Giuseppe Uncini

Galleria Giò Marconi / Galleria Christian Stein

Around 1960, Pier Paolo Pasolini was describing the life of Rome’s new urban periphery, with its big apartment blocks right up against age-old nature and inhabited by a lumpenproletariat that seemed to hold the memory of a certain classical grandeur in its very DNA. At the same time the sculptor Giuseppe Uncini, just over thirty years old, was developing a personal poetics that in many aspects paralleled Pasolini’s, using bare, rough, unadorned reinforced concrete as the symbol of a new aesthetic, a modernity that had to be reckoned with, for better or worse. Uncini’s “Cementarmati” (Reinforced concrete pieces), made between 1958 and 1963, are pervaded by a sort of cry, along with the modern yet somehow archaic beauty of a material that was developed to be functional rather than aesthetic. In “Ombre” (Shadows), 1967–78, he calmly analyzed the material’s “negative,” or shadow. The “Dimore” (Dwellings), 1978–86, are structured as sites. Finally, his “Spazi di ferro” (Iron spaces), 1988–93, investigate the spatial relationships between solids and voids. All these phases were represented in the two exhibitions under review. Concrete pieces were hung on the walls, marked like building materials, as if they had been poured into molds. Pieces of iron projected outward, constituting both armature and internal force but still containing the form, the memory of a painting. There were also clearly identifiable architectonic structures—arch, door, threshold—where the projection of the shadow functioned as if solid; the impalpable—that is, the shadow—had the same value as the tangible, matter was inseparable from the void. Likewise, in the “Iron Spaces,” the artist looks for an intermediary space between void and solid, a zone of shadow, a “dense void,” irrational but physically embodied by a metal framework connecting two walls of cement, similar to devices employed in houses damaged by earthquakes or bombings.

The early ’60s was clearly Uncini’s groundbreaking phase; this was the heyday of postwar Italian art, when Uncini was close to Francesco Lo Savio and Enrico Castellani. One can claim for his work a certain formal priority with regard to American Minimalism, but his interpretation of the world is quite different; the human element is fully present and superior to any concept of monumentality or immanence of form. In every “Reinforced Concrete Piece” one hypothesizes a human presence, since this simple, ubiquitous construction material immediately evokes humble labor. Uncini chooses the material not for its own sake but as the sign of man—though not in the populist manner of social realists or Pop artists. His concept of structure comes from one of mankind’s primary activities: building. It is through the sense of the plan, which always accompanies the act of building, that Uncini succeeds in avoiding anything that might be too literary or narrative, which only a few years earlier—in the mid-’50s––had led others to the “poetics of the wall,” the beauty of the fragment typical of arte informale. By eliminating the superfluous and sentimental, Uncini makes it possible to rediscover a poetics of beauty. To return to the comparison to Pasolini, one might reimagine Accattone (1961) without the epic, sorrowful, perhaps overbearing sound track from Bach.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.