Two Decades After His Death, Gianni Colombo Gets His Due

The Milan-born sculptor Gianni Colombo, well-respected in his native Italy but little-known abroad, died in 1993 at the age of 66, and has since earned international acclaim posthumously. Following a successful show of his later works at Greene Naftali in New York in 2013, he now gets his due in a solo show in London.

The Body and the Space 1959-1980,” curated by Francesca Pola and Marco Scotini, opens this week at ROBILANT+VOENA and for many viewers, will serve as an introduction to Colombo’s innovative practice. And that’s exactly, we might presume, how Colombo would have wanted it. His kinetic sculptures and Ambienti (installation environments) often depend on viewers’ active participation or curiosity. In this case, proclivities for discovery and spontaneity are more valuable than any preconceived knowledge of the artist’s practice.

Topoesthesia – three contiguous zones (programmed itinerary) (1965-1970), is an installation that envelops viewers, prompting them to walk through its bounds in order to experience it. Made with elastic wire, wood, iron, black light, and red light, it is a precursor to the first environment Colombo built in London at Hayward Gallery back in 1980 (Topoesthesia – 8 Entrexit Situations). 

While not all of the pieces featured are interactive, the exhibition offers a retrospective view of Colombo’s explorations into physical space and mastery of kinetic art. Spazio elastico (Bianco) (1973), for example, is a wheel-shaped piece made with shaped wood, nails, oil, and metal wire. It comes from his seminal “Spazio Elastico” (“Elastic Space”) series, in which fluorescent strings are lit by blacklight and create disorienting optical effects. Meanwhile, early works like Roto-Optic (1964) represent Colombo’s initial investigations into light and feature electromechanical animation. Alternatively, the foam, wood, and rubber Strutturazione pulsante (Pulsating Structuralization) (1959)—a motorized wall of blocks that pulsates according to a random sequence—represents one of his earliest artistic experiments with kinetic sculpture.

Together, these works hint at Colombo’s enduring legacy. A walk through the exhibition, connecting personally with the sculptures, is the most authentic way to experience Colombo’s work—and to honor the artist more than two decades after his death.


Bridget Gleeson



The Body and the Space 1959-1980” is on view at ROBILANT+VOENA, London, Oct. 2 – Nov. 20, 2015.


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