Valerio Adami
09 December 2017 - 09 February 2018
Edited by : Ivan Quaroni
Exhib Artists : Valerio Adami


By Ivan Quaroni

“As I have often written, each picture by me is born and comes to life through drawing, through that sheet of paper measuring 36 x 48 centimetres, the format of which my eyes and hands have known and possessed for some time and which they dominate at once”.1 With these words, written in Paris in 2015, Valerio Adami pointed out once again the need to note the importance of an undertaking on which he had based the whole body of his work. In fact, Adami has assiduously devoted himself to drawing since 1952 when, while studying at the Brera academy, he began to follow the courses held by Achille Funi. From his teaching he learned the technique and everyday discipline of drawing and that way of working “in a closed form” from which he derived a strong sense of rigour and formal clarity. He admitted, “Since then there has never been a day without, an eraser and pencil at the ready, following my ideas with drawing”.2 Adami, however, had already begun to paint some months earlier, in the studio of Felice Carena in Venice where he had met the great Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka who, in that period, was exhibiting at the Biennale a large-scale triptych based on the myth of Prometheus, one that made a deep impression on the young artist. In the same year Adami also visited the Salon de Mai in Paris where he met the poet Eduard Glissant, thanks to whom he was to come into contact with Sebastian Matta and Wilfredo Lam. But this was only the first of an endless series of journeys and meetings that were to create his cosmopolitan culture. While the post-war generation found in the Informale movement and abstraction an answer to problems of composition, the beginnings of Adami’s painting came about, rather, under the aegis of Expressionism. His paintings with a black background, from the 1950s, looked in fact to Kokoschka as well as to Francis Bacon and Sebastian Matta. However, the artist was not interested in painting states of mind and the subconscious, but in a reconstruction of the picture’s space and a new figurative language. Already in 1959, on the occasion of his solo show at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan, Emilio Tadini had noted how, in the artist’s development, he had not “fallen” into Tachiste solutions or Abstract Expressionism: “Adami has become aware that it is necessary to disintegrate the substance of the old visual convention from the inside, and to reconstruct a new figurative possibility”.3 At the end of the 1950s, Adami’s visual culture felt above all the influence of Matta; and his way of composing his works, which until 1958 had been concentrated on an analysis of persons, according to Enrico Crispolti “opened to a wider network of relationships: facts replaced people”.4 His concept of “facts” derived from the thoughts of Wittgenstein, who held that reality too was a whole structured from facts and that a fact was, in turn, an organised structure of things that cannot be further subdivided into other elements. Adami made use of this concept to emancipate the picture’s space from the linearity of narrative and so to dissolve the temporal dimension into a kind of simultaneity (as can be seen on his painting Senza titolo, 1960). What also contributed to the “reconstruction of the picture” were the thoughts generated by the music listened to by Adami who, inspired by the formalist approach of dodecaphony, began to mature the conviction that painting had to make a clean sweep of psychology and replace states of mind with plastic values. Later he was to confess that “my attempt to find a figurative transposition of dodecaphonic language corresponded to a wish to enclose thoughts about tragedy within the form”.5 It was this very search for a new language that was to lead him in just a few years to reintroduce colour into his paintings and to insert such typical elements of comic strips as cartoon bubbles, lines of dashes, and onomatopoeic words. The drawings and canvases of the early 1960s (among which, for example, the oil painting Senza titolo, 1963, and the 1964 acrylic titled Polish, as well as the various drawings made in the same year) all show how the artist, even though not a reader of comics, made use of those graphic indications for consolidating the line-forces of his compositions and to accentuate their sound character, which was both dissonant and explosive. 1963 was the year when Adami created such works as Alice nel paese delle Violenza, Invito al Crash, and Auto-suggestione, from which there emerges a clear compositional tendency to the metamorphosis of the forms. With regard to this, Alan Jouffroy has observed that “Adami integrates, merges, and reconciles: he wants to link together what is separate, to resolve antagonisms, and to find in dispersion, diversity, disagreement and discord, the key to successful communication – a vote for unity with theviewers”.6 The years between his participation in Documenta III in Kassel (1964) and the XLII Venice Biennale (1968) were those when Adami’s painterly language became defined; it was increasingly marked by flat colours harnessed to sharp contours in which there appeared, almost hybridised, the banal objects and erotic fetishes of consumer society, in a manner that was only apparently derived from comics and Pop Art. Admittedly, Adami took to the extremes a compositional procedure in which exterior observation of reality melded with a plethora of mental associations that supply that selfsame reality with an interior structure and order. This was intuited more than others by Carlos Fuentes who, in an essay written for the artist’s show at the 1968 Biennale, said, “[Adami] has said of himself that everything that came out had first entered in, and that all that entered had earlier come out; and when I heard him say this I answered that the difference was to be found precisely here, because today it is the case that everything is imposed from outside, while until a short time ago nothing was important unless it was imposed from within, and so we go around limited, hopping from one foot to the other, between the full powers of the object or subject, between realism and solipsism”.7 What this Mexican writer seems to have revealed, even though without directly referring to it, is the gap between Pop Art procedures, aimed at the description of the epiphenomena of consumer society, and Adami’s operation which constantly oscillates between a real and mental dimension, between observation and “vision”. Adami’s drawing – as Loredana Parmesani was to say later on – “counters Pop Art images, which from the depths of news tries to rise to the heights of history, with a high culture that is able to lower itself to the vivacity of the world”8. In other words, this artist from Bologna avoids the responsibility of expressing his own “vision”, of projecting it onto reality, in the knowledge, as Fuentes observed, that “nothing exists in itself and everything is part of a structure: of a total of relationships”.9 His drawing strategy implies an intellectual, ideational activity, one able to organise mental associations by projecting them onto the objective, real image. These two pieces of evidence, the outer and inner ones, arrive at a kind of compromise in the drawing’s formative process. In fact Adami’s planning for the making of an image is ongoing, line after line, and has an erratic development that alternates affirmations and rethinking, marks and cancellations. The artist has said, “This is how I act when I draw: I put myself in front of an interior with a figure, for example, and I think of how it is. That is, I do not only look at it: I think of it as it is. And then it is as though my imagination went on a journey from its apparition to a new space. I become a spectator and protagonist: so in my subconscious there come about other associations. My hand follows this private path, it organises these impulses and gives new objective forms to the objectivity from which it started”.10 While the drawings show the marks of cancellations, thus recording the metamorphic nature of the image being constructed, his paintings, even though deriving from those marks like a kind of amplified reproduction, seem far more severe, almost crystallised. The formal sharpness and the rigorous compositional clarity of Miraggi and Toys was, in the second half of the 1960s, applied to a flood of domestic interiors, anonymous hotel rooms, public baths, dancing schools, and gyms. These were the places in New York that Adami catalogued in well-ordered photographic files. Such works as Studio per un grand hotel (1966), Interno con tappeto (1966), and Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1967) belong to this phase, which was also characterised by thoughts about the methods for breaking down Analytical Cubism and by an obvious stylistic austerity. Jean François Lyotard wrote, “Who does not become aware, when looking at the pictures by Adami of the past twenty years, of their severity?”11 If fact, his proverbial formal severity was to intensity in the successive works. For examples, it is enough to look at the series of three watercolours on show: La scuola di ballo (1970), Tennis (1973), and Chi è la vittima (1973). In fact the French philosopher noted that “Adami’s works have always stiffened what they showed in order to make us regret the holy sweetness that has been lost”.12 The tragic element, already to be seen in the solitary and transient intimacy of the hotel rooms, was later extended to representations of humans too. In particular to the series of portraits of writers, philosophers, musicians, and artists. Even though the first portraits were made in the 1960s (Henri Matisse che lavora a un quaderno di disegni and Nietzsche), it was above all in the following decade that they became recurrent in Adami’s work, together with the inclusion of the calligraphic elements that, according to José Jimenéz, “act as anthropological reducers, as access paths to our latent humanity”.13 But the portraits of artists and intellectuals, as well as the presence of books and words, testify to a tragic sense of the loss of natural feelings, the regret, in fact, for the holy sweetness that has been lost. Nature survives in culture and thought and has the features of an Ovidian metamorphosis in which the human body, a sacred temples for the ancients, takes on contrived and unnatural positions (for example, Il violinista del 1985,Studio per In vista della costa, 1995, and We are proud of you, 1997). As Jimenéz explained, “Not only do fragments and superimpositions appear, but they are also in constant transition, thus making visible the transit that concerns them within: the clothed figure, the nude, the muscles beneath the skin, the skeleton”.14 A metamorphic quality is crystallised in the simultaneous representation of the bodies, objects, landscapes and pictures within the picture, a fusion that inevitably betrays the passing of time. And yet regret and nostalgia for a mythical time, even in the years to come, will always be disciplined and cooled down by the act of drawing. Adami’s presumed classicism and all the references that make up a large part of his cultural Bildung are, in fact, the direct emanation of a certain way of considering drawing. A way that consists of the effort to order the marks, forms, and alphabets buried in memory and to lead them, by way of a discipline that is above all cognitive, from the chaos of impulses to a logical form of representation. On the other hand, as the artist has peremptorily stated, “It is not up to drawing to arouse emotions; whoever wants them can go elsewhere to find them, to the cinema or the stadium; a drawing portrays them but does little to arouse them”.

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