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"Alberto Sughi: 1946 to Present"
2007-07-21 until 2007-09-23
Salone delle Mostre Temporanee - Complesso del Vittoriano
Rome, , IT Italy

The anthological exhibition entitled “Alberto Sughi” on show at the Complesso del Vittoriano from 21 July to 23 September 2007, aims to show the artistic and ideological development of one of the most important figures in Italian and European painting over the last 50 years, and contains about eighty paintings and sixty drawings produced from 1946 to today. The exhibition “Alberto Sughi”, under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Italy and of the Ministry for Cultural Affairs, the Lazio Region and Rome City Council, has been set up and organised by Comunicare Organizzando. The curator of the exhibition is Prof. Arturo Carlo Quintavalle.

“The play by Eugene Ionesco (The Rhinoceros) is obviously a metaphor representing modern society, which transforms men into monsters. Is this a possible clue one could use to interpret the work of Alberto Sughi?... Sughi has probably read Sartre’s Essay Being and Nothingness (1943) and the ideas of this philosopher seem to have entered into his work; the comparison between beings and the world of objects and acts and ‘nothingness’, conscience which tries to go beyond this limit leading to anxiety and inertia within the classes and their various roles, and particularly the image of the bourgeoisie as the sign of a crisis, in fact, of the impossibility of creating relationships, if not alienated, as we would say today. All this forms part of a critical awareness that Sughi, better than others, has succeeded in expressing through his work.” (A.C. Quintavalle).

The exhibition Alberto Sughi is one of the major Italian artists of the generation emerging during the 1950s, which chose realism, in the context of the debate between abstract and figurative art in the post-war period. His paintings display daily life without heroes, and atmospheres which, in 1956, the critic Enrico Crispolti defined as “existential realism”.

Solitude and the inability to communicate, malaise and pleasure are the dominant themes of Sughi’s work, feelings which are rendered pictorially through a deliberately meagre, rough and almost monochrome palette. The “Alberto Sughi” exhibition at the Vittoriano allows the visitor to follow the painter’s artistic career: his anonymous, ordinary people with eyes and gestures lacking in expression, staring at a temporal and spatial void, dramatically absorbed, denied dialogue, perhaps searching for evasive meanings. La maschera al cinema (1958), Donna sul divano rosso (1959), Uomini al bar (1960), Uomo solo al bar (1960), Pierrot (1962), Donna che si spoglia (1963), La stanza di un uomo (1968), La cena – Donna sola (1976), Ragazze al caffè (1990), Piano Bar Italia (1996), Una periferia (2004), Bar del crocevia (2006)… These titles accompany silent expectation, tense card games, smouldering cigarette butts. Scenes captured in a fleeting moment, like individual stills from a film stopped at a particular frame and isolated from its original context.

During his long artistic career Alberto Sughi has been an astute observer of life, of the most characteristic aspects of modern society. His examination of poverty is ruthless, his eye is impartial and harsh, reproducing events, feelings and perversions with neither indulgence nor condemnation. His social criticism emerges against the degenerate middle classes, his anger, sadness and unease are palpable, but Sughi feels no need to take a moral standpoint, only to produce a well-documented statement within a severe context. “The painter is not only the creator of his works. He is also the first person to observe them with indulgence, and sometimes with severity. When he decides that the painting is finished, always a difficult decision to take, his judgement generally concerns the structure of the composition; the energy of the trait, the intensity of the colour, and so on. The question of the meaning of the work is a subject which, strangely, he/she only touches upon. Artistic expression is the result of a reflection that has developed over time, giving a particular quality to the artist’s work, and which then becomes one with the formal structure of the work.” (A. Sughi).

Alberto Sughi, born in Cesena in 1928, is a painter who has managed to transform the search for origins, whether Cubist or of the ideological realism of the 1950s, into an extraordinary expression of art as a form of introspection. He has managed to go beyond the idea of painting as the transcription of various themes using, for his own artistic research, the language of the Informal and the Metaphysical, the language of Dada and of Expressionism.

Sughi is extraneous to artistic movements, even though he was involved in the definition of a group, that of “existential realism”, and has managed to construct a new type of painting with a subtle narrative element, through cycles of paintings. Sughi constructs stories through a series of works, or even within a single work, and then connects them together in cycles. He has also painted large canvases, four of which will be on show in this exhibition, in some of which he has deliberately proposed a new theme, that of urban spaces and their obsessive presence, as in the painting “Città di notte” of 1958.

Sughi’s work represents an exceptional case within the panorama of Italian art. Perhaps his originality, his revolution, is elsewhere: in his capacity to perceive the relationship that has always existed between the arts, and in particular between painting and the cinema. His works from the 1950s and ‘60s interact, as no others in Italy, either before or since, with Visconti and Antonioni, Fellini, Rosi and Germi, the latter also as a personal friend. Within the context of Italian art, Sughi’s work, in its rapport with that of Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Germaine Richier and the Informal movement, represents an essential step towards a new idea of figurative art. Alberto Sughi is certainly one of the most important painters to emerge during the complex post-war art scene, in the debate between realism and abstraction, and one of the artists who have continued their artistic research with the greatest coherence, becoming a point of reference for Italian painting, at least from the end of the 1950s and throughout the 1960s. In the 1950s and ‘60s Sughi combined the European Informal movement with American Abstract Expressionist painting to suggest a different way of developing, a path that, from the 1950s to today, has always tended towards a reflection on time and the meaning of existence, never limited to a representation of reality in pictorial form. Over the years Alberto Sughi has constructed a new kind of painting. He has chosen a very different path from other artists, even though he has always maintained a dialogue with the intellectuals connected with realism; sometimes Sughi’s work has been labelled “existential realism”, a successful formula used to identify a group of painters who were certainly realists, but also astute observers, open to new horizons.

They established a dialogue with other realities, other artistic research, as well as an awareness of the complexity of every artistic endeavour and the need to paint in a new, individual, way, differing from analytical or synthetic Cubism, and also from the Realist movement as such.

Sughi is constantly aware of the philosophies of existence and therefore also of the great intellectual crisis in Western society. He therefore undertakes a constant dialogue with artists who have expressed this crisis, from Bacon to Sutherland, and to Hopper, with the oneiric dimension of Otto Dix, or the early Grosz, or of Beckmann. The expectations, the non-events, the void within existence, the difficulties of working in the world of objects, people’s isolation; all of this is portrayed in the theatre of the ’50s, in the existential reflections of Jean Paul Sartre, and it is also in the paintings of Alberto Sughi.

However, as underlined by Arturo Carlo Quintavalle, “…it is not enough to consider the links with Francis Bacon, who adds a critical erotic element to his existentialism, bordering on the savage, which has no counterpart in Sughi’s work; it is not enough to consider Giacometti, who makes the incommunicability between individuals sublime with his filiform shadows, suspended in space, whereas, in fact, Sughi represents figures in their solidity…However, it seems to me that the originality of Sughi’s work consists in his attention to objects that are never merely the background to a scene where the protagonists are elsewhere, but that become protagonists themselves …What Sughi has discovered is therefore the annihilation of figures…which is also why there are so few portraits in Sughi’s works , why a portrait would destroy that sense of non-identity and, to some extent, the horror of belonging to the middle classes, which is the dominant theme in the painter’s compositions”.

The artist

Sughi was born in Cesena on 5 October, 1928. His artistic development is almost always expressed in thematic cycles, resembling cinematographic sequences. Firstly, the so-called green paintings, dedicated to the relationship between man and nature (1971-1973). Then La cena (1975-1976) and, at the beginning of the 1980s, the twenty paintings and fifteen studies of the Immaginazione e memoria della famiglia. From 1985 he produced the series La sera o della riflessione. From the year 2000 he created the Notturno cycle.

After classical studies, and artistically self-taught, he learnt the rudiments of his art from his uncle. Sughi first exhibited in a collective exhibition in Cesena in 1946 and, in the same year, he spent a period of time in Turin, where he worked as an illustrator for the newspaper Gazzetta del Popolo. Between 1948 and 1951 he worked in Rome, where he met various artists, among whom Marcello Muccini and Renzo Vespignani from the Gruppo di Portonaccio, a fundamental meeting for Sughi, both from the personal and the artistic point of view. He returned to Cesena in 1951. These were the years when the “existential realism” movement was formed. Renato Guttuso supported it and Antonello Trombadori compared it to the style of Edward Hopper. At the beginning of the ‘70s, Sughi moved from the city of Cesena to the nearby hills of Carpineta and started work on the cycle La cena, a clear metaphor for middle class society, containing a certain Germanic realism, resembling the works of George Grosz and Otto Dix, enveloped in almost metaphysical atmospheres, isolating every character and freezing them within the scene.

Ettore Scola chose one of the paintings from the Cena cycle as a poster for his film La Terrazza, and Mario Monicelli was inspired by Sughi’s atmospheres and colours in his Un borghese piccolo piccolo. In 1978, La cena was exhibited in Moscow at the Manezh Gallery.

In 1980 Sughi started work on a new narrative cycle, entitled Immaginazione e memoria della famiglia. Together with his large triptych, Teatro d’Italia, painted between 1983 and 1984, it showed that the artist had returned to the theme of modern society. Teatro d'Italia is, in fact, a great social allegory. Sughi has taken part in all the most important contemporary art events, from the Biennale Internazionale d’Arte in Venice to the Quadriennale in Rome – of which he has also been Director – and to numerous exhibitions. Both Italian and foreign museums have shown many retrospective exhibitions of his work. On 28 November 2005, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi presented him with the prestigious Vittorio De Sica Prize, as homage to an artist who, ever since his early works, has shown a particular feeling for the cinema, even going as far as to state that “the cinema taught me how to paint”.

Among others, the following critics have written about the work of Alberto Sughi: G. Amendola, G. Bassani, F. Bellonzi, R. Bossaglia, F. Caroli, E. Cavalli, L. Cavallo, G. Cavazzini, R. Civello, E. Crispolti, M. De Micheli, A. Del Guercio, F. Ferrarotti, D. Guzzi, P. Levi, R. Lucchese, M. Lunetta, A. Marotta, G. Menato, D. Micacchi, R. Nigro, G. Pellegrini, G. Proietti, G. Raimondi, P. Restany, M. Rosci, G. Santato, S. Sinisgalli, V. Sgarbi, F. Solmi, A. Trombadori, M. Venturoli, R. Zangheri, S. Zavoli.

Catalogue: Skira. The catalogue, presented by Arturo Carlo Quintavalle, with an introduction and description of the works, includes an interview between the artist and the critic Sergio Zavoli, and also contains a list of exhibitions, a bibliography and a selection of texts by the artist.

Alberto Sughi regularly contributes to the blog forum at absolutearts.com. Read his commentary at blog.absolutearts.com.

For more information about Sughi's works visit www.albertosughi.com.

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