Ilaria Bignotti

One can infer that what is known as optical or “Gestalt” art does not present a vision of abstract thought or even how technology shapes it, but rather the content and process of imagination that accompanies the unfolding of abstract thought and connected operations […] What sort of experience has no evolution, builds no story, aims for no goal? And can any experience be envisioned without freedom? One might easily reply that, given the irreversibility of the historical process, all one can do is free oneself not from but within that experience: to rediscover, in other words, the homo ludens (in the sense indicated by Schiller’s Letters on Aesthetic Education) not outside, but inside the activity of the homo faber. 

G. C. Argan, “Arte come ricerca”
Nova tendencija 3, ed. B. Bek, exh. cat
City Gallery of Contemporary Art
Museum of Arts and Crafts
Center for Industrial Design
August 13–September 19, 1965
[Zagreb: GZH, 1965], 21

Exploring the question of art as research in 1965, a year so pivotal to the spread and diversification of the New Tendencies in art, sixteen extraordinary examples of which are on view at the Lercaro Collection, Argan posed questions about how the role of art moves between rationality and imagination, between the mechanization and logic demanded by the process of constructing the work, and the emotion and freedom found in the subjective, experiential process of viewing it.

Argan cited Friedrich Schiller’s late-eighteenth-century Letters on Aesthetic Education, in which the German philosopher elucidated the need for aesthetic mediation between the sensible and rational spheres, whose separation and seeming incompatibility seemed to threaten the harmonious unity of modern man — as they still do, one might add. One could see a keen focus on the idea of personal growth through the work of art — in the broadest sense of the term, as a bearer of Beauty — that German thinkers would translate into the concept of Bildung, a word that condensed centuries of spiritual, social, aesthetic and philosophic thought aimed at delineating the construction and development of each person’s identity in relation to God and history. Bildung contains an extraordinary semantic ambivalence that has continued to take on new facets of meaning, since it can imply both the process of maturation and the final outcome of that process. It is a concept that can be fittingly applied to enrich our interpretation of the languages of “structured and programmed visuality,” to use the terminology of the decade that engendered the works in this exhibition, the 1960s. Each in its own way, these works all base their principles and methods on the educational value and potential benefit to society of an aesthetic experience shared by a democratically broad audience. Bildung should therefore be seen here as a formative experience that involves the artist, the work, and the viewer called on to become an active participant in the process of vision. Bildung contains and highlights the full meaning of the term Bild, which depending on context can be interpreted as the image or action of “imparting a form.” An enacted form, that is, a form defined in its full breadth, requiring a perceptual and cognitive interaction that is never imposed in advance, but rather, open-ended and variable in accordance with our specific sensible and intellectual predispositions: from the metaphysical shaping of the surface in Bonalumi’s Bianco, to the reverberating patterns of solids and voids in Castellani’s Superficie bianca, to the forms that overlap and plunge from canvas to canvas in Paolo Scheggi’s Intersuperficie curva — bringing together the three leading figures in object-painting, the spiritual heirs of Lucio Fontana, who developed on his idea of moving past the real and metaphorical surface of the work, with the aid of blades and awls. But a Bildung of enacted forms also springs from Ivan Picelj’s concave and convex modular units, found in shrill gloss black in Leukos 2neg or hypnotic polished metal in Wertho; from the layered, diaphanous architectural hypotheses in the various levels of Gianfranco Pardi’s Architettura, and from the simple and complex folds of Grazia Varisco’s Extrapagine. A potential form — i.e., a form that becomes one only through our willingness to create it, develop it with our gaze and through the emotion it elicits, and then restore it to its maker enriched by that experience of ours, in a give-and-take that is inherent to the idea of Bildung — emerges from the blazing grid of Otto Piene’s Rasterbild, or from the silvery web of interwoven threads in Henk Peeters’ 62.10, or from the rising and falling darkness of Heinz Mack’s magmatic Dynamische Form; and the radical members of Nul and Zero are thus brought together in a three-way dialogue. Elsewhere, the question of how virtual and kinetic dynamics of vision take shape is addressed by Alberto Biasi’s Rilievo ottico dinamico, or in a different way, by the mobile yet static elegance of Walter Leblanc’s highly sophisticated language. Lastly, Dadamaino’s La ricerca del colore, the only work on view to adopt a range of colors, closes and reopens this arc, showing its formative results in the investigations of contemporary artists. Hence the choice — which is not meant to merely present an “evolution,” but examine the significance of the art of the 1960s from the perspective of the present — to also include works by Maurizio Donzelli and Francesca Pasquali: respectively, Mirror, Frappa, and New Baroque. The former follows the principle of potential form, of a Bildung expressed through a constant repositioning of the viewer with respect to the work. The images that bloom on the surface or lie rooted in the depths of Donzelli’s works are fleeting, and change according to where we stand — in front of the reflective object, or to the side. We can let our eyes delve into it, or run over the surface, immersed in a Bildung of contemplation. On the other hand, the works of Francesca Pasquali are enacted forms, an organic reclamation of inert materials, compelling sculptural transformations that prompt an active, objective Bildung in the viewer, through a “re-enactment” of the materials that make them up and the forms evoked by their combined conformation.

Text for the exhibition
BILDUNG. Contemporary Art, between Experience and Knowledge
curated by I. Bignotti and A. Dall’Asta SJ
in partnership with Cortesi Gallery
Raccolta Lercaro, Bologna
January 26–March 19, 2017