Sponsored  December 15, 2023  Caterina Bellinetti

Exploring the Meaning of the Archive for Marco Almaviva

Courtesy Archivio Almaviva

Marco Almaviva in 1973 at Galleria Amaltea.

An archive is a form of memory. Created in order to remember and be remembered, many artists begin the process of archiving at the start of their career. While in the past archives were comprised of mostly physical objects, now they are heavily supported by digital material.

Digitalization offers unprecedented flexibility for those working on the creation of an archive and for those who wish to visit one but don’t have the opportunity. Some artists, like Andy Warhol was, collect and store everything, from bus tickets to their own sketches and exhibition catalogs. Others are more selective and only focus on materials that are strictly connected to their work. Marco Almaviva falls in this second category and his archive has been a work in progress since the early days of his artistic life. 

In a recent interview with Art & Object, he explained that archives are usually started because of the necessity to document an artist’s work through relevant data such as titles and descriptions, techniques, measurements, and dates. This is fundamental for collectors and art historians who might need to confirm the provenance or establish value of an artwork. The archive can therefore be seen as a physical and metaphorical corridor that connects the past with the present while paving the way for the future. 

Courtesy Archivio Almaviva

Marco Almaviva in 1953. 

The Almaviva Archive began on paper notebooks in the 1960s when Almaviva’s wife, Maria Luisa, got into the habit of keeping a written record of all his paintings, which ones were sold and to whom, and the exhibitions in which he took part. Other materials included in the archive are past correspondence, exhibition catalogs, and art and history books. A considerable part of these sources are useful for keeping track of the artist's past and ongoing work. 

Almaviva also recognizes how his archive helped him remember details of a career that spans five decades. “To discover a painting that I had forgotten was surprising and sometimes left me feeling slightly disoriented," he said. "Such discoveries allowed me to engage with the complex and unpredictable universe of collectors, admirers, and supporters.” 

The archive is not just about remembrance but also about self-assurance, a way to protect for posterity an artist’s viewpoint and innovative accomplishments in a field. This was especially crucial for Almaviva as he pushed the boundaries of painting through the new styles of Tonaltimbrica and Filoplastica. Backed by an archive that offered a solid background of the art environment of the second half of the 20th century, he was able to claim the originality of his works and his pursuit of innovation. 

The Futurists in 1931 in Albisola, the Sintesi Group, featuring Vassallo (in profile).
Courtesy Archivio Almaviva

The Futurists in 1931 in Albisola, the Sintesi Group, featuring Vassallo (in profile).

Marco Almaviva in 1953.
Courtesy Archivio Almaviva

Marco Almaviva in 1953.

Marco Almaviva's Presentation of his Filoplastica style at Rovereto in 1971.
Courtesy Archivio Almaviva

Marco Almaviva's Presentation of his Filoplastica style at Rovereto in 1971.

Gallery Amaltea in Genova in 1971.
Courtesy Archivio Almaviva

Gallery Amaltea in Genova in 1971.

Marco Almaviva at Amaltea Gallery in 1973.
Courtesy Archivio Almaviva

Marco Almaviva at Amaltea Gallery in 1973.

“In order to safeguard my work, I had to acquire anything—art catalogs, monographs, magazines, and academic publications—that would confirm that my pursuits were innovative. Yet this research was not soulless but was also fuelled by the need to include aspects of my life and the artistic milieu I came from.” Here Almaviva is referring to his father, Armando Vassallo, his life and career, his closeness to the Futurist movement and the difficult years under the Fascist rule. 

As a metaphorical place, the archive holds within itself the concepts of memory, the passage of time, and nostalgia. Art, according to Almaviva, is a way to contrast and address the unavoidable passage of time. It is also inevitable that once we venture into the archive, we will have to face nostalgia. “Through the archive, you are presented again with lost opportunities, the choices you made when you were maybe naive. But an archive is also a form of resistance because, through it, we can find and preserve the original meaning of our art: it is a fight against any attempt to decontextualize it.” 

Almaviva seems to be gifted with uncommon perseverance and determination. When asked which piece of advice he would like to archive, he travels back to a conversation he had in 1973 with the art dealer Ettore Gian Ferrari, the man who defined the contemporary Italian art market. Almaviva asked Ferrari which were the necessary conditions to have in order to tackle any discourse on art. Ferrari replied by providing four fundamental pillars: “An indisputable date, context, resolution and debate.” Almaviva treasured the advice and used these four elements as the grounding elements upon which he built his archive.

After our conversation with Almaviva, there was still one critical question lingering: After a long career filled with innovation and determination, has the Italian painter found the meaning of life through his art? Almaviva stopped to think for a second and then, with a sparkle in his eyes and a slight smirk, he said decisively, "No—But at least I got to vent out a bit!”

This is the third in a series about the work and legacy of Marco Almaviva. To read the first, click here. To read the second, click here.

About the Author

Caterina Bellinetti

Dr. Caterina Bellinetti is an art historian specialised in photography and Chinese visual propaganda and culture.

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