Giulio Turcato, Superficie lunare (Moon Surface), 1969, oil and mixed media on foam rubber, 23 5/8 × 31 1/2". From the series “Superfici lunari” (Moon Surfaces), 1964–73.

Giulio Turcato, Superficie lunare (Moon Surface), 1969, oil and mixed media on foam rubber, 23 5/8 × 31 1/2". From the series “Superfici lunari” (Moon Surfaces), 1964–73.

Giulio Turcato

Galleria Milano

Giulio Turcato, Superficie lunare (Moon Surface), 1969, oil and mixed media on foam rubber, 23 5/8 × 31 1/2". From the series “Superfici lunari” (Moon Surfaces), 1964–73.

This exhibition presented two of Giulio Turcato’s key series from the 1960s: the “Tranquillanti” (Tranquillizers), which he created for Galleria il Canale in Venice (where the works were first exhibited in 1961), and the “Superfici lunari” (Moon Surfaces), which he started in 1964 and showed two years later at the Venice Biennale. Both expressed a new material-oriented direction for Turcato characterized by vibrant two-toned or monochrome surfaces and punctuated by insertions or material swellings that further developed ideas about color as an animate space for psychic evocation that he had explored in his earlier abstractions.

Immediately following World War II, Turcato became an influential figure in the Italian art world, as well as an active player in some of the earliest avant-garde circles of the time, such as the Art Club, Forma 1, Fronte Nuovo delle Arti, and Gruppo degli Otto. From the very beginning of his career, his painting was based on the expressive autonomy of color; starting in the 1950s, this emphasis was combined with a rich, granular pictorial surface in which dense opaque pigment was applied to raw canvas. While Turcato’s fascination with color explicitly recalls Matisse, his favorite painter, the former transformed color into a generative element that begets the painting’s pictorial form. In the ’60s, he went even further, experimenting with multiple materials in order to delve even deeper into his investigation of pure color.

The title of the “Tranquillanti” series, 1961–70, refers to the actual tranquillizer pills that the artist incorporated into the painted canvas: object-insertions used as compositional elements. But departing from other art strategies of the period, such as New Dada or Nouveau Réalisme, Turcato does not use the pills to dismantle the painted surface with the eruption of fragments of reality. Rather, he focuses his attention on the creation of a continuum of the overall composition, delicately assimilating the objects’ presences into the painting, creating a fluid and undulating space. In this sensitive extension of the surface, which vibrates with the textural and chromatic effects of his material insertions, the pills become an element of spatial punctuation that allude to an imagined galaxy, intentionally positioned as the space of the idea, somewhere between the oneiric and the real.

The “Superfici lunari,” 1964–73, created in oil and mixed media on foam rubber, continue to develop this sense of spatial dimension explicitly inspired by the fixation on space conquest that marked the entire decade. These allusions to celestial space—not in the least naturalistic or descriptive—create a mental image of a cosmos in expansion and conjure a sense of wonder at the possibility of its exploration. These were the years of the space race—the physical reality of the universe became tangible and reachable for the first time, and Turcato translates this astonishment into a geology of the future. More than reminiscences or reproductions of lunar images, these works evoke a spatiality in metamorphosis, a germination of unknown places. Unexpected color is once again essential to the invention of this effect. For Turcato, even the use of an unorthodox material such as foam rubber was functional to his research into unusual color tones, as he affirmed when he explicitly made a connection between the “Tranquillanti” and the “Superfici lunari”: “I use rubber because its scabrous crust is full of new and wonderful events. Moreover, I have at other times used tar and other materials, as well as tranquillizers. My stylistic research is oriented toward a new color, starting from the principle that brown and amaranth are two colors outside the spectrum.”

In both series’ simulation of astral maps and geologies, we see a purification of reality, physicality constantly confirmed by the object or material presence (pills, sand, foam rubber) but also contradicted by the gradual predomination of perception, rendered through color’s extraordinary expressive force.

Francesca Pola

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.