In the Sixties, Rome was an exciting city: art, cinema, theatre, and literature were in full swing. Excellent personalities such as Giorgio De Chirico Pictor Optimus, gallerist Plinio de Martiis and the artists of Piazza del Popolo or international figures like Balthus and Twombly hung around. Domenico Gnoli joined historical memory and art to innovation. Unfortunately, he prematurely died when he was only thirty-seven.
VIRTUOSITY ON PAPER
Born in Rome in 1933 and passed away in New York in 1970, Gnoli became famous with his graphic design activity back in the Fifties, as a scenographer, first (The Merchant of Venice in Zurich, As You Like It in 1955 in London) and then as a drawer, illustrator, and printmaker.
His engravings for the theatre showed a Dalì-like relentlessness and the influence of Fabrizio Clerici and Eugène Berman with hints of mannerism and architectural baroque. He developed visual textures of stories, comedies, and projects, permeated of kaleidoscopic, slightly ironic quotations, into scenography. An acute sensibility for the contemporary marked his illustrations for Fortune, Glamour, Holiday, Show Magazine, Sports Illustrated, or Playboy.
VIEW OF THE EXHIBITION “DOMENICO
GNOLI”, FONDAZIONE PRADA, MILAN.
PHOTO: ROBERTO MAROSSI. COURTESY:
FONDAZIONE PRADA. ON THE WALL,
LEFT TO RIGHT, PUBLISHING AND
WORKS ON PAPER: POSTER OF CHÉRI,
BY COLETTE, DIRECTED BY ANDRÉ
BARSAQ, ITALIAN COMPANY FOR
THEATRE, TEATRO ELISEO, ROME, 1951;
SCENOGRAFIA FANTASTICA 4, 1952;
SCENOGRAFIA FANTASTICA 8, 1952;
SAGITTARIO 2 (GRUPPO SAGITTARI),1952.
IN THE CABINET, LEFT TO RIGHT: IL
MAGAZZENO, 1950; CATALOGUE OF
EXHIBITION “ITALIAN ENGRAVINGS”,
SASSARI, 1951; INVITATION TO THE
EXHIBITION “DOMENICO GNOLI.
DRAWINGS”: LA CASSAPANCA GALLERY,
ROME, 1951; SCENA DI NOTTE, FIFTIES;
SKETCH FOR CHÉRI, 1951
Living between Italy and New York, he developed a close-knitted network of friends and professional relationships.
FROM INK TO ACRYLIC: THE MAGIC OF THE ORDINARY
As far back as in the Sixties, Gnoli turned to the painting. He became famous for his metaphysical and surrealist works imbibed with the Italian tradition from Masaccio to Piero della Francesca, through Piranesi and to Carrà, De Chirico, and Morandi. His works were close-ups of home furniture, everyday objects, and human bodies that, thanks to acrylic, sand, and glue mixed up together allusively on the canvas, conveyed a secret that Gnoli intended to unveil.
Moving from the classical tradition to Pop Art, which was in full swing in New York in the late Fifties and arrived in Italy in the early Sixties, was not an easy task. Gnoli claimed his freedom of expression, kept some distance from the new trend on show at the Venice Biennale in 1964, and wrote, “I’ve always worked like I’m doing now, but nobody saw because abstraction was the vogue. Only now, thanks to Pop Art, my painting has become comprehensible.
I always use simple elements; I don’t want to add or remove anything; I isolate and represent since I never intervene actively against the object. I can only feel the magic of its presence.” French writer André Pieyre de Mardiargue reinforced the message, “Gnoli’s pictorial style, when he describes common things, illuminates them, dignifies them while pop artists make them gross.”
The Fondazione Prada’s exhibition Domenico Gnoli shows a hundred paintings and two hundred drawings, sketches, and documents (photos, letters, writings). The setting, designed by Studio 2 X 4 of New York, develops on the two floors of the Podium with a concept recalling the atmospheres of last-century museums.
Germano Celant, who planned the 2020 exhibition, pointed out how the artist expressed an egalitarian intention: a rematch of the unmeaningful and low-profile elements in the chart of values, the low and the secondary, the accessory and the minimal.
In Notes for an unfinished text, he declared, “look, I’m drawing a house here. Look, it is not my house, well, I realistically started from left, but as soon as I move to the right, the lines are not that straight. You can’t even count the leaves and bricks … Then you linger on and, at this point, your feel compelled, and things start to change and keep on acting until you don’t see the house anymore, only the sensations…”