Cortesi Gallery Lines Up Conceptual Art’s Heavy Hitters

At this year’s Armory Show in New York, Cortesi Gallery presents a veritable laundry list of boundary-pushing conceptual artists, most of whom were active in the latter half of the 20th century. Offerings include representatives from pioneering conceptual movements such as Group Zero and Arte Povera as well as other pivotal avant-garde artists who helped redefine painting by exploring its spatial, optical, and material potential. Many of them repositioned the canvas to be not merely a blank slate upon which representation takes place, but an object of representation in its own right.

Each work explores principles of surface and dimensionality in unexpected ways, often through the manipulation of common, industrial materials via nontraditional techniques. Italian artists such as Lucio Fontana and Enrico Castellani frequently altered their canvases with unconventional methods of intervention, like slashing and reshaping. Other artists on view, including the Germans Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, and Günther Uecker, and American artist Jacob Kassay, engaged in similarly unconventiona techniques, such as burning and perforation.

Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto rejected the canvas entirely, electing instead to paint on polished steel. In a similar vein, a work by Italian artist Giulio Paolini shows his process of deconstructing the traditional trappings associated with artwork exhibition, such as frames, vitrines, and easels. Other works by Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto and Belgian artist Walter LeBlanc nod to the ways in which Primary Abstraction and Op Art fed into this movement by drawing on principles of kinetics and optics to engage surface and depth in unexpected ways.

The bevy of works presented at the Armory Show serve as a kind of prelude to another exhibition to be mounted at Cortesi Gallery on the heels of this year’s fair. The show, “I Wish to Meet Architects,” will feature works from the 1960s and ’70s by Italian artist Agostino Bonalumi, another important figure in avant-garde conceptual art.

A self-taught painter who was formally trained in mechanical and technical design, Bonalumi produced art that exposed his intense preoccupation with spatial relations. In these works, representation is on equal terms with material; the two must be taken together. Bonalumi referred to these works as “Picture-Objects” and insisted that the material upon which representation is enacted is just as important as the action taking place. Most of his works involve curious protrusions—“estroflessioni,” or “extroflexions,” as he called them—that appear to forcefully push themselves into three-dimensionality from within the canvas.

The title of Bonalumi’s new show is taken from an exhibition he mounted in 1969. The “architects” he referenced are the same type of artists included in the Armory presentation; in fact, many of them were friends and likeminded artists seeking new answers to the representation and role of spatiality in art.

—Grace-Yvette Gemmell

Agostino Bonalumi: I Wish to Meet Architects” is on view at Cortesi Gallery, London, Mar. 16–May 21, 2016.

Discover more artists at Cortesi Gallery.