Milan

View of “Mario Nigro,” 2017. On wall, from left: Dal tempo totale: traliccio a rombi progressivi in rosso (From Total Time, Lattice of Progressive Rhombi in Red), 1967; Dallo spazio totale 1954: serie di 12 rombi continui a progressioni ritmiche simultanee alternate opposte (From Total Space of 1954: Series of 12 Continuous Rhombi in Simultaneous Alternate Opposing Rhythmic Progressions), 1965. Floor: Dal tempo totale: passeggiata ritmica progressiva con variazione cromatica (il corso della vita: le stagioni) (From Total Time: Progressive Rhythmic Perspective Walk with Color Variations [Lifetime: Seasons]), 1967–68. Photo: Bruno Bani.

View of “Mario Nigro,” 2017. On wall, from left: Dal tempo totale: traliccio a rombi progressivi in rosso (From Total Time, Lattice of Progressive Rhombi in Red), 1967; Dallo spazio totale 1954: serie di 12 rombi continui a progressioni ritmiche simultanee alternate opposte (From Total Space of 1954: Series of 12 Continuous Rhombi in Simultaneous Alternate Opposing Rhythmic Progressions), 1965. Floor: Dal tempo totale: passeggiata ritmica progressiva con variazione cromatica (il corso della vita: le stagioni) (From Total Time: Progressive Rhythmic Perspective Walk with Color Variations [Lifetime: Seasons]), 1967–68. Photo: Bruno Bani.

Mario Nigro

A arte Invernizzi

View of “Mario Nigro,” 2017. On wall, from left: Dal tempo totale: traliccio a rombi progressivi in rosso (From Total Time, Lattice of Progressive Rhombi in Red), 1967; Dallo spazio totale 1954: serie di 12 rombi continui a progressioni ritmiche simultanee alternate opposte (From Total Space of 1954: Series of 12 Continuous Rhombi in Simultaneous Alternate Opposing Rhythmic Progressions), 1965. Floor: Dal tempo totale: passeggiata ritmica progressiva con variazione cromatica (il corso della vita: le stagioni) (From Total Time: Progressive Rhythmic Perspective Walk with Color Variations [Lifetime: Seasons]), 1967–68. Photo: Bruno Bani.

The Italian art of the period spanning the late 1940s through the 1970s is currently undergoing widespread reinterpretation. Under these circumstances, this exhibition of the work of Mario Nigro, a leading practitioner of a rigorous brand of abstraction, could not have been more timely. The show, accompanied by a catalogue with a text by Luca Massimo Barbero, documented two periods of the artist’s work, quite distinct but connected by his care for the relationship between the two-dimensional work, space, and time. It opened with Ritmo verticale (Vertical Rhythm), 1948, a surface rhythmically traversed by a single line, revealing Nigro’s debt to his historic models, namely Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Malevich. But it also provided an immediate introduction to rhythm, the dynamizing element introduced by the Futurists, as evidenced particularly by Giacomo’s Balla’s linee andamentali, or “paths of movement.” The lines or rectilinear segments are the vectors that induce dynamism into the pictorial plane, the forces that inhabit it, and Nigro’s titles are always explicit, almost didactic in the way they indicate how the paintings should be interpreted. This is the case in Pannello. Ritmi obliqui (Panel: Oblique Rhythms) and in Ritmi orizzontali simultanei continui (Continuous Simultaneous Horizontal Rhythms), both 1949.

The selection continued with Pannello a scacchi (Checkerboard Panel), 1950, and two Untitled paintings from the same year, works whose checkerboard-patterned surfaces are interrupted by vertical bands of color, producing a flickering optical effect. A short time later, in 1952, the chessboards became grids traversed by diagonal intersecting planes and depicting multiple structures in the process of breaking up, as in the important “Spazio totale” (Total Space) series, 1952–55. The titles frequently contain the terms simultaneo (simultaneous), a notable indicator of dynamism; contrastante (conflicting or contrasting); and drammatico (dramatic). In fact, the space here is saturated with yellow-green grids that turn into scrolling, overlapping ribbons, each creating its own spatiality and perspective, thus annulling any possibility of a univocal vision or a single vanishing point.

The Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 was a traumatic event for Nigro, a political activist, and this fact was directly reflected in his work: Simultaneity now becomes laceration, a conflict of opposing forces, and once again the titles are explicit—Tensioni drammatiche (Dramatic Tensions), Dramma nello spazio (Drama in Space), both 1956. On the surface, a black, rigid grid is completely superimposed upon a background that filters through the framework—a magmatic, red-yellow substance that suggests incandescence and seems capable of cleaving the structure and freeing itself, which it does in one scorching Untitled, 1956.

The second part of the show covered the years 1965–68 and included all of the works that appeared in Nigro’s solo room at the 1968 Venice Biennale, an event that was turbulent and contested and became a theater of clashes between demonstrators and the police. Here, in a radical change in presentation, time and space became the real time and space of the viewers, who found themselves surrounded by works in unconventional formats. The picture rotated, became a diamond-shaped rhombus, and proliferated: Twelve such elements, attached at the corners, delineated a dynamic path along one wall. The surfaces, moreover, were uncoupled from their two-dimensionality and extended vertically, seeming to stand in space, like totems completely covered with dynamic marks. The grid solidified and became a “lattice of progressive rhombi” that passed along the wall, vertically or horizontally, a frieze in relief. The pictorial mark was summarized in brief diagonal segments, the entire length of which ran along four slats placed in a zigzag pattern on the floor, so that Nigro’s inventive energy seemed to spread everywhere.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.