Mimmo Rotella, Other Scenes, 1968, photographic emulsion on canvas, 36 1/4 × 28 3/4".

Mimmo Rotella, Other Scenes, 1968, photographic emulsion on canvas, 36 1/4 × 28 3/4".

Mimmo Rotella

Cardi Gallery/Robilant + Voena/Galleria Carla Sozzani/Fondazione Marconi

Mimmo Rotella, Other Scenes, 1968, photographic emulsion on canvas, 36 1/4 × 28 3/4".

Ten years have passed since the death of Mimmo Rotella, one of the most versatile and revolutionary Italian artists of the second half of the twentieth century. A suite of staggered but overlapping exhibitions at Cardi Gallery, Robilant + Voena, Galleria Carla Sozzani, and Fondazione Marconi celebrate his creativity and relevance, revealing the experimental strategies and techniques that characterized the career of this volcanically inventive practitioner. The works on display at four venues throughout the city delve beyond his celebrated “Décollages” and “Retro d’Affiches” (made with torn advertising posters, some vintage) and include photographic reproductions, “Artypos,” frottages, sculptures, “Blanks,” and “Sovrapitture” (Overpaintings). These exhibitions—organized in collaboration with the Mimmo Rotella Institute, which has been working to compile the artist’s catalogue raisonné since 2012—offer a unique opportunity for viewers to become fully acquainted with the artist’s work.

The show at the Cardi Gallery is devoted exclusively to the “Blanks,” works that Rotella began making in the early 1980s using outdated advertising posters that he collected around the city of Milan and then covered with monochrome pieces of paper. His action constituted a kind of semi-erasure in which the original image remained partially visible. As is typical for Rotella, the pieces suggest a critical reflection on the mechanisms of mass communication.

Robilant + Voena offered a surprising concentration of a wide range of lesser-known works created between the early ’60s and the ’90s, beginning with Rotella’s “Réportages,” for which, in 1963, he began experimenting with techniques of photomechanical reproduction. These pieces, generated by the projection of other images onto photosensitive canvases, are sometimes black-and-white, sometimes chromatically modified, but in all cases entail the creative appropriation of contemporary forms of communication—newspapers, illustrated magazines, television, advertising, and stills from movies. In these works the artist no longer borrowed directly from reality, as in his earlier and more well-known “Décollages” from the ’50s, but instead used strategies of invasion and inversion to repurpose preexisting materials and reveal alternate meanings. Rotella’s “Artypos” were exhibited alongside his “Réportages.” The former, dating from the ’60s and ’70s, are constructed from large sheets of advertising posters, and address such subjects as the myths of communication, consumerism, and seduction, and the media’s celebration of the “Italian economic miracle” (as the postwar boom of the ’50s and early ’60s was known.) In the ’80s he resumed his use of photography and began to incorporate iconic images of the so-called anni di piombo, or “years of lead,” a period of tremendous social and political tension in Italy. Beginning in the late ’80s and the early ’90s he also created his “Sovrapitture,” painting imagery reminiscent of the language and typography of urban graffiti onto posters and “Décollages.” The surprising first room in this show was entirely dedicated to the presentation of ceramic multiples titled “Replicanti” (Replicants, 1990), reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s 1982 cinematographic masterpiece Blade Runner.

Galleria Carla Sozzani exhibited some of his more erotic works, which he started making in the late ’60s using photographic reproductions and frottage. These evolved in response to the sexual revolution of ’68 and were created during long, urbane sojourns in New York, Paris, and the Côte d’Azur. By combining his engagement with contemporary political developments with the inclusion of autobiographical elements, Rotella was able to offer refreshingly personal meditations on a period of epochal cultural shifts in both Europe and America.

The Fondazione Marconi is planning a more conventional route, amounting to a veritable retrospective of masterpieces that focus on the enduring and fertile relationship between Rotella and Giorgio Marconi, a gallery owner whose extraordinary collection includes work ranging from some of the earliest “Décollage” pieces from the ’50s to “Sovrapitture” from the ’80s and ’90s. Marconi’s rich collection offers another key node in a network of exhibitions that powerfully reaffirm the originality and richness of Rotella’s work—both his constant reinvention of subjects and techniques and his relentlessly topical engagement with our world.

Francesca Pola

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.