Collaborative Artistic Theory and Practice. ‘Le ragioni dei gruppi’: Polystyrene Moon Above A Plastic Colosseum

by Andrea Cortellessa

[translated by Georgia Wall]

In the catalogue accompanying the 1990 exhibition Roma anni ’60. Al di là della pittura, the founder of Rome’s Tartaruga Gallery, Plinio De Martiis, declares,

‘if you went to certain galleries, coffee bars, bookshops, you’d meet the entire literary and artistic world. And it was a buzzing world; diverse, fascinating and fantastical, the like of which you can’t even imagine today. Or, try to imagine it: together, in the same setting, de Chirico, Comisso, Ungaretti, Palazzeschi, De Pisis and Sandro Penna. The blend of poets and painters, musicians, writers and film-makers had always been so potent, it was such fertile terrain, that something else had to come.’

A more cautious evaluation is offered by Cesare Vivaldi, the young writer working with De Martiis at that time. In the same catalogue, Vivaldi claims curtly that ‘Literature was completely foreign to us. Sinisgalli was the only exception. Moravia – forget it, Pasolini never’, dismissing Schifano’s support of Moravia as part of a shallow fascination with high society. He seems more forgiving towards Emilio Villa: it was, after all, Villa who brought tensions to a head by setting up the Appia Antica Gallery and its eponymous magazine. Between 1958 and 1960, the Appia Antica was one of the first galleries in Rome to exhibit the works of artists such as Piero Manzoni, Francesco Lo Savio, Mario Schifano, Giuseppe Uncini, Renato Mambor, Cesare Tacchi, Franco Angeli and Tano Festa. Between 1961 and 1968 Villa – controversial as ever – plunged into an extreme avanguardismo, developing with Gianni De Bernardi and Mario Diacono yet another magazine, ‘Ex’.

The authors of the New Avant-garde, the Novissimi poets, regularly had their poetic texts and critical essays featured in the Tartaruga’s curious catalogue-magazine, ‘Catalogue’, from 1964 onwards. Though Vivaldi claims rather coolly that ‘Pagliarani was quite good friends with Perilli and Novelli, Balestrini was with Schifano’, suggesting that ‘there is some of their work but not much’, it is in fact not only Pagliarani’s name that appears in the 1957-1959 editions of the pioneering magazine ‘L’esperienza moderna’ directed by Achille Perilli, but also those of the future Gruppo 63 – Carla Vasio, Angelo Maria Ripellino, Luciano Berio – and Vivaldi. Gastone Novelli did the cover for Balestrini and Giuliani’s anthology Gruppo 63. La nuova letteratura and already two years prior, Balestrini, Giuliani, Pagliarani and Sanguineti, together with Vincenzo Loriga, were the only Italian writers to be included alongside the like of Anaïs Nin, Octavio Paz and Frank O’Hara in Novelli’s Antologia del possibile (published by Scheiwiller). Novelli also worked with Alfredo Giuliani to produce Nel cieco spazio, published as part of the launch of ‘Grammatica’ (1964). ‘Grammatica’, published irregularly between 1967-1976 was characterized by a new level of cross-media collaboration: Giuliani and Giorgio Manganelli, together with Novelli and Perilli, receive equal recognition as the editors of the first three issues. The opening piece of the inaugural issue is particularly symbolic: the statements of a long exchange entitled La carne è l’uomo che crede al rapido consumo are not attributed to individual participants (Balestrini, Giuliani, Manganelli, Novelli, Pagliarani and Perilli), but form a simultaneously jarring and consonant medley. The editorial offices of ‘Marcatré’ (1963-70), another key magazine of the Neo-Avant-guard founded by Eugenio Battisti, were in Genova, but its focus was the Rome arts scene.

Balestrini’s link with Rome-based artists – not only Schifano – thus seems far from sporadic and is indeed a crucial element of Come si agisce (with a cover by Perilli) and Ma noi facciamone un’altra (Feltrinelli, 1963 and 1968 respectively). Two sections of the latter collection, ‘A colori’ and ‘Perimetri’ are entirely composed of texts inspired by Schifano and Fioroni, Baj, Castellani, Fontana, Rotella and Giovanni Anceschi, whilst in Come si agisce we find a rare and moving case of a dialogue of mutual inspiration in poetry and painting: Schifano’s 1963 painting Corpo in moto e in equilibrio was a response to Balestrini’s Corpi in moto e corpi in equilibrio, a piece included in Come si agisce but that had already been published in Novissimi in 1961. When Schifano’s painting was exhibited in 1964, it was accompanied by twelve of Balestrini’s poems inspired by Schifano – which would become part of ‘A colori’. Not by chance, albeit a little apprehensively, did Balestrini and Giuliani present their experimental visual poetry in Rome in the summer of 1961.

[This is an extract from: «Luna di polistirolo su Colosseo di plastica», in «Roma Pop City 60-67», catalogo della mostra, Roma, MACRO, 13 luglio-27 novembre 2016, a cura di Claudio Crescentini, Costantino D’Orazio e Federica Pirani, Imola, Manfredi, 2016, pp. 75-83. The full version of this article can be found in Italian here]

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