Mario Nigro

Palazzo Municipale/Centro Espositivo della Rocca Paolina

Since the retrospective of his work in Milan in 1994, greater interest has been focused on the work of Mario Nigro, who began making abstract paintings in 1953 and later became active in the arte concrete movement. This recent exhibition, which was installed in two separate venues, was predominately focused on his “Tempo Totale” (Total time) pieces, which he executed between 1965 and 1975.

Any investigation of an earlier, important series by Nigro entitled “Spazio Totale” (Total space, 1953–55), which marked a preoccupation with spatial issues, almost inevitably leads one to an investigation of “Tempo Totale,” in which grids create a feeling of space by juxtaposing “alternating and opposing” or “simultaneous and displaced progressions”—to use Nigro’s own words—creating a rhythm evocative of temporal shifts. In these pieces the surface of the canvas has been divided into a succession of narrow diagonal segments that create a dynamic rhythm through the various angles at which the diagonals are set, as well as through changes in coloration. What is most significant about Nigro’s “Tempo Totale” phase, however, is the way it represents a radical emancipation from the traditional limitations of painting on canvas. Some of the works in this series—seen here for the first time in many years—are trellis-like structures made from painted wood, each formed from rhombuses in graduated sizes. The “Tempo Totale” series also includes linear, zigzagging floor pieces, works similar to those exhibited in the room dedicated to Nigro’s work at the 1968 Venice Biennale. Later, during the ’70s, his canvases returned to the wall, but this time in the form of irregular rhombuses crossed by horizontal bands suggestive of lines of text.

Although Nigro’s pictorial language reveals a rigorous and rational stance, as Giovanni Maria Accame, the curator of this two-part exhibition, has written, the paintings also have a strong emotional pull. Throughout his career, despite the rigorous ordering systems that are involved, Nigro’s work has exuded an irrepressible energy.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.