By Chiara Rizzolo

Until September 30, Palazzo Reale is hosting a major retrospective of Agostino Bonalumi – a pivotal figure in post-war Italian abstraction – spanning from his debut in 1958 with Manzoni and Castellani until his demise in 2013, a chronological journey through space, time, matter and perception, beyond the surface and back

On the occasion of the five-year anniversary of the death of the Italian sculptor, painter and draughtsman Agostino Bonalumi, the Royal Palace of Milan is hosting a major retrospective titled “Bonalumi 1958 – 2013” gathering together 120 artworks chronologically displayed throughout 11 rooms.
Agostino Bonalumi, Giallo - 1969

Agostino Bonalumi, Giallo, 1969

Young Bonalumi was a talented child and exhibited his first works in 1948 in Vimercate, when he was just thirteen years old! Then he studied technical and mechanical drawing, and continued his artistic training autodidactically. In 1957 he started frequenting Enrico Baj‘s studio in Milan, where he met Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani, artists and founders of the Azimuth art magazine. Together they started a prolific collaboration, holding a group exhibition at the Galleria Pater, Milan, which was followed by further shows in Milan, Rome and Lausanne and finally, at the Azimut gallery.
Subsequently, Bonalumi had contacts with the international Zero movement – a group of European artists better known for their affiliations with other movements, including Nouveau réalisme, Arte Povera, Minimalism and Kinetic art. The name of the group was chosen by founders Heinz Mack and Otto Piene after their art magazine, “Zero”. The Zero Movement was a direct response to Abstract Expressionism, which was widely prevalent in the decade after World War II. Zero Artists aimed at a new artistic conception, a new beginning through new ways of expressing themselves getting rid of personal emotions or individual subjectivity.

Little by little, he began developing the idea of the so called “pittura – oggetto” (painting-object), inspired by Lucio Fontana’s spatial concept and his desire to go ‘beyond the canvas’. He started focusing on reliefs and three-dimensional space arrangements using elements of wood to break the evenness of the canvas. Bonalumi called these new artworks as “extroflections”, to indicate their bending forward in space, creating a strong tension between the physical and the symbolic space and time.
The surface became the work of art itself, while the monochrome color chosen for each extroflection was somehow enriched by the shadow it cast over the artwork’s surface. The monochromatic space thus appeared multi-colored just by becoming multi-dimensional thanks to the different shapes placed beneath the canvas. Concealing mysterious items seemed to add an illusory dimension into the viewers’ space.
This process finally led to further experimentation until the development of later works including sculptures and immersive environments.
Agostino Bonalumi, sculpture - installation view, Palazzo Reale, Milan

Agostino Bonalumi, sculpture – installation view, Palazzo Reale, Milan

Two large installations are highlighting the show at Palazzo Reale. The former is “Blu abitabile,” (Inhabitable Blue, 1967) – one of his most important works, realized for the exhibition “Lo spazio dell’immagine,” Foligno. Color here transcends the aesthetic dimension becoming part of the environment itself, and becomes a living element.
The latter is a reconstruction of the room at the 35th Venice Biennale (1970), including a couple of huge fiberglass extroflections titled “Struttura modulare bianca” (White modular structure): it’s a key installation with elevated modules, never been displayed since the Biennale. The massive physical presence of the installation affects the viewer creating a strong tension between the space in which it’s contained ( which is – in turn – reshaped by the artwork itself) and the human perception. This unsettling tension on the surface can turn space into content.