New York

Gastone Novelli

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

Nine paintings by Gastone Novelli (1925–68) all from the last year or two of his life, hung in The Museum of Modern Art in late November and early December. Despite the superficial laxity—or even fiddling sloppiness—of their facture, Novelli’s paintings escape from the tedious decadence of the European post-Surrealist situation. Four or five of the works, in their extreme narrowness and verticality and their patternization, evoke Viennese Sezession painting: Novelli was born in Vienna, and there may be something to the analogy.

But if Novelli himself was interested in “secession” as an act he concentrated his rebellious energies on politics instead of working out play-tantrums in art. More power to him. Maybe a prison term for working in the Italian Resistance helps make a person practical about the realities of social involvement versus the ineffectual thinness of esthetic radicalism.

The paintings themselves have some political content, but it is perfectly at home. As in some good novel with a point to make, there is no conflict between the revelation of beauty and combat for truth. One large painting, a loose surface of neatly painted dots and jabs and wavering pencil lines, includes a flag-like form—a red flaglike form, actually—in a state of indistinct immanence or emergence as an image and idea. The title is L’Oriente risplende di Rosso (The Orient Glitters with Red) (1967), whose probable Maoist source escapes me. Cienfuegos (1968), a large canvas with pencil lines and (timely Italian) measuring numbers, with splotches of white and puttylike cream-colored paint, is very lovely. Here and in other works the scribbling, jerky calligraphy, and the disjunct clusters of wet-looking paint blobs, suggest works painted in Rome by Cy Twombly, but if there was a relation between the two painters it was a constructive one for Novelli.

––Joseph Masheck