At MAMbo, an exhibition explores for the first time Pablo Echaurren's relationship with Bologna

As part of Art City, the Project Room of MAMbo - Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna presents the exhibition "Viola! Pablo Echaurren and the Metropolitan Indians," which aims to explore for the first time the relationship between Pablo Echaurren and Bologna.

From January 28 to May 14, 2023, the Project Room of MAMbo - Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna presents, as part of Art City Bologna, the exhibition Viola! Pablo Echaurren and the Metropolitan Indians, curated by Sara De Chiara, with the support of the Trust for Contemporary Art and in collaboration with Fondazione Echaurren Salaris, Bibliotheca Hertziana - Max Planck Institute for Art History and Ab Rogers Design.

The exhibition aims to explore for the first time Pablo Echaurren’s (Rome, 1951) relationship with the Bolognese context, through a selection of works made between 1977 and 1978, pages from Lotta Continua, collages, fanzines and illustrations inspired by the events and poetics of Settantasette. The exhibition includes a group of “squares,” made in the first half of the 1970s, whose production was abandoned just after the events of that crucial year for the city.

In addition to these, outside the two-year period ’77-78 are some assemblages collected inside boxes, belonging to a recent production (2020-22), focused on scientific discoveries related toNeanderthals, but which also return to reflect on the experience of the 1970s (a sort of passing of the baton between metropolitan Indians and metropolitan Neanderthals).

All of the works on display come from the artist’s archive in Rome and some are being shown for the first time.

The exhibition also features a video interview created by the Bibliotheca Hertziana - Max Planck Institute for Art History as part of the Rome Contemporary project, directed by Tristan Weddigen. The same gave birth in 2021 to a digital collection of counterculture, making rare publications on art and politics in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s accessible online from the archives of the Echaurren Salaris Foundation, which was drawn on to print the materials in the exhibition.

The installation was designed by the London-based Ab Rogers Design studio and allows visitors to traverse Echaurren’s work and at the same time immerse the public in the atmosphere of widespread creativity of those years, occupying the exhibition space with the language of the street.

In particular, the display reflects on the transition in Echaurren’s practice from painting to graphic art, from the gallery to the street, from the original work to reproducibility, from contemplation to collective enjoyment, playing with the theme of the grid.

Viola!, the word that gives the exhibition its title, is anexhortation to violate, to break the barriers between disciplines, codes, and schemes, in an attempt to achieve that utopian fusion of art and life professed by the avant-garde, which during a brief but prolific season between ’77 and ’78 seemed to come true.

In March 1977 Pablo Echaurren exhibited at Galleria San Luca in Bologna his"quadratini," small grids painted in enamel or watercolor that accommodate within their boxes different facets of the phenomenal world or vignettes of invention. This is a typology of work initiated around 1970 when the artist, not yet 20 years old, drew and painted placing himself in the groove traced by Gianfranco Baruchello, who had already been his tutor for some years and elected as his tutelary deity. Echaurren’s work in these years is inspired by the compositions of the Leghorn artist in which figurines, lexemes and graphic signs settle on paper or canvas in a dusting of dreamlike matter. The grid within which Echaurren’s small images flow is characterized by a dotted line, which in the lexicon of comics indicates the expression of a thought or a dream, and is reminiscent of stamp sheets, or edges along which to cut out. Alongside the collages and the “decompositions” series, the “squares” constitute the artist’s main production in the first half of the 1970s; they are appreciated by critics and, through Baruchello, exhibited in the gallery of Arturo Schwarz, with whom Echaurren has worked steadily since 1969.

1973 marked the beginning of the artist’s collaboration with the editorial staff of the newspaper Lotta Continua, for which he produced several illustrations that initially maintained the sequential structure of “squares.”

The double track on which Echaurren moves in these years, between Art exhibited in galleries and illustration reproduced on the pages of newspapers, diverges abruptly in 1977, and the Bologna exhibition marks this deviation. This was the last occasion on which the “squares” were exhibited, but also the moment in which the artist interrupted their production, the moment in which he decided to end his collaboration with the galleries in order to commit himself, to put his creativity at the service of the counterculture, of militancy, “armed” with markers, in the antagonist groups linked to the ’77 movement, and to share the new creative forms of the metropolitan Indians.

The fact that this decision is made in Bologna in March 1977 is no coincidence. In that same month, street clashes between students and law enforcement reached the height of violence, following the death of Lotta Continua militant Francesco Lorusso, who was killed by a conscript carabiniere during a student demonstration on March 11. News of the killing is immediately broadcast by Radio Alice, founded in 1976 by the Bologna-based collective A/traverso, which had a decisive weight in the development of ’77 thinking through the pages of the magazine of the same name. Radio Alice’s headquarters is cleared by police on March 12. The events in Bologna and the violent repression by the police make the protests spread to Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples, Palermo, and Catania. Lotta Continua welcomes on its pages the debate on the subject of the repressive action of the state, publishes the appeal of French intellectuals, including Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault (July 5, 1977), promotes the organization of the national conference in Bologna in September 1977, and Echaurren accompanies the debate in the newspaper with illustrations with a surreal flavor and irreverent columns under the banner of misdirection, such as Dietro lo specchio, created in collaboration with Maurizio Gabbianelli.

The artist’s production in the editorial sphere is not limited to collaboration with the newspaper, and in 1977 several fanzines see the light of day, including Oask?! and Il complotto di Zurigo in which word and image, learned quotation and pop incursions, asemic graphic signs, voluntary anachronisms and détournement are aimed at a disenchanted and ironic representation of reality. Fanzines operate a radical rupture of the usual mechanisms of communication and attest to that process of renewal of languages that marked the creative season of metropolitan Indians.

Umberto Eco in the pages of L’Espresso and Maurizio Calvesi in Avanguardia di massa (1978) were the first intellectuals in Italy to grasp the convergence on the linguistic level of the counterculture of the Seventies, in the experience that the younger generations were living, with that of the historical avant-gardes: By transposing into peaceful protests a provocative language that echoed the linguistic rupture made by Futurism and Dada more than half a century earlier, the metropolitan Indians made it a living language again, spoken not by elites but by the masses, in the streets.

The exhibition aims to reconstruct and make tangible the extraordinary ferment of a complex season.

In parallel, from February 5, MoRE. a Museum of refused and unrealised art projects, with which MAMbo has already collaborated in 2021 for the exhibition Hidden Displays 1975-2020. Unmade Projects in Bologna, will offer The Notebook of Unmade Art on its website. Pablo Echaurren Thinks of Marcel Duchamp, curated by Cristina Casero and Valentina Rossi, a virtual exhibition that was created thanks to the donation of some of Pablo Echaurren’s unmade projects to MoRE Museum. If the exhibition at MAMbo investigates the relationship between Echaurren and Bologna by focusing on 1977, a nodal year in the artist’s practice as well as in the political life of the city, the virtual exhibition departs from Echaurren’s more committed production to go and investigate lesser-known aspects of the work, which revolve around the figure of Marcel Duchamp.

Image: Viola. Pablo Echaurren and the Metropolitan Indians, view of the exhibition at MAMbo. Photo by Ornella De Carlo

At MAMbo, an exhibition explores for the first time Pablo Echaurren's relationship with Bologna
At MAMbo, an exhibition explores for the first time Pablo Echaurren's relationship with Bologna

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