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Ettore Spalletti. Photo: Attilio Maranzano.
Ettore Spalletti. Photo: Attilio Maranzano.

Ettore Spalletti (1940–2019)

Ettore Spalletti, the Italian painter of time-intensive, subtly diffused semi-monochromes in shades of blue, pink, and gray, has died at age seventy-nine. The son of a carpenter and an embroiderer, Spalletti began his practice in the early ’70s in his place of birth, Capelle sul Tavo, in the Italian province of Pescara, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.

Though Spalletti’s early artwork was made under the aegis of the country’s then-dominant Arte Povera movement—Jannis Kounellis was a friend, neighbor, and inspiration—the artist soon left behind what he termed “the years of black and white” and began to drift toward painting, landscape, and Renaissance art history. Beginning around 1976, Spalletti made his luminous canvases and painted sculptures by working in a mode that was simultaneously classical and Minimalist: Using a mix of pigments and chalk, the artist typically added one thin layer around the same time every day for upwards of two weeks before sanding down the surface to reveal a powdery, glowing plane of color. These lustrous hues covered not only traditional rectangular surfaces but also columns, floors, walls, and shaped supports. Inspired by painters like Masaccio and Piero della Francesca, as well as by the tones of the Abruzzo region in which he lived, Spalletti’s works have been variously compared to the work of Anne Truitt, Mark Rothko, and Ellsworth Kelly. In Artforum’s October 1986 issue, Germano Celant wrote: “Born of essential conjunctions of colors and forms, of volumes and ancient landscapes, Spalletti’s art seems to emerge from a liquid world contained only by eternity.”

In 2014, Spalletti was the subject of a three-part Italian retrospective housed in some of the country’s most distinguished institutions: MAXXI in Rome, the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina in Naples, and the Galleria di Arte Moderna in Turin. His work has been featured in the Venice Biennale four times: Spalletti represented Italy in 1997 and was included in curated exhibitions in 1982, 1993, and 1995. He also appeared in Documenta twice, in both 1982 and 1992. In 1993, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York staged a collaborative exhibition of work by Spalletti and Haim Steinbach. In an interview from that show’s catalogue, Spalletti explained: “The eternal form of the panel encloses, as it always has for me, the inner content. Inside is the figurative imagination that the fragmentation of the pigment produces in the desire for an atmosphere, for an atmospheric image.”