Milan

View of “Enrico Castellani, Robert Mangold, Robert Morris, Kenneth Noland,” 2016. From left: Kenneth Noland, Acute, 1974; Robert Morris, Untitled, 1974; Enrico Castellani, Superficie bianca (White Surface), 2001; Kenneth Noland, Blind Passage, 1977. Photo: Lucrezia Roda.

View of “Enrico Castellani, Robert Mangold, Robert Morris, Kenneth Noland,” 2016. From left: Kenneth Noland, Acute, 1974; Robert Morris, Untitled, 1974; Enrico Castellani, Superficie bianca (White Surface), 2001; Kenneth Noland, Blind Passage, 1977. Photo: Lucrezia Roda.

Enrico Castellani, Robert Mangold, Robert Morris, and Kenneth Noland

Galleria Fumagalli

View of “Enrico Castellani, Robert Mangold, Robert Morris, Kenneth Noland,” 2016. From left: Kenneth Noland, Acute, 1974; Robert Morris, Untitled, 1974; Enrico Castellani, Superficie bianca (White Surface), 2001; Kenneth Noland, Blind Passage, 1977. Photo: Lucrezia Roda.

After a long, fruitful period in Bergamo, Italy, that began in 1971, the Galleria Fumagalli moved to Milan in 2011. This year the gallery moved again—though it remains in the same city—and opened its new venue with this show, “Enrico Castellani, Robert Mangold, Robert Morris, Kenneth Noland: A Personal View of Abstract Painting and Sculpture.” The main intention of the exhibition, organized by independent curator Hayden Dunbar, was to compare these four artists in relation to themes such as the redefinition of the artwork and its surface as objective and phenomenal realities, and the active relationship of the image with the space. Viewers confronted examples of an abstraction that is rigorous but never neutral, characterized by experimentation with unusual techniques and materials, and moving between monochromy and construction, between chance and organization.

Castellani’s “extra-flexed” surfaces, canvases traversed by sequences of nails creating patterns in relief, were juxtaposed with Noland’s shaped canvases, creating a dialogue between the manipulated planes of the former and the latter’s internal geometric configurations. The deconstruction and contradiction of rational and schematic organization were also masterfully expressed, for example, in Mangold’s impressive “Plane / Figure Series A,” 1993, while the ambiguous plasticity of reflective metals and felt was conveyed by Morris’s work, such as his monumental green-gray Felt, 1974. Castellani’s Superficie bianca (White Surface), 2001, is a particularly interesting piece: The artist’s characteristic alternation of depressed and raised areas articulates a linguistic and emotional reduction of the image to its semantic fundamentals. While Castellani’s early surfaces, developed beginning in 1959, are organized according to regular, uniform coordinates and intervals that construct an orthogonal grid, this work alludes to an internal spatial complication—a dynamic of progressive structuring that creates distinctive alternating zones of luminous concentration.

Overall, the exhibition provided a stimulating road map for a possible investigation of the development of abstraction in the second half of the twentieth century. The goal of these artists—who codified their creative activity in the 1950s and ’60s—was to eliminate any subjective residue from the surface, in order to focus on the development of images characterized by their correspondence to a system of construction that reaffirmed objecthood as well as visuality. The large scale of most of the works in the show, which highlighted their spatial dialogue, further accentuated this aspect. The presence of elementary forms and modular components is typical of Minimalism, but here these elements, which underlie the genesis of the image, were intentionally contradicted by the extension of the work’s coordinates beyond its concrete dimensions. While the artists maintained a systematic approach, they also strove to reconnect their images to a less geometrically absolute relationship, one that was more directly tied to the physical and phenomenal reality of the space, proposing the object/work as a presence with an active relationship to its surroundings, rather than as a finite and self-sufficient image. Presented in concert, these works elicited telling analogies, but above all, the juxtaposition brought out the artists’ extremely strong individual evolutions. As a result, in both the quality of the works on display and the cross-cultural nature of their shared approach, the exhibition was an occasion for an engaging meditation on the complexity of a creative tendency whose inventive richness deserves wider appreciation.

Francesca Pola

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.