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Women and abstraction in Italy 1930-2000

Updated: Apr 28

Last year, an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris - Elles font l'abstraction, curated by Christine Macel and Karolina Ziębińska-Lewandowska - reviewed the contribution of women artists to the transversal development of the language of abstraction, from 1860 to 1980, in painting, applied arts, music and cinema.

During a conference held alongside the exhibition in Paris, Elena Di Raddo, a lecturer at Milan's Università Cattolica and member of the scientific committee of the Research Center on Italian Abstract Art, presented the pioneering work of a group of women artists working in Como, at the time the hub of rationalism in architecture, in the 1930s: Carla Badiali, Cordelia Cattaneo, and Carla Prina.

Installation view at Villa Olmo in Como. Courtesy Bettina Musatti

The scholar's interest in the work of these group of women artists from the French conference was the driving force behind the necessity to dedicate a broader survey on the evolution of abstract art in Italy from a female point of view, which today, in the rooms of Villa Olmo in Como, starts from Carla Badiali's Composizione n.3, a study for a decorative panel from 1932 that anticipates similar experiments by Mario Radice.

Carla Badiali, Composizione n. 3, 1932-1936. Pinacoteca Civica, Como

Natalie Du Pasquier, Untitled, 2020, Courtesy the artist

It was in 1980 when L'altra metà dell'avanguardia, the historic exhibition curated by Lea Vergine, was presented in Milan. It was the result of a laborious process of rediscovery of women artists who, in Vergine's own words, "had been entirely erased" from the collective memory.

As Di Raddo herself writes: "The history of abstract art in the avant-garde period was essentially a male history. The few women involved were mostly linked, as wives or daughters, to male artists and despite their great commitment in private, they were only rarely valued at public events. It was not until the 1970s that women's work was finally recognised, although often in exhibitions that were not specifically dedicated to abstraction because they were more oriented towards feminist themes".

The great Carla Accardi has certainly not been forgotten, protagonist since the post-war period of a profound renewal in painting, focused on the full freedom and continual expansion of the sign.

The artist is present at Villa Olmo's exhibition with a selection of works from the 1950s to the 1970s, including a varnish on sicofoil, a material she introduced in her practice and which allowed her to experiment with multiple variations of light and colour, amplified by the transparency of the support.

Installation view at Villa Olmo in Como. Courtesy Bettina Musatti

The constant evolution of Accardi's language from the late 1960s onwards, in her ever-increasing openness to an environmental dimension of art, certainly prepared the way for the optic-kinetic scientific studies of Dadamaino, Grazia Varisco and Nanda Vigo or for the total sensorial cycles of Irma Blank.

Grazia Varisco, Variable light screen "Rotosquare", 1965-1966, Archivio Varisco

Irma Blank, Ur-Schrift Avant-testo, 2003, Private collection, Brescia

Other contemporary women artists are now pursuing a research that no longer aims to involve the viewer in an immersive dimension but rather comes from a post-conceptual study, where abstract form is conveyed into sculpture (Alice Cattaneo and Mirella Saluzzo), into photography (Luisa Lambri) or into embroidery and carving (Elisabetta di Maggio).

Alice Cattaneo, Untitled, 2019, courtesy the artist and Marie-Laure Fleisch Gallery Bruxelles

ASTRATTE. Donne e astrazione in Italia 1930-2000

March 19th – May 29th 2022

Villa Olmo, Como

Via Cantoni 1

tel. +39 031 576169

Press Office: Lara Facco


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