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  • Writer's pictureDimitri Ozerkov

Abstract Art in Italy. Achille Perilli

When: 19.12.2018 - 03.02.2019

Where: The General Staff Building, Transformer Hall (with red and green walls)


Achille Perilli was born in 1927 and first became known in artistic circles in connection with the Rome-based group Forma 1 that was active between 1947 and 1951. This association originated at a time of political instability in Italy, when leftist ideas were spreading broadly in society and the clash between Symbolists and Formalists was growing more acute. The members of the group, who met each other in Renato Guttuso’s studio, were the first people in post-war Italy to turn to abstract art, placing their work in opposition to the official positions of realist and symbolist art that they perceived as decadent. Meanwhile they themselves proceeded from a Marxist ideology and sought through their works to refute the Realists’ conviction that Formalism in art was incompatible with Marxism. The group also included the painters Carla Accardi (1924–2014) and Piero Dorazio (1927–2005), the painter, sculptor and writer Ugo Attardi (1923–2006), the painter and film director Mino Guerrini (1927–1990), and the sculptor Pietro Consagra (1920–2005). The group’s exhibitions held in Prague and Paris in the late 1940s were arranged on Perilli’s initiative and with his active involvement. The artists were invited to take part in the 1951 Milan Triennial. In that period, Perilli travelled extensively and met with Giacomo Balla and Tristan Tzara, which enabled him to refine his own readily recognizable style.

The use of pure colour and the construction of a painted space using lines, surfaces and elementary three-dimensional shapes of varying scale make up Perilli’s “geometrically irrational” art. Abstract shapes, which first appeared in Italy in the early 20th century, enter the symbolic-realistic picture space in his works. That space attempts to construct imaginary Marxist bridges between incompatible artistic tendencies: to combine the abstract thesis and the realist antithesis, becoming a “concrete synthesis” of the arts. This is today the only way to “penetrate into the mind of the contemporary person”, Perilli asserted in the 1951 text Sono due spazi [There Are Two Spaces]. In it he posits the existence of two incompatible spaces – “mine, yours, ours, everyone’s and the other – the space of art. The latter is inhabited by shapes and colours that we render only partially when we paint, to the extent to which we are capable.” We base our work solely on our abilities and recollections, and they, and not immediate perception, determine all of our art. Kandinsky and Mondrian, while they discovered pure shape and extended space, nonetheless remained faithful to the diktat of a picture with a centre and compositional balance, which makes their constructions elementary at heart and reducible as a result to the outmoded aesthetic norms of the Renaissance and Baroque.

In his art, Perilli deliberately strives to overcome the “compositional skeletons” of the past and reflects on the aesthetics of the resulting paintings. His strange angular decentralized structures, reminiscent of Lissitzky’s irretrievably mutating prouns, endeavour to burst out of the boundaries of the canvas and to proclaim new architectural-chromatic ideals through their unwieldy shapes. Their plastic development in the chronology of Perilli’s oeuvre follows an irrational course. While in the early years he took a keen interest in Giorgio de Chirico’s broad, yet simultaneously self-contained spaces (he wrote his diploma work about them under the supervision of the celebrated Lionello Venturi), Kandinsky’s free-floating shapes and Klee’s schemata that stand firmly on the ground, the later Perilli is enthralled by the outwardly independent existence of dynamic complex structures that are at one and the same time reminiscent of alogical evolutions and kaleidoscopic architectural calculations.

In Perilli’s opinion, the work of a present-day artist consists of the redistribution of figures in space. Behind this outwardly bleak and unattractive activity lies Perilli’s consistent theorizing. He addresses each canvas to the discourses of the middle and second half of the 20th century about space and time, West and East, the rational and the intuitive, the external and the internal, the inherent and the assimilated, the natural and the symbolic, the narrative and the formulaic, the structural and the decorative, the everyday and the metaphysical, the functional and the archetypical.

In 20th-century art, which is overflowing with complex explanations, the last word always remains with human imagination. That is the motive force of art. To Perilli’s mind, in any structure, even the most rigid, it is only human imagination that seeks out paths and underground passageways capable of overcoming the strictest formal control.

Two exhibitions have been organized in the State Hermitage as part of the Abstract Art in Italy project. The second, devoted to the work of Umberto Mariani, will open in February 2019. The exhibitions are accompanied by educational events dedicated to 20th-century Italian art.

The exhibition “Abstract Art in Italy. Achille Perilli” is part of the larger Hermitage 20/21 project that aims to collect, exhibit and study art of the 20th and 21st centuries. A brochure has been brought out for the exhibition by the publishing house Il Cigno GG Edizioni.

The exhibition curator is Dmitry Yuryevich Ozerkov, head of the State Hermitage’s Department of Contemporary Art.

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