapes. This is an imaginative series of early chemograms from the negative inspired by certain writings by Claude Pélieu of a surrealist nature that become important for the images by providing narrative support. Fontana FRANCO FONTANA Whether it’s an abstract painting or a photographic image of the hills of Basilicata, the fields of color, geometric, flattened and extrapolated from reality help us to simplify the complexity of the natural landscape in order to create abstract visions at their most minimal. The photographs of Franco Fontana transport us to surreal worlds in which color is the protagonist and the play of lines is cadenced in a sort of chromatic grammar that renders everything more suggestive. Garnell JEAN LOUIS GARNELL The large-format image by Louis Garnell presents an imposing field of gray surrounded by an explosion of colored fragments deposited along the edges. We no longer have any reference to reality, the forms exist within a digital assembly with no regard for the everyday world. In the series Modules, Images, Jean Louis Garnell entrusts the task o fragmentation and subsequent arbitrary recomposition of images not shot by him to a computer, resulting in an average gray, the sum of all the colors of the world. Giacomelli MARIO GIACOMELLI The extreme nature of the aerial view provides a unique interpretation of the landscape, insofar as the distance makes it possible to better understand the terrain, which, for those who know how to read it, tells the stories of the people who have lived there. A hill in the Marche region, lined by the furrows of plows working the fields, recalls the strong typographical flavor that we find in the works of Mario Giacomelli. The agricultural landscape becomes two-dimensional, and the lines become traces of man’s perennial effort to plow it, and of the soils submission to the wounds, which evoke the deep creases of the farmer's hands. Gioli PAOLO GIOLI Using a pinhole camera, Paolo Gioli inserts small objects of different materials between himself and the subject being photographed, which he has been doing since the 1960s to create portraits and self-portraits on Polaroid film. His photos are thus double, simultaneously capturing the face of the subject and the abstract forms that interfere with it to the point of erasing it. In his work there are always significant overlappings of lines and abstract elements in dialogue/conflict with the subject. Grignani FRANCO GRIGNANI The eye explores the question of vision, put to the test by the abstract experimentations of Franco Grignani. Graphic elements create optical patterns that play on the refined elegance of the forms. Grignani pursues a different and original direction, geared towards deepening the processes of perception – by both the human eye and the camera – and optical phenomena like split vision and distortion. Masotti ROBERTO MASOTTI In certain of Roberto Masotti’s photos of nature there is a subtle, elegant connection to Land Art. Rock emerges from the black of the background, accentuated by layers of paint applied directly to the photo paper, providing an image of a strange and unsettling dream-like dimension. Migliori NINO MIGLIORI Nino Migliori’s experiments on photographic paper – chemograms, hydrograms, pyrogram, oxidations, cliché-verres – open up surreal worlds, spatial and graphic, caused by acid reactions, burning, cutting and scraping. The abstract photography of the ‘50s and ‘60s commingles with the abstractions of the Neo avant-garde, exploring all the expressive possibilities of the medium. The surface of the photographic paper turns into a kind of canvas on which forms, constellations, lumps and marks both simple and complex are inscribed by light, 'happening' freely and opening themselves to multiple interpretive possibilities. Monti PAOLO MONTI The abstract experimentation in the photographs of Paolo Monti arises from the direct observation of nature. The results presented here were obtained through different techniques: from the rotation of the camera to the macrophotography of rocks, lichens, wood, leaves and walls. Thanks to the camera, they visual acuity of the eye is enhanced, penetrating matter until losing all reference to reality, eliciting associations with Abstract Expressionist painting. Siskind AARON SISKIND The framing selects portions of decontextualized, two-dimensional reality. There is no perspective, the third dimension is eliminated. The vision is caused by pictorial signs left on urban surfaces. In the photography of Aaron Siskind there is no descriptive intention, but rather the need to transform into self-sufficient abstract compositions the mundane, unexceptional things of everyday life, with no particular meaning, the signs found on the walls, streets and railings of New York. Veronesi LUIGI VERONESI Fotogrammi Light is to photography as paint is to painting. The photograms of Luigi Veronesi are abstract compositions, luminous images obtained without the use of a camera. His experimentation began in the darkroom with negatives or photo paper, upon which the objects exposed to light generate games of shadows and unexpected transparencies. What strikes us about his images are the intensity of the colors and the beauty of the forms and geometrical compositions. Wolf SILVIO WOLF The large-format diptych by Silvio Wolf attracts not only the eye but the body, enveloped in warm, intense colors, such that the work ends up directly engaging the emotional sphere as well. The content of the image eludes us, leading our imagination towards memories of sunsets and blazing fires. The association with the work of Mark Rothko is immediate. As Wolf himself explains, he recovers “the initial excerpts of the photographic film, exposed randomly to light while loading the camera and then irregularly developed during the photochemical process”, provoking reflection on the material of photographic film at the boundary between analogue and digital.

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