Tancredi. A Retrospective, 12 Nov 2016 — 13 Mar 2017
From 12 November 2016 to 13 March 2017 the Peggy Guggenheim Collection presents the exhibition “My Weapon Against the Atom Bomb is a Blade of Grass. Tancredi. A Retrospective”, curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, Associate Curator of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
With over ninety works, this much-awaited retrospective marks the return to Venice of Tancredi Parmeggiani (Feltre 1927 – Rome 1964), among the most original and prolific Italian painters of the second half of the twentieth century. Tancredi was the only artist, after Jackson Pollock, whom Peggy Guggenheim placed under contract, promoting his work, making it known to museums and collectors in the USA, and organizing shows, including one in her own home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, in 1954. More than sixty years later Tancredi returns to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, his reputation now beyond question, with remarkable paintings that re-create, step by step in intimate galleries, between creative fury and lyrical expressionism, the brief but meteoric trajectory of this great postwar painter.
Beginning with rare youthful portraits and self-portraits, and with Tancredi’s first experiments with paintings on paper in 1950-51, the famous Springtimes, the exhibition narrative moves on to document Tancredi in the early 50s, a period marked by the crucial encounter with Peggy Guggenheim, to whom he became a protégé, and who gave him studio space in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. Thanks to his special relationship with Guggenheim, Tancredi’s art became internationally known, such that he acquired fame at an early age. This was the period in which Tancredi matured a personal style, micro-spaziale and polychrome, defined by some critics as “molecular”. This involved a distinctive fragmentation of the pictorial mark, a fundamental component of draftsmanship in his works on paper and canvas, and a luminous palette. The energy of his marks, combined with the vibrancy of his palette, creates a new harmony, leading to some of the most felicitous examples of the artist’s production.
The exhibition proceeds with a section dedicated to Tancredi’s participation in art prizes and international exhibitions, such as Tendances Actuelles at the Kunsthalle Bern, with paintings dating from 1955 to 1959, including, among others, the series titled A Propos of Venice, the city he left permanently in the spring of 1959 in order to move to Milan. Compared, however, to his youthful drawings, the figures have been grotesquely metamorphosed. Following a journey to Norway in 1960, his love for northern painting and for the grotesque was enriched by the fiery colors and psychological drama of Edvard Munch, and by the new figuration and almost revolutionary irony that he shared with his friends of the Anti-procès art movement, formed around the Galleria del Canale in Venice. This was a period of crisis, and of a complete revision of his approach to painting, into which he now injected existential and political meaning. This is the vein of polemic tension that gave rise to the phrase of the title of this exhibition, “My weapon Against the atom bomb is a blade of grass”—Tancredi’s response to the world conflicts of the time, from Vietnam, to the war in Algeria, to the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union. Belonging to this key moment in the artist’s career is the triptych of the Hiroshima series (1962), reassembled here for the first time in decades.
A further phase of experiment, in the final part of the exhibition, consists of the collage-paintings, made between 1962 and 1963, known as the Hometown Diaries (Diari paesani) and the Flowers 101% Painted by Me and by Others (Fiori dipinti da me e da altri al 101%), which can be counted the major revelation of this retrospective and which are the product of exceptional creative verve and dramatic euphoria. Immersing himself in the climate of the new painting of the 60s, Tancredi, in open polemic with it, created anti-heroic pictures, drenched in paint that becomes now color patch now image allusive to war, current affairs, or huge flowers. These works mark the end of his extraordinary, brilliant and unruly career, dedicated to nature and to man. They are paintings which prelude the last year of the life of a painter who was among the most original and singular personalities in Italian art of the twentieth century. Tancredi died in 1964 aged only 37, young but ready, as Dino Buzzati wrote, to evolve into the “myth of Tancredi”.