Osvaldo Licini stars in major exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

Running from September 22, 2018 to January 14, 2019 at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is the exhibition 'Osvaldo Licini. May a wind of total madness lift me up'

Sixty years after his death, Osvaldo Licini (Monte Vidon Corrado, 1894 - Monte Vidon Corrado, 1958) is the protagonist of a major exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, entitled Osvaldo Licini. May a Wind of Total Madness Lift Me, scheduled from September 22, 2018 to January 14, 2019. Curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, the exhibition also recalls how, also in 1958, Licini was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at the XXIX Venice Biennale, a tribute to one of the most original personalities of art in the first half of the 20th century. A personality that is now retraced in an 11-room exhibition that displays more than 100 works to present to the public the disruptive as much as tormented artistic path of this author, whose career was marked by moments of crisis and seemingly sudden stylistic changes. Licini placed painting itself at the center of his artistic research, resulting in the incessant and suffered formal experimentation expressed in his works, which were never truly finished and constantly rethought. With this retrospective, curator Luca Massimo Barbero intends to show the substantial consistency of this path. What seem to be apparently caesuras in fact turn out to be stages of a singular experience that stands out within the history of twentieth-century art for results of absolute lyricism and poeticism.

Licini, trained in a Bologna rich in artistic ferment not only because of the presence of other young people such as Giorgio Morandi, but also of Futurist artists, soon considered the Italian environment narrow: through repeated stays in Paris between 1917 and 1925, Licini soon became one of the Italian figures most aware of international developments in painting. Perhaps also because of this, the artist gradually assumed and defended a position of independence within the Italian art scene, never really joining movements or groups. Licini’s was, after all, an independence also reaffirmed by his choice to settle in the isolated native village of Monte Vidon Corrado, in the Marche region of Italy: here, the painter lived breathed in the landscapes of the Marche, those hills already made famous by the verses of Giacomo Leopardi, from which he could not detach himself, especially pictorially, so much so that he made them the subject of his first figurative phase of the 1920s, to which belong works such as Paesaggio con l’uomo (Montefalcone), of 1926, and Paesaggio marchigiano (Il trogolo), of 1928. And it is these same views that also serve as a backdrop with their sinuous horizon line to the later transition from realism to abstractionism in the early 1930s, as can already be seen in Paesaggio Fantastico (Il Capro) of 1927.

In an attempt to escape from an Italy artistically dominated more and more by a realism supported by the Fascist regime, Licini turned to non-figuration, inserting himself in the fervid Milanese cultural climate of the 1930s, when the Lombard capital was the propelling center of Italian abstractionism and Rationalism. Inevitable thus turned out to be his involvement in the activities of the “Il Milione” Gallery. While exhibiting there in 1935, Licini maintained a personal position, along with artists such as Fausto Melotti and Lucio Fontana, whose sculptural experiments of 1934-35 are included in the exhibition. Licini’s abstract language is atypical, attentive to geometry, but also to the chromatic intensity that enters forcefully into the compositional structure, always avoiding flat and compact backgrounds in favor of pictorially sensitive and vibrant surfaces. It is a geometry that has become “feeling,” imbued with lyricism, evident in works such as Castle in the Air, of 1933-36, or Obelisk, of 1932. Such a peculiar position could only attract equally sophisticated collecting and the interest of many Italian intellectuals.

It is precisely in ’poised’, the title and subject of several of Licini’s works of the 1930s, between the two poles of abstraction and figuration that his career and the great masterpieces of his maturity dedicated to the themes of the Flying Dutchman, Amalassunta and the Rebel Angel are played out. In these works ’characters’ begin to appear, at first simply letters or symbols with mysterious meanings. Licini’s most iconic works, presented as a group at the 1950 Venice Biennale, however, are those dedicated to the subject of Amalassunta, which in the artist’s words is ’our beautiful moon, guaranteed silver for eternity, personified in a few words, the friend of every slightly weary heart.’ The wide selection of Amalassunta’s paintings offered in the exhibition offers visitors the many facets of Licini’s personality, from the lyrical and contemplative side to the more ironic and irreverent. In the works created from the late 1940s onward converge themes, stylistic motifs and the never resolved rovello of painting, which make Licini emerge as a great protagonist of Italian and international modernism, confirmed by the prize awarded to him a few months before his death at the 1958 Venice Biennale. A photograph taken on that occasion portrays Peggy Guggenheim visiting the room dedicated to Licini, attesting to the collector’s sure interest in the artist’s work.

The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive illustrated publication, published by Marsilio Editore in Italian and English, with contributions by Luca Massimo Barbero, Federica Pirani, Sileno Salvagnini, and Chiara Mari.The exhibition program of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is supported by Institutional Patrons - EFG and Lavazza, Guggenheim Intrapresæ, and the museum’s Advisory Board. Educational projects related to the exhibition are carried out thanks to the Araldi Guinetti Foundation, Vaduz. Free guided tours of the exhibition are offered daily at 3:30 p.m. upon purchase of a museum admission ticket. For all information you can visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection website.

Image: Osvaldo Licini, Angel of San Domingo (1957; oil on faesite, 62.2 x 72.8 cm; Pistoia, Gori-Fattoria di Celle Collection). Ph. Carlo Fei, Florence. © Osvaldo Licini, by SIAE 2018

Osvaldo Licini stars in major exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice
Osvaldo Licini stars in major exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

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