Verona, Italy

Pietro Consagra

Galleria dello Scudo/Museo di Castelvecchio

Pietro Consagra, who died in 2005, was one of the most interesting Italian artists working in abstract sculpture during the postwar period. “Necessità del colore: sculture e dipinti 1964–2000” (Necessity of Color: Sculptures and Paintings 1964–2000), the exhibition at Galleria dello Scudo, focused above all on work from the ’60s and ’70s. More of Consagra’s work, including some very large-scale pieces, could be seen concurrently at the Museo di Castelvecchio. Together, the gallery and the museum have published a weighty catalogue that documents in depth this rich creative phase in the artist’s career. In the ’60s, when he was well known in the United States and represented in galleries and museum collections, Consagra conquered color. After experimenting with burnt wood, he moved on to iron: He cut, curved, and welded together sheets of iron, painting them with a nitro varnish that he applied with a spray gun. The colors are light green, pink, fuchsia, purple, and turquoise, as well as dark brown and white—artificial colors that responded to the Pop scene, which was dominant even in Europe. At the same time, and more significantly, Consagra was removing authority from the language of sculpture. All Consagra’s work is “against” traditional sculpture, understood as an elevated, magniloquent language. In his hands, sculpture loses its primary characteristics—three-dimensionality, multiplicity of views, weight—qualities that lead to monumentality. Consagra’s form, instead, is dialectical; many of his sculptures from the ’50 and ’60s are called Colloqui (Conversations), because they position the artist in dialogue with the material.

Renouncing the third dimension signifies the attenuation of the sculptural object, and this was Consagra’s stylistic hallmark from the beginning. The works exhibited on this occasion, of average or large size, look like solidified sheets. They seem to reach a threshold, a minimum depth, which preserves them from invisibility and locates them in an ambiguous dimension, between painting, bas-relief, and full-fledged sculpture. Certain works of 1965–67, called Ferro trasparente (Transparent Iron), followed by the name of the color that covers them, stand upright, free in the space; they assume plantlike configurations all the more so when they are painted green, as many are. They are “transparent” because the iron sheets that are loosely welded together create grids of solids and voids, which allow what lies beyond the metal bodies to show through. Other sculptures do not have bases and are called Piano sospeso (Suspended Plane), 1964–65, when they hang from the ceiling, or Piano appeso (Hanging Plane), 1966–67, when they are on the wall. The sobriety of the titles is a constant element in Consagra’s work, counterpointing his inventive choice of forms and materials.

The exhibition at Galleria dello Scudo generously documented all these variations, and the space was crammed with brightly colored and subtle abstract figures. But it also gave an overview of later works, especially from the ’70s (the period to which the selection in the museum is primarily dedicated), such as small and extremely beautiful pieces in marble, made from the ’70s onward; called Bifrontale (Two-sided), they are worked on both sides, unlike the earlier sculptures. In these pieces the materials are precious marbles, onyx, and jasper, in polychrome bas-reliefs, the result of virtuosic marquetry and intarsia, juxtaposing fragments with irregular shapes and different materials. These same surfaces, these chromatic elaborations, are also seen in Consagra’s paintings, which in his later years he developed as an autonomous practice.

Giorgio Verzotti