Mario Schifano, Qualcos’altro (Something Else), 1962, enamel on paper on canvas, 791⁄4 × 90 3⁄4".

Mario Schifano, Qualcos’altro (Something Else), 1962, enamel on paper on canvas, 791⁄4 × 90 3⁄4".

Mario Schifano

Qualcos’altro (Something Else), a gray enamel monochrome from 1962, lent its title to this exhibition dedicated to Mario Schifano’s monochrome period, from 1960 to 1962, when the young artist (1934–1998) first came to international attention. The catalogue was in newspaper format, featuring an essay by the show’s curator, Alberto Salvadori, and Riccardo Venturi. Most of the variously sized works on paper and on paper mounted on canvas featured in the exhibition still belong to Giorgio Marconi, father of the gallerist Gió Marconi. Viewers were able to once again admire, alongside other pieces, the wonderful Vero amore incompleto (True Incomplete Love), 1962, an abstract painting with blue brushstrokes in the upper portion and left untouched in the lower part.

The work is, however, an outlier, in that Schifano’s monochrome rarely involves a solid application of color. Qualcos’altro, which is composed of four panels with gaps between them, has a more typical nonhomogeneous background that leaves the canvas sporadically visible. La porta verde (The Green Door), 1961, plays ironically with signs of recognizability in two doorlike panels. As Venturi and Salvadori write, the monochrome here takes leave of any “burden of an ideological or utopian program that reduced it to little more than an intermediate but necessary step towards a set goal,” a demand for the absolute, for which the monochrome has historically been the banner. Schifano was one of the first to pull this demand down from the heavens of theory, or of the mystical, into the world of phenomena—which explains the deliberate inconsistency of treatment, the non finito, the fluidity of the paint, and the dissection of planes.

And so, for Schifano, the single-colored painting becomes, as he himself said, like an advertising poster without the advertising, or an “available space,” as the title of one of his works, not included in the show, would have it. This space, as Salvadori and Venturi aptly note, was available for the advent of something absolutely worldly, such as the stripes painted on the asphalt of city streets recalled in the four yellow bands of Indicazione (Marker), 1961.

On the other hand, as we have known for some time, Schifano’s surfaces are screens, similar, as Salvadori and Venturi point out, to those of Fabio Mauri from the late 1950s through 1960. To an extent, Schifano’s paintings imply the presence of performance, cinema, and television. They invoke the technical reproducibility of the visual through the camera, a constant companion to Schifano’s activity. Works such as Isola di Capri (Isle of Capri), 1960, and Castello (Castle), 1961, are large rectangles with curved corners, the former painted red and the latter gray, each framed by pictorial bands of a different color. These paintings convey the idea of the viewfinder of the Rolleiflex, the camera Schifano borrowed from his colleague Giuseppe Uncini, who once said, “The idea was this: to see reality filtered through a screen, through a technological medium.”

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.