Fernando Melani

Palazzo Fabroni / Casa Melani

This two-part exhibition of Fernando Melani’s work included a vast overview of his career organized by Bruno Corà at the Palazzo Fabroni, as well as a vast collection of objects crammed into the residence/studio where the artist lived and worked until his death in 1985. In addition to the artist’s work, the latter space contains the residue of his life—all the old newspapers piled up on the stairs, and a bag full of used matches mark the duration of his life and career.

Melani worked with any material that came to hand, but what was peculiar to his project was the position he assumed with respect to contemporary art and his own life as an artist. His analytical and critical stance, in fact, unfolds both in theoretical form and in the works themselves, and the meanings of material, of nature, and of art are central to his reflections. His entire production, in which individual works are linked by a progressive numbering system, comprises a 40-year-long “inventory” that includes not only his own ideas but everyone else’s as well. Melani’s artistic prescience is quickly borne out when one compares the dates of his works with those of later movements and artists. Though one might maintain that Melani favored a conceptual or behavioral stance both in his appearance (he always wore a blue jumpsuit and yellow scarf) and in his daily existence (in the two-story house in which he resided he used only a cell the size of a small bed), he was an artist who viewed contemporary art from off to one side; for other artists he constituted a constant point of reflection.

At the Palazzo Fabroni, Melani’s work was subdivided into clear phases. During the first period, Melani worked out a synthesis of painting and sculpture, with pieces lathed from wooden boxes, either painted over, and combined, or else left in their “found” form. In 1959 Melani began using metal and initiated a new phase, perhaps the richest in terms of its sheer variety. Using welded sheets of iron, lead, copper, and metal filaments that vary widely in thickness, he favored casual arrangements of materials.

In 1963 he exhibited a wooden piece entitled Prima ricerca per un nuovo naturalismo programmato (First research for a new programmed naturalism), in which the knots of a tree and the grain were left exposed. This piece, which presaged the direction that art would take during the 1960s, had its origins in Melani’s continual investigation of nature, of its autonomy, even its “will.”

In the last decade of his life, Melani became more involved with color. In Teatrino (Puppet theater, 1976), he pulled congealed colors out of jars and hung the solid tubes of pigment from wires. Bucato (Laundry, 1980) is a series of canvases saturated with paint and attached to a wire with clothespins, which violates every convention pertaining to past uses of color in painting. Each color is assigned to an autonomous object and at the same time assumes a specific relationship with the others. Here Melani puts into practice what he had theorized in his writings (Davanti alla pittura, [Before the painting] 1953), where he honed the definition of the “detail,” an idea he had pursued for his entire career: every element is a “detail” that has an energetic, non-compositional relationship to the other “details” and is in reciprocal tension with them.

Jole de Sanna

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.

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