February 2008, Retrospective of Emilio Vedova (1919 - 2006) @ Berlinische Gallerie

  Emilio Vedova, Emerging, 1950, courtesy Berlinische Galerie

Emilio Vedova 1919 – 2006
Berlinische Galerie
From 25 January through 20 April 2008

The Berlinische Galerie is currently holding a retrospective of Venetian artist Emilio Vedova who died in 2006. Vedova is “one of the most important Italian talents to emerge after World War II” or so I was told at the press conference. I entered the exhibition with a degree of skepticism, as I had only first encountered tributes to Vedova at the 2007 Venice Biennale. I hadn’t read about him in my art history books, or even heard of him while studying contemporary Italian art in Italy. Guido Fassbender curates the exhibition in conjunction with the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome and the Emilio and Annabianca Vedova Foundation.

One objective of the exhibition is to strengthen the ties between the Berlin, Rome and Venice art cultures. It was this examination of the ties between these very different art cultures, using Vedova as a common link, which first attracted me to the retrospective. Emilio Vedova had always had a strong connection with the Berlin arts scene, believing it to be a city for dreams and hopes, and was a regular at both the Venice Biennale and Documenta.

The first period of works exhibited at the Berlinische Galerie begins in the 1930’s. These paintings and drawings explore Baroque architecture and examine the world through a beginner’s eye. Over the next ten years the works become discernibly more sophisticated and developed through the use of form and color. It is around 1948 that Vedova seems to have his first of two breaks with tradition and rebels against all forms of geometry. Of course, it must be taken into consideration that in this post war period the entire art scene in Europe underwent a dramatic period of re-invention, exploring color and movement, psyche and theory, in an attempt to work through the horrors of the wars and the aftermath.

 Emilio Vedova, Concentration Camp (People and Barbed Wire), 1950, courtesy Berlinische Galerie

Although other critics may disagree, this exhibition demonstrated two major periods of growth in Vedova’s work. Once in the late 1940’s and again in the early 60’s. His work in the late 40’s became bolder, less rigid and leaning more towards the Abstract Expressionist movement. Through the 50’s and into the early 60’s he again abandons traditional modes of painting, and begins his explorations of working away from the restrictions of the wall. Vedova begins to create collages, the canvas comes down and is laid on the ground. Finally, he abandons the tradition of the canvas altogether and substitutes wildly shaped wooden boards. He embarks into the development of a style that will last until the end of his career.

It is also in 1963 that Vedova was awarded a stipend to live in work in Berlin. During his artists in residence period in Berlin from 1963-65, he begins to create Absurdes Berliner Tagesbuch. The 7 Plurimi that create the Absurdes Berliner Tagesbuch which are leaning against each other, suspended on rough sailors rope from the ceiling, and painted in colors that flash in the corner of your eye, as you walk from one spot to the next. The Absurdes Berliner Tagesbuch, which was donated to the Berlinische Galerie by the artist in 2002, is sited as the most influential period in his career

 Emilio Vedova, Absurdes Berliner Tagesbuch, Installation View, 1963 – 1965, courtesy Berlinische Galerie

The influence of this freedom from the tradition of canvas painting can clearly be seen throughout the rest of his later works. He never approaches painting in quite the same way. Many of his works from this point on are multi dimensional, even the simple two or three color painted works have a deeper sculptural feel.

In the next decades the artist continues to work with abstract expressionist ideas, moving to large canvases, and in the late 80’s to Tondi and Dischi works. Large wooden slabs, painted and placed in various vertical positions. These works are 2.8 meters and are influenced by human measurements. Poetically described by Massioma Cacciari as “planets, that is, errant bodies. And because they are errant, they are also always in danger of getting lost, of taking a wrong turn.”

Highlights of the exhibition are the six works of contemporary German artist Georg Baselitz. The six works were originally created for the 2007 Venice Biennale as both homage to Vedova and as a discourse between the Berlin and Venetian style. The six large canvases present semi-abstract works mostly in black, white and gray. The works successfully channel Vedova’s style, without mimicking it.

  Georg Baselitz, Waldarbeiter (Remix), 2007, courtesy Berlinische Galerie

I left the show feeling surprised I hadn’t heard more about Vedova in the past. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention; perhaps I was distracted by my excitement for Mario Merz, Lucio Fontana, and other Italian greats; however, I left feeling confident that if I hadn’t heard about him in the past, I would continue to hear about him in the future.

Berlinische Galerie

Alicia Reuter

Alicia Reuter is a freelance art historian and critic living and working in Berlin.  She is currently working on a project examining the use of contemporary art in advertising.  alicialreuter@hotmail.com

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