TESTORI RITROVATO. DIPINTI, DISEGNI, ACQUERELLI
A project of Casa Testori
Curated by Davide Dall’Ombra
October 8 – January 21, 2023
Opening: Oct. 8, 3 p.m., Casa Testori
The exhibition with which Casa Testori leads us to the centenary of the birth of Giovanni Testori (1923-1993) is dedicated to his activity as a painter. After all, known as one of the most lively and controversial intellectuals, writers, playwrights and art critics of the 20th century, Testori began his tireless cultural production in the 1940s precisely as a painter, and his first critical writings were born of direct experimentation.
An extraordinary acquisition
The occasion of the exhibition is the Giovanni Testori Association’s recovery of an important nucleus of paintings and drawings that have re-emerged after twenty years of oblivion, works that will allow visitors to discover a previously unpublished Testori. The pictorial production is linked to two precise moments in Testori’s life, separated by a long hiatus away from canvases. If the first nucleus is linked to the years around World War II, between 1942 and 1949, the second, which was ignited at the end of the 1960s, spans the entire 1970s, in a dense succession of experimentation, including technical experimentation. A core of monumental works, restored for the occasion, will be on display in the exhibition: large, highly textured canvases that have regained their original color, now appreciable in all their expressive force.
The Testori Association preserves the most important nucleus of works created by Testori in his early painting season. A true visual palimpsest of his critical thought, in years in which Italian Realism was at the center of the cultural debate and the painters who felt they belonged to it questioned the suffering of War, the thirst for Freedom, the strength of the everyday and the specter of Picasso, master father to be crossed trying not to succumb. Years in which Testori entrusts his drawings to the GUF magazines for which he was already responsible for art at age 18. As a painter, he cut his teeth on landscape and still life in the bombed and then liberated Milan and wondered about the return of avant-garde painting in churches, arriving at the great Crucifixion, the masterpiece of those years on display in the exhibition and the last work he made before his 20-year abandonment of painting.
In the same decade as the great stagings at the Pier Lombardo Theater with Franco Parenti, Ambleto, Macbetto, and Edipus (1972-1976), Testori threw himself headlong back into painting, with the material oil paintings exhibited at Mario Tazzoli’s Galatea Gallery in Turin (1971), moving on to acrylics with the nudes of women presented at the Galerie Alexander Iolas in Milan (1974) and furiously wielding charcoal for the large anatomical and vegetal studies that troubled audiences at Giorgio Cardazzo’s Galleria del Naviglio in Milan (1975) and at Rome’s Galleria il Gabbiano (1976). A cavalcade in matter and at the bottom of carnal subjects that was gradually presented in the catalog by art critics such as Luigi Carluccio and Giuliano Briganti, but also literary ones such as Piero Citati and Cesare Garboli, underlining the interweaving of literature and figuration that was so crucial for Testori.
In the exhibition the visitor is called to a total immersion in painting, passing, from vision to vision, to the discovery of thematic assonances, through investigations that exhaust a subject or technique in a few months. Matter is for Testori the painter as for Testori the critic, and even the poet, the heart of his expressive research, which in this exhibition emerges thanks to new protagonists.
Thus we discover the central role of white in the experimentation of the 1970s. It is a color that, initially denied by the drafting of large colored backgrounds, later, when the subject is completed, often intervenes to cancel them out. This is what happens in his famous Boxers, immersed in a matter-life rendered with blocks of color, from which the figure must emerge by force in order not to sink. This is the case with the famous Back Nude, Testori’s most challenging work: a large canvas that has entered the Association’s permanent collection on this occasion. A painting of great intensity and poetry, between strength and melancholy. It is the same white that, having lost its thickness, becomes a light mist in the acrylics, almost monochrome, of the ton sur ton Feminine Nudes, to become tinged with blood red, following the bloody mutilating interventions that characterize the cycle presented by Iolas, for which Testori took care of the setting up in detail right down to the design of the frames.
A white that seems negated by the deep black of graphite, laid out with impetuousness in the large papers of the mid-1970s. They are carnal male and female anatomical studies that are associated with plant elements, if possible even more carnal. Papers that appear to be huge photographic negatives with erotic subjects, which of the bodies accentuate, rather than the morbidity of vision, the inexhaustible struggle for survival. It is no coincidence that some of these works were placed at the close of the Milanese exhibition at Palazzo Reale dedicated by Francesco Bonami to the 1970s (2012) and are now at the center of an exhibition dedicated to the heretics of the twentieth century, set up these months at the Mart in Rovereto. The white, hidden by the “negative” of these papers, immediately re-emerges as a protagonist in 1977, called upon to cancel once again, as had happened at the beginning of the decade, the colored backgrounds, often spread out in bright yellow. A white that returns clumped in watercolor in large backgrounds, imposing theatrical backdrops that allow glimpses of the barely perceptible color beneath them, and from which re-emerge domestic vegetables and flowers, described as archaeological relics cleared from the earth, or plucked animals, as if they were lying on the marble table profusely floured by a cook. A freshness and restlessness, as ancestral as it is domestic, that makes these Still lifes perhaps the most striking works in the Novates exhibition.
The papers and the story
The exhibition continues on the second floor of the house, permanently dedicated to Testori, his archive and his Art Library. These are the rooms in which to discover, through works, photographs and unpublished documents, the genesis of Testori’s painting, in its inseparable link with literary production: at the origin of his return to painting at the end of the 1960s, as well as his closing with the Crocifissioni (1981). Thus one discovers the critical writings of the 1940s, so linked to his pictorial expression, the story of Erodiade, at the center of the transition from fountain pen to watercolor, between 1967 and 1969, leading to the first oil painting, and one encounters the faces of the models, the palettes used and the unpublished images from the studio in Via Brera or from the historical exhibitions set up.
Tuesday-Friday: 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; 2:30-6 p.m.
Saturday: 2:30-7:30 p.m.
Sunday and Monday: closed