Arnaldo Pomodoro, life and works of the great sculptor

Sculptor, screenwriter, graphic designer: these are the fields of Arnaldo Pomodoro, one of Italy's leading contemporary artists.

Arnaldo Pomodoro (Morciano di Romagna, 1926) is one of Italy’s leading contemporary artists. Trained in Italy, he works mainly in sculpture, although his career is studded with numerous theatrical activities, graphic and poetic research. Sculpture, for years second to painting, reclaimed its place in art in the 1960s.

Pomodoro moves in the groove of postmodernist sculpture, a term coined in the text The Postmodern Condition by Jean-Francois Lyotard. With postmodernism, profound changes take place: the traditional characteristics of sculpture are lost, and it becomes more than ever a mirror of the ’intimacy of the artist. The pedestal, the base on which works are generally placed, is lost, as is the space in which the work is placed, also part of a considered choice on the part of the artist. The search for materials is also now open to the most diverse (from iron to steel, paper to sheet metal, textiles to straw, and so on). Important, too, is the international projection; artists active in the 1970s and 1980s, like Pomodoro, do not limit themselves to intervening only in the country of their birth, but project their activity worldwide, feeling themselves to be "children of the world."

Arnaldo Pomodoro
Arnaldo Pomodoro

Life and works of Arnaldo Pomodoro

Arnaldo Pomodoro was born in Morciano di Romagna, on June 23, 1926. He spent his childhood in the city of Pesaro, where the artist was trained, but soon moved to Rimini to pursue his training as a surveyor. His initial interests turned to literature: he read Vittorini, Pavese and Hemingway; he initially pursued a career as a planner, finding work in the city of Pesaro. A temporary arrangement, as the artist, already in the 1950s, externalizes his interest in the subject. He enrolled at the Art Institute, also in Pesaro, where what would be the areas of his production were already being defined: sculpture and theater. His younger brother, Giò Pomodoro (Orciano di Pesaro, 1930 - Milan, 2002), also embarks on Arnaldo’s career; the two brothers share the same spaces to make their sculptures, as well as participating together in some exhibitions. In 1954 Arnaldo moved to Milan, with his mother, sister and brother, after losing his father. The city was in those years an important center of attraction for Italian artists; it was here that he met Lucio Fontana, Enrico Baj, Armando Milani and many other artists active in Milan. Their first exhibitions, together with his brother Giò, saw them present at the Galleria del Naviglio and then at the Galleria Il Cavallino in Venice. In 1955 he shows in Rome with Gruppo 3P, founded earlier during his studies in Pesaro, formed by Giorgio Perfetti and his brother. During his stay in Rome he came into contact with the composer Igor Stravinsky, author of the famous The Rite of Spring and collaborator of Pablo Picasso. He also met the informal artist Alberto Burri and one of the founders of the CoBrA group, Asger Jorn (read more about Asger Jorn’s aesthetics here). The 3P experience ended, but in 1956 he participated in the Venice Biennale, together with his brother. In the same year, he went to Paris for the first time, projecting his works on the international scene; during his French stay, he met sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

Starting in the second half of the 1950s, the two brothers’ paths diverge: their artistic choices are now different and autonomous. Arnaldo, in 1958 is in Cologne and in 1959 goes to the United States, to organize the exhibition "New York from Italy", at the John Bolles Gallery in San Francisco. In 1960 the group Continuità, consisting of prominent artists such as Fontana, Perilli, Novelli, and his brother Giò, was born. Arnaldo’s fame grows, leading him to win the International Prize for Sculpture at the So Paulo Biennale in Brazil and to obtain a solo room at the 1964 Venice Biennale. The farmhouse in Lomellina, purchased in those years, represented a refuge from the chaos of big cities; a quiet place where the artist could meditate and work on his art alone.

In addition to his artistic activity, Pomodoro taught at Berkeley University in the 1970s, in America, and in the 1980s at Oakland College in California. He continued to participate in major international art exhibitions, as well as win recognition awards, with monographs published in both the United States and Italy. The 1984 exhibition Luoghi fondamentali collects nearly seventy works from Pomodoro’s artistic activity, inscribed in the time span 1955-84. In 1988 he is again a guest at the Venice Biennale, in addition to his presence at the World Expo in Brisbane. Success grows, the artist is more and more appreciated, and in the 1990s the Arnaldo Pomodoro Foundation is born, legally recognized by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the body responsible for the protection of Italian heritage. Also in the 1990s, Pomodoro founded a center for the Artistic Treatment of Metals, an important school for learning the sculptural working of unconventional materials. Another key exhibition, bringing together his activity from 1959 to 1997, was held in Palma de Mallorca: it was the artist’s first exhibition on Spanish soil. Continuing his activity, in 2004 the sculpture Novecento was inaugurated in Rome, an imposing structure, in bronze, twenty-one meters high. In 2007 the first complete writing on the artist, the Catalogo ragionato della scultura, edited by Flaminio Gualdoni, is published, with the intervention of some important Italian critics. The artist is now active in Milan, known worldwide for his works and international exhibition activity.

Arnaldo Pomodoro, Sfera di San Leo (1996-2000; bronzo, 550 cm; Milano, Santa Giulia)
Arnaldo Pomodoro, Sfera di San Leo (1996-2000; bronze, 550 cm; Milan, Santa Giulia)

Arnaldo Pomodoro, Novecento (2000 circa; bronzo, 21x7 m; Roma, Piazzale Pier Luigi Nervi)
Arnaldo Pomodoro, Novecento (c. 2000; bronze, 21x7 m; Rome, Piazzale Pier Luigi Nervi)

Arnaldo Pomodoro’s works. Sculpture, theater, graphics and poetry: the four areas of Pomodoro’s production.

Among the artist’s major influences are Paul Klee, Italian sculptors Umberto Boccioni, Alberto Giacometti, Englishman Henri Moore, but also all those artists he met during his travels. There is no doubt, that in making his Spheres he was inspired by Lucio Fontana’s Spatial Concepts of the 1960s.

Theater and sculpture are the two main poles toward which Pomodoro directs his research. In particular, theater in his early works is fundamental. During his early years in Milan (1953-55) he made some theater sets, the one for Alfieri’s Oreste, Brecht’s Santa Giovanna dei Macelli, winning many prizes and gaining important awards, mentioned in his biography. However, his scenographic activity was inconstant; he abandoned it for a while, only to resume it in the 1970s, with a commission for Zurich. Sidelined again, Pomodoro returned to the stage with the set design for Rossini’s Semiramide in the 1980s and shortly thereafter with sets and costumes for Gluck’sAlceste, for the Teatro di Genova. Another important commission is the script for Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, staged in Torre del Lago in 2004. To further explore this aspect of his research, the volume Arnaldo Pomodoro. The Sculpted Theater, where all his scenic projects are illustrated.

Sculptural production, on the other hand, is a constant in his art. The first sculptures are small in size: Pomodoro works on the deformation of geometric solids, spheres, cones, cubes, to discover what is enclosed inside. This is a clear allusion to the unveiling of human interiority, a central goal in Arnaldo’s sculptural research, which is why his works open up to show the inner parts. One of his first spherical works is Sphere, from 1963. In 1966 he switched instead to large-scale sculptures, the first example being a commission of more than three meters for the Montreal Expo, called the Sfera grande. Given the impressiveness of the structures, these are made for open spaces: this is how the squares of Milan, Brisbane, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, and Darmstadt come alive with his works. The study of the sphere, a research on which Moore and Fontana also work, is a fixed point in Pomodoro’s art: he tears them apart, as if to reveal what they contain inside. However, there is no shortage of bas-reliefs, columns and murals; Homage to Technological Civilization, is a large mural made for the city of Cologne.

Pomodoro’s output also includes a series of environmental works, such as The Pietrarubbia Group, from 1975, exhibited in the Marconi studio in Milan. One of the works of the artist’s maturity is the Sfera di San Leo of the 2000s, where the language used is also advanced: the sculpture is no longer torn only internally, but externally. Arrows, rods, teeth ruin the structure externally, as if his sculptures needed to bring out that lacerating sense of living, closed inside initially.

Graphic production is minor, but still relevant. An activity he devoted himself to beginning in 1978, of which the exhibition dedicated to it, Arnaldo Pomodoro: impressions, should be mentioned. Of all his artistic production, sculpting is undoubtedly the artist’s favorite activity; he states that “Unlike painting, sculpture is an operation in space, it does not have to be a monument, but another space that enters into relationship with that of the context; architectural or natural. The placement of a sculpture is successful when the work manages to represent the vitality and strength of the context” (from the website of the Arnaldo Pomodoro Foundation).

Arnaldo Pomodoro, Sfera (1963; 120 cm; New York, Museum of Modern Art)
Arnaldo Pomodoro, Sphere (1963; 120 cm; New York, Museum of Modern Art)

Arnaldo Pomodoro, Sole e altare (1990 circa; bronzo dorato e marmo di Carrara, 380 cm; Pietrarubbia, Chiesa di San Silvestro)
Arnaldo Pomodoro, Sun and Altar (c. 1990; gilded bronze and Carrara marble, 380 cm; Pietrarubbia, Church of San Silvestro)

Pomodoro’s works in Italy (not only).

The Arnaldo Pomodoro Foundation, in Milan, is responsible for the protection of a widespread collection, given the size of its works. An exhibition, therefore, not confined to the walls of a closed structure. Initially there were only twenty-eight works by Pomodoro; today there are more than two hundred, along with works by Alighiero Boetti, Enrico Baj, Ettore Colla, Lucio Fontana and Arturo Martini and many others. His works can be found around several Italian cities. In Turin, for example, it is possible to see Cuneo with arrows; in Trento there is a work from the 2000s, Centenarium; in Milan, at Bocconi University, there is the Column from the 1980s; the Sfera di San Leo, is also in Milan, in Santa Giulia and again the Wall, from 1957 in Via Borromei. In Pesaro, in Piazza della Libertà, there is Sfera grande, a 1966-67 work, and in Pietrarubbia, you can view Sole and Altare, from 1990, in the Church of San Silvestro. In Spoleto, in Viale Trento e Trieste, there is Column of the Traveler, 1962.

Also in Italy, this time in Rome, it is possible to see Novecento, at Porta Dante. In Soliera, at Castello Campori, there is a major solo exhibition by the artist, Surface: a project that represents a journey into the artist’s interiority, a summary of what his life was like in his shoes. The word itself, sur-face, means “surface” and “face,” clearly alluding to the concept of double, relating to the masks we can wear to appear in a precise way in the eyes of another. The artist exhibits a path beyond the work, made up of human weaknesses, frailties, life experiences and, of course, artistic influences. At the origin of all his art are the early works, exhibited here, up to those of the 2000s. The exhibition speaks of a life and artistic journey, culminating in the Obelisk for Cleopatra, a monumental sculpture created in 2008 on a 1989 design(read an in-depth discussion of the Surfaceproject here ).

Pomodoro’s works are spread all over the world, let us recall the most important ones and where to see them: the Solar Form, at the gardens of the Royal Palace in Copenhagen; the Wing Shot, in Los Angeles; the Solar Disk at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow; and finally the Sphere with Sphere, in the center of the forecourt of the UN headquarters in New York.

Arnaldo Pomodoro, life and works of the great sculptor
Arnaldo Pomodoro, life and works of the great sculptor