This is an overview of the work of Gastone Biggi (1925), one of the leading players in the history of abstract art in Italy from the nineteen sixties, a little known artist whose rich and complex work has not been examined to any great depth.
The catalogue to the exhibition in Parma presents the corpus of work – paintings and drawings – the artist generously donated to the CSAC, the Communications Archives and Study Centre of Parma University: a cultural heritage of great importance and a revealing testimony to the life of a significant artist. It also constitutes an ensemble of documents – often unique, at times unknown – that enable a reconstruction of the texture and debate in Italian society from the post war period to today.
Gastone Biggi is a unique case in Italian art; in the immediate post-war period he began as a realist and spent time with the artists of the Portonaccio School, from Muccini to Vespignani, and participated in the formation of the Gruppo 56. Le cancellate proposed in Rome in 1957 and followed, in 1958, by Le sabbie evidence a transition point in his work, orienting him towards the Informal. Biggi’s experimentation at the beginning of the 1960s was very significant, as was the intense dialogue he constructed with Piero Dorazio, Gastone Perilli, Toti Scialoja, and Giulio Turcato, but very quickly the artist took a different direction and in 1962 founded the Gruppo 1 together with Frascà, Carrino, Santoro, Uncini and Pace, exhibiting first in Florence, then Genoa and, in 1963, in Rome.
The Gruppo 1, which attracted the critical attention of Giulio Carlo Argan, Palma Bucarelli and numerous other art historians from Nello Ponente to Corrado Maltese, was established as an alternative to Informal experimentation; it was painting tied to the theory of perception, Gestalt theory, and suggested a different function of the artist in society. For Argan, who put forward many ideas for the group’s poetics, art is connected to programming, art is thus a model for rationally interpreting the world, exactly as it was for the Bauhaus of Gropius, and the dream of these artists was to change the reality of artistic production by emerging from the essentially semantic, irrational and gestural matrix of the Informal group.
While the Informal waned before the mid 1960s, the young artists of the Gruppo and other groups connected to this Roman movement in many Italian cities, such as Milan or Padua, and even outside of Italy, found themselves facing the new trend of Pop Art which spread throughout Europe via the 1964 Biennale of Venice and a well-orchestrated series of shows in museums and private galleries in all Europe. As such the artists of Gruppo 1, and Biggi in particular who remained loyal to it, found themselves increasingly isolated, also because the establishment of this new tendency excluded, from the art market and thus from collectors and exhibitions, those who refused to conform. As a consequence Gastone Biggi’s work continued its singular trajectory as the years passed but, apart from a series of thorough critiques from people such as Luciano Caramel, Paolo Fossati and Elena Pontiggia who at certain points rallied in support of him, it found no favour with new criticism examining Pop Art, Op Art, “Arte Povera” and “Transavanguardia”.
Parma, Salone delle Scuderie in Pilotta
14 September – 14 November 2004
The book is available at the Skira bookstore in via Torino in Milan and from September 2004 in all Italian bookstores.