Catanzaro celebrates its artist ten years after his death
“I believe the artist who is sensitive to what is happening in the world should express with his creativity the most important matters of our lives. I asked myself if in a tragic moment art was a sufficient response to the madness around us. Art is peace and prophecy, and therefore, after death there is rebirth.”
These are the words of Mimmo Rotella, almost a spiritual testament that today, ten years after his death, resonate more than ever. Ten years ago, on January 8th, 2006 in Milan, the genius of Catanzaro among the most important Italian artists of the twentieth century. Now his hometown sets off, on the anniversary of his death, a series of initiatives with the aim of resuming his great legacy.
Authentic witness of modernity, Mimmo Rotella was animated by a “vital agitation.” His work is considered among the most innovative art of the twentieth century, and his décollages represent Italian art along with works by Fontana, Manzoni, Burri and De Chirico in all international collections.
I have within me the Magna Grecia…
Born in Catanzaro on October 7, 1918, Rotella moved to Rome after completing his studies in 1945. In the “Open City,” the Rome of those years of chaotic reconstruction and the casual hedonism of the Dolce Vita, but also the Roma of circus games and the Colosseum, the Baroque Rome of Piazza di Spagna, the Trastevere, of Porta Portese, had captured his attention, that which he jokingly called his “Mental Radar,” that instinct that drove him to grasp the disruptive effects of everyday urbana.
A Mental Radar that has distant origins, which is part of a genetic memory so dear to the man as much as the artist. Mimmo Rotella deeply loved his homeland, especially the sea. “I think to be descendants of Duchamp, I feel stronger this European derivation that distinguishes me from the Americans. I have within me the Magna Grecia.”
The years 1945-1951 were, for the artist, a time of feverish activity and intense research and it was in this spontaneous and vital exuberance of the city where he was to find his way and his style. The art forms are in front of one’s eyes, but not everyone has the ability to see them. Only through intuition – what Rotella himself calls the Zen intuition, it is possible to grasp these material revelations, recognize the linguistic capacity to make the raw material of artistic processes.
The realism of Rotella is not made of camouflaged images, but of complex elements of educational processes employed as terms of an evolving language. The reality is not an appearance but a substance to be taken in all its bewildering versatility, not to imitate it in its reassuring aspects, nor allow itself to pervade in its sentimental aspects, but to emulate it on the very ground of its relevance, in the total assumption of the mechanisms and processes that determine its material and factual existence.
When he arrived in the United States in 1951 to the University of Kansas City, he had already developed his “epistaltico” language: a pure vocal music, made inarticulate sounds and derived from urban noises flowing free just like the Paris Lettrism of those years, the phonetic poetry of German Dadaists. His time in Kansas City consolidated his artistic intuition, in fact, on his return to Rome in 1953, he “discovers” the posters on the walls torn: “… I had heard that here there was a field of research corresponding to my identity, that spoke to my intuition. So then I started to express myself through new images and create my own language.”
The first Décollage date back, in fact, to 1953. Until 1957 the technique of Rotella was the Double Décollage. The posters torn from the walls were applied directly onto canvas and glued to the support which was once again torn by the author. His walks through the streets of Rome were a perpetual treasure hunt and the fruits of his labor nourished his imagination. Between 1958 and 1960 the vision of Rotella will tend to define a “sovralinguaggio” (over language) of disfiguration. The artist renounces therefore to double décollage to benefit the sheer choice of the torn image. This evolution will culminate in the thematic series “Cinecitta,” a series of life-size Italian movie posters, among which include the famous Marilyn torn, which have now become icons of our urban culture.
Later, Rotella will live in Paris for sixteen years from 1964 to 1980, integrating perfectly through the group Nouveaux Réalistes, avant-garde in the local scene and becoming one of the leading figures in the Tout-Paris of art. As his success is affirmed, he embarks in travel and exhibitions around the world. Germany, America and Japan are particularly sensitive to his direct approach regarding urban nature.
In 1980 when he left Paris and moved permanently to Milan, it was no longer the “martyr” of the Piazza del Popolo returning to his beautiful country, but one of the global players of urban culture of our century and Italy quickly realizes it. In the early eighties Rotella exhibited at Marconi in Milan. Finally arriving in the nineties the first exhibition institutional retrospective in Calabria at the Civic Museum of Rende, Cosenza (1996), and the commissioning of a large panel for the airport of Lamezia Terme, which Rotella creates, inspired by the myth of flight of Icarus (1999).
Rotella closes that century and the millennium with an unchanged desire for change and confidence in fabulous transformations. His private crusade against mediocrity and conventionality made him look at things with a fascinated eye and an innovative attitude.
He has renewed the language of art as only a few have been able to do in the post-war period; He has sought to extend his insights into his own lifestyle. He left Calabria when there were strong provincial closures to explore the world and his own identity as an artist. He embodied the American dream getting in tune with the aesthetic models overseas, becoming, in his own way, the interpreter of a culture of progress and hedonism. He maintained, however, the southern flair and the ability to develop a love for ideas in which he believed, being able, however, to maintain a certain detachment with certain events – but is décollage, in fact, not a detachment? – As taught through the Buddhist philosophy, which he shares.
The Calabrian Rotella has long pursued the American Rotella, champion of emancipation and modernity. He returns in some way to the private, discovered in a more recent overview of his family pictures and autobiography. The story of a life founded on a cosmopolitan vision reconciled now with the ancient soul. “To tear off the posters from the walls is the only compensation, the only way to protest against a society that has lost the taste for fabulous transformation …” Symbolically ripping the last layer of a succession of events, Rotella reunites yesterday with today, deconstructing life and building dreams with memories. Personal and past mythologies mingle with the myths of consumerism and mass society, in a complex and variegated humanity, which finds its own moment of synthesis in art that is renewed.
“If I had the strength of Samson, I would enrage Piazza di Spagna with its autumnal tints, from the soft red of the Janiculum to the blaze of the setting sun…” It he had this strength from Samson that allowed him to create relentlessly a work that makes him “the inescapable protagonist of our urban culture, the indispensable witness to the fate of modernity.”
The Calabrian town celebrations in memory of the great artist
On the tenth anniversary of the death of the great artist of Catanzaro, on January 8th celebrations in his honour will extend until 2018, the year of the centenary of his birth. The municipal government and Mimmo Rotella Foundation (founded in 2000 by the will of the master), represented by the Mayor Sergio Abraham and President Rocco Guglielmo, have laid a wreath of flowers on the artist’s tombstone in the central cemetery of Via Paglia and subsequently it was discovered in Piazza Rotella a plaque designed by the designer Franco Zagari, to identify the space that the municipality intends to dedicate to his memory.
The calendar of events forecast, the most immediate of the projects is the realization of a documentary on Sky and the remodel of the mural that bears his signature in the Palazzo delle Poste building on Corso Mazzini. Several initiatives will take place at the “Casa della memoria,” (the house museum, opened in 2005, that Rotella has strongly backed, transforming that which is his birthplace); and those teaching in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts. Also the Academy of Bronzes intends to pay tribute to the artist dedicating an award to a painter, open to all Italians artists.
The conclusion of the celebration might be, however, the installation of a permanent exhibition dedicated to Rotella.
The events will be coordinated by the Committee for Rotellian celebrations, set up by the municipal administration and chaired by Mayor Abraham and the president Guglielmo, which includes Councillor for culture Carrozza Daniela, the artist’s widow, Inna Rotella, the director of “Mimmo Rotella Institute,” Antonella Soldaini, the director of Piero Mascitti Foundation, the director of the Academy of Fine Arts, Anna Russo, and Tonino Sicoli, art critic.