Sponsored  November 24, 2023  Caterina Bellinetti

Marco Almaviva and the Pursuit of Innovation After Spatialism

Courtesy Archivio Almaviva

Marco Almaviva, Lafar, 2014. Oil on canvas. 40 x 50 cm.

Italian painter Marco Almaviva began his career in the late 1950s in Milan while in close contact with artists working within the movement known as Spatialism, whereby the artists rejected traditional painting on canvas and aimed to bring art and science together to project form and color into real space and create “new ideas of art.” “I had the audacity to wonder whether art could be organized like factories," Almaviva told Art & Object in a recent interview. But I knew that artists did not want that."

Argentine-Italian artist Lucio Fontana was the forerunner of Spatialism, and in his Manifesto Blanco (White Manifesto) (1946), which was written in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he articulated the significance of new technologies and declared that it was time to go beyond stagnant artistic practices in order to incorporate time and space. His ideas were a synthesis of the dynamism that had characterized Futurism and the attempts to modernize painting of the early decades of the 1900s. 

In Fontana’s view, art needed to be dematerialized and integrated with sound, color, and movement. The priority was therefore not the image, but the notion of space—time, direction, sound, and light—as all-encompassing and all-embracing. This revolution was also a consequence of the twentieth century scientific discoveries into invisible particles and rays that were impossible to replicate through the traditional method of painting on canvas. Almaviva explains that the shared will to research new pathways brought on the artistic innovation that characterized the 1960s.

Courtesy of the Artist

Marco Almaviva, Zepri, 2015. Oil on canvas. 70 x 60 cm.

“If art keeps repeating itself, it becomes craftsmanship," he said. "Your expressivity cannot flourish if you are doing something that has already been done or seen.” The post-war Italian art environment was bustling and provocative. Spatialism was fueling innovation, boldness, and ambition. The Italian economic boom was underway. Almaviva’s artistic adventure had begun. 

Almaviva arrived in Milan in the late 1950s to pursue his artistic career but also to find out more about his father, the sculptor Armando Vassallo (1892-1952) who, after refusing to embrace the dictates on art imposed by Fascism, was excluded from exhibition circuits. Almaviva's own mistrust towards official recognition and institutions might stem from his father’s struggles, but also from the awareness that an artist is not necessarily defined by others. The need to find his own voice, outside of labels and influence from other artists, pushed Almaviva to welcome the urge for innovation found in the Milanese art circles of the 1960s. 

This urge was shared among all the artists who recognized themselves as Spatialists. When the critic Giorgio Kaisserlian declared that, after Fontana’s actions, painting was dead, Almaviva was just at the beginning of his career as a painter. It was a substantial blow. How could one resuscitate an art that had been deprived of its essence—the canvas? Yet, many artists decided to distance themselves from the canvas and, consequently, from their identity as painters. They wanted to be known as aesthetic operators.

Courtesy Archivio Almaviva

Marco Almaviva, Zello, 2010. 40 x 50 cm.

Almaviva rejected this and maintained his identity as a painter for two simple reasons. On the one hand, he believed that the canvas still had something to say. And on the other, because he wanted to find a credible, canvas-based answer to Fontana’s slashes. From this, Almaviva’s styles, the Tonaltimbrica and the Filoplastica, were born.

Almaviva, arguably more than some of his contemporaries, embraced the challenge and worked to provide an alternative: to go beyond the canvas. On these premises, Almaviva created Rectoverso, a pioneering painting crafted without a traditional canvas. When asked whether he thinks that the Spatialist movement was successful, Almaviva firstly recognized that Fontana was able to bring to light the new demands that art was pushing forward in that historical moment. “About the other artists, I am less certain," he told us. "They might have not been able to channel the same spirit.” With regard to his work, Almaviva stressed that it was not created to be built upon Fontana’s perspective, but to go forward. “Painting had to maintain its identity. That is the root of my work. My understanding of art materializes through painting.”

Courtesy Archivio Almaviva

Marco Almaviva, Verra, 2008. 50 x 60 cm.

By the 1970s, the innovation frenzy that had swept the Italian artistic scene began to die down. The social and political turmoil that marked the Years of Lead period (from the late 1960s to the late 1980s) was plaguing the country, making collectors and galleries afraid to invest. In the 1980s, painters returned to the canvas but innovation was not at the core of their artistic pursuits anymore. Nonetheless, the question of the success of the Spatialist revolution remains.

Time, space, sound, and direction might have been successfully embraced by contemporary performance art, but painters still paint on canvas. Is this a defeat? Once again, Almaviva replied with the pragmatism that characterizes him. “Those who went back to the canvas did not take part in our revolution," he said. "They rely on the past because carrying forward innovation is hard. Contamination comes easily and I think that the time for innovation is over. New artists can’t admit that they are not capable. Innovation happens when the obstacles in front of us are substantial. Without challenges, you achieve nothing.”

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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