1981 | Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone | Carlo Maria Mariani

 download the Pdf


Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone


With their opening show “A New Sculpture by George and Gilbert”, the Sperone Gian Enzo & Fischer Konrad gallery inaugurated its activities on December 7th, 1972, in Piazza SS. Apostoli 49. Although it was in the old Palazzo Balestra, the gallery’s premises were by no means opulent – perforated panels in the false ceiling and marble grit flooring. The well-known British artist duo covered the walls with a drawing – or rather a new sculpture – in which their figures appeared not in real life, as in many previous shows, but outlined in charcoal amidst a dense vegetation.


In specialised magazines, the opening of the new gallery was advertised with unashamed panache: “Sperone Gian Enzo (born Turin, 1939) Fischer Konrad (born Düsseldorf, 1939) present ‘a new art sanctuary’ in Rome”. An apparently humorous approach by two gallery owners who were already established and full of drive, and who always took their work seriously.


After giving up painting, Konrad Fischer (Konrad Lue) opened a gallery in Düsseldorf in 1967, with the first show in Europe of Carl Andre. This was followed by Sol LeWitt, Hanne Darboven, Blinky Palermo, Bruce Nauman, Robert Smithson, Daniel Buren, Jan Dibbets, Dan Flavin, Mel Bochner, Panamarenko, Sigmar Polke, Donald Judd, Mario Merz, Gilbert & George, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Alighiero Boetti, Brice Marden, Robert Ryman and many others. His gallery was rather more than just a space to display his artists’ works; he would frequently invite them to spend time in Düsseldorf, forging a kind of community of common identity with the last, radical, avant-garde movement of the Twentieth Century. Fischer himself curated a number of major museum projects to this end, such as the five editions of the “Prospect” review organised in collaboration with Hans Strelow in 1968, at the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle, which involved avant-garde galleries from several different countries. There was also the show “Konzeption / Conception”, curated in 1969 together with Rolf Wedewer at the state museum of Leverkusen. Over the years, Fischer never abandoned his idea of art as a conceptual practice and process. Coherently with this, he remained close to the younger generation of artists such as Wolfgang Laib, Thomas Schütte, Reinhard Mucha, Juan Muñoz, Gregor Schneider, Hans-Peter Feldman. After his death in 1996, his wife Marries Dorothee Franke – who had been active in the gallery since its outset – continued his work, which today is carried on by their daughter Bertha Fischer.


After dabbling in poetry as a young man, Gian Enzo Sperone worked for the legendary art dealer Mario Tazzoli at his La Galatea gallery in Turin, before moving to Il Punto gallery for a year. In 1964 he opened the first gallery in his own name, in Turin. His first shows were a dazzling beginning, full of masterpieces by American artists who, at the time, dominated the international art scene. Put together also thanks to Sperone’s contacts with Leo Castelli and Ileana Sonnabend, they featured – among others – Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Tom Wesselmann. Among the Italian artists he devoted shows to: Michelangelo Pistoletto, Piero Gilardi, Aldo Mondino and Gianni Piacentino, together with a number of other emerging artists from their generation including Mario Schifano and Pino Pascali (who in 1966 exhibited his cannoni, famously turned down by Plinio De Martiis).


Considerable interest sprang up around Sperone’s gallery right from the start, both in terms of partners (Pier Luigi Pero) and refined collectors (Marcello and Corrado Levi). Sperone himself was an enthusiastic collector whose taste embraced a broad spectrum of art forms. All these elements created fertile conditions for the important progress that was being made by many young artists at the time. The traditional painting format was now a thing of the past; new art forms were being experimented and received immediate visibility at the Gian Enzo Sperone gallery. A more suitable venue for displaying such works was found in the space of Deposito d’Arte Presente, opened in spring 1968. Sperone showed works by Gilardi, Piacentino and Pistoletto. At the same time, he was also presenting the work of Alighiero Boetti, Gilberto Zorio, Giovanni Anselmo, Mario and Marisa Merz, Giuseppe Penone.


The young critic Germano Celant produced some well-known papers on some of these artists, underpinning their common opposition to the established art ‘system’, their engagement with contingent events, with the unhistorical, the present, an anthropological vocation towards the “real”, living, man as intended by Karl Marx. It was Celant who coined the term Arte Povera for them, an umbrella under which they were all identified and gained international fame. Particularly across Europe, there was an intensification of the artistic exchange network, with milestone exhibitions and publications that have gone down in history.


None of the terms coined in those years, not even the most generic of all – Conceptual Art –, successfully encapsulates all of the different attitudes, related or not, which constellated the avant-garde art scene at the end of the 1960s and in the early years of the 1970s. Besides Arte Povera, there was Land Art, Antiform Art, Process Art, Minimal Art, Mail Art, Behavioural Art – all expressions that were represented at the Gian Enzo Sperone gallery with their best-known artists: Robert Morris, Robert Barry, Bruce Nauman, Douglas Huebler, Sol LeWitt, Walter De Maria, Joseph Kosuth, Mel Bochner, Lawrence Weiner, Jan Dibbets, Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, Brice Marden, Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Daniel Buren, Robert Barry and many more. Each of these artists presented museum quality pieces when they exhibited with Sperone. Others adorned the city with their works, as with the statement pieces by Joseph Kosuth or the portraits by Braco Dimitrijević.


The frantic pace of activity which Sperone subjected himself to over the years was, by his own definition, dictated by art, which “never gives you a break”. As well as the Turin gallery, which closed in 1981, between 1966 and 1967 he opened a gallery in Milan with Graziano Ghiringhelli. In 1972, together with the gallery in Rome opened with Konrad Fischer, Sperone opened another New York, first on his own and then – from 1975 – in partnership with Fischer and Angela Westwater. The Sperone Westwater Gallery, as it came to be known after Fischer withdrew from the venture in 1982, inaugurated its new premises in the Bowery in 2010, in a five-floor building commissioned from the Foster + Partners architecture studio. A historic dwelling at Sent, in Engadine, which has been running temporally rarefied shows, together with the Lugano gallery opened in 2012 (closed two years later), are the latest projects in chronological order to have been embarked upon by the Gian Enzo Sperone gallery.


Continuing the history of the Rome gallery, in the winter of 1974 Konrad Fischer left the partnership, which continued with the name Gian Enzo Sperone in Via delle Quattro Fontane 21a, in an apartment in Palazzo Del Drago with frescoed ceilings and gilded doors – it was whispered that Fischer, whose tastes were much more in favour of the austere, had left because of the new choice of venue.


Besides the shows organised in his own galleries, in the early 1970s Sperone also held several at Rome’s Galleria Dell’Oca, in collaboration with its owner Luisa Laureati and her then partner, the legendary gallery owner from Turin, Luciano Pistoi. In 1984 Sperone moved to Via di Pallacorda 15, into ground floor rooms along the street that had proved fatal to Caravaggio. In 2004 he closed his gallery in Rome and left the city for good.


A glance through the two volumes with which, in 2000, the city of Turin celebrated Sperone’s career (edited by Anna Minola, Maria Cristina Mundici, Francesco Poli and Maria Teresa Roberto for Hopefulmonster) immediately highlights the impressive quality of the artists he selected, both before and after that date. Many artists were chosen on the spur of the moment, while others were already at the zenith of their careers and it was only through Sperone’s sheer hard work that he was able to secure them. But above all, a look at the career of this remarkable connoisseur reveals his underlying, very personal interests, together with the passion that always accompanied him in his forays through the many artistic seasons that have come and gone in the post-War art world.


Right from the first show of Cy Twombly organised in Turin, in 1971, the centrality of painting in Sperone’s choice of artists was apparent. This predilection predated even his interest in those artists working in the Conceptual sphere and who were the first to turn their gaze back, albeit in a completely new manner, towards traditional draughtsmanship (Alighiero Boetti or Gilbert & George), sculpture (Giuseppe Penone) and painting (Salvo). Similarly, in the mid-1970s, the gallery testified to a renewed and established dialogue between contemporary art and antiquity: Carlo Mariani, with his ‘quotations’, then Giulio Paolini, Luciano Fabro, Vettor Pisani and Luigi Ontani, right up to Michelangelo Pistoletto and Vettor Pisani with their pieces that verged on the plagiaristic.


Towards the end of the 1970s, a new form of painting began to take hold and eventually triumph at the gallery. Termed Transavanguardia by Achille Bonito Oliva, this ‘school’ emerged in Rome but quickly gained surprising international recognition and popularity: Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Nicola De Maria, Mimmo Paladino.


This was also the period in which Mario Merz presented his new, large-scale paintings at the gallery, hugged by neon or bundled branches; Gino De Dominicis showed his painting of an enigmatic face with wide open eyes (now in the collection of the MoMA in New York) facing a pristine, lustrous lavatory (1984) and Giulio Turcato was featured with his most recent works in 1988, proving to all that his stature as a painter was in no way diminished.

Sperone supported painting in many different forms throughout the 1980s, from Bruno Ceccobelli to Giuseppe Gallo, Gianni Dessì, Domenico Bianchi, Julian Schnabel, Gérard Garouste, Donald Sultan, Susan Rothenberg, Ray Smith, Jonathan Lasker, Donna Moylan, José Maria Sicilia, Donald Baechler, Guillermo Kuitca, Massimo Kaufman, Peter Schyff, Peter Halley. Shows devoted to all these artists ran at all of the various Sperone galleries, from Rome to Turin and New York, and ultimately alternated between just Rome and New York.


A new ‘mood’ then took over all of Sperone’s galleries, with a heightened sensitivity to objects that produced a change in the choice of exhibitions. This was the moment of the paradoxical ‘re-visitations’ by Wim Delvoye, the sculptures by Not Vital and pieces – among others – by Mario Della Vedova, Saint Claire Cemin, Tom Sachs, Greg Colson, McDermott & Mc Gough, Kim MacConnel, Hope Atherton, Thorsthen Kirchoff, Bertozzi & Casoni.


Such shows were punctuated by tributes reserved exclusively to Italian artists: Carla Accardi, Piero Manzoni, Lucio Fontana’s gold works hung alongside Fourteenth Century fondi oro, the “Quadrerie” with Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Italian paintings. Sperone also continued to run shows featuring those artists in whom his interest had never flagged throughout the years: Wolfgang Laib, Richard Long, Richard Tuttle, Alighiero Boetti, Mario Merz, Julian Schnabel, Braco Dimitrievic, Bruce Nauman.


(Daniela Lancioni)


Carlo Maria Mariani

La costellazione del Leone

Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone

dal 5 giugno 1981


Carlo Maria Mariani was almost 50 years old when, on June 5th 1981, he inaugurated his solo show at the Gian Enzo Sperone gallery in Rome. In a reference to his own zodiac sign, Leo, the show was named after the large painting La costellazione del Leone, the central exhibit and Mariani’s most ambitious work to date, having taken a year to complete in his studio-home in Via Zanardelli.


The painting was inspired by the fresco Parnassus, which Anton Raphael Mengs completed in 1761 for the villa of Cardinal Albani and which was itself a reworking of the composition by Raphael in the Room of the Segnatura in the Vatican. Mariani’s painting features portraits of all the best-known artists working in Rome at that time – including himself, seated at the centre of the composition in the green cloak of the Accademia di San Luca (of which both Canova and Thorvaldsen had been presidents). By his side is a sketchbook and in his hand he is holding a sketch of the Medusa Rondanini. Looking at the painting from left to right, we can identify Gino De Dominicis reclining in the foreground with his back to the viewer, with above him the critic and curator Achille Bonito Oliva, in a red toga and contemplating – like Narcissus – an image of himself. Behind Bonito Oliva rises the castle of Genazzano, where the historic show Le Stanze was held in 1979, shortly before the Transavanguardia group was officially formed. To his right, an allegory of the city of Rome appears next to a portrait of the art dealer Paul Maenz, wearing the same hat as Goethe in the famous portrait of him reclining in the Roman campagna by Johann Tischbein. Opposite Maenz a putto, with a flute in its hand and fragments of a statue at its feet, covers its face with a mask bearing the features of Jannis Kounellis. Mario Diacono’s face is visible behind the Goethe Altar of Good Fortune monument, against which Gian Enzo Sperone is leaning as he reads a letter. Luigi Ontani as Ganymede is about to take flight as he embraces an eagle, with at his feet the Giulio Paolini sculpture Mimesi. Beneath him, to the right, the critic Italo Mussa gazes at a muse seated to Mariani’s right. The figure of a hermaphrodite lies at her feet, under which a turtle carries a small weight on its carapace – a quotation from the work by Vettor Pisani Io non amo la natura. Francesco Clemente and Sandro Chia are portrayed next to Paolini’s work, with behind them a depiction of Giorgio Franchetti, the collector. To the far right of the composition, American artist Cy Twombly is shown on horseback. Directly beneath him, standing in a tub, Mario Merz is shown with the body of the Farnese Hercules, holding spiral-shaped shells and with a bundle of sticks next to him.


Next to the painting, a typewritten text echoed the literary style of the early-Nineteenth Century and explained, “not without a trace of irony” and without ever naming anyone, the tastes and stylistic ideals of all those present in the work. The beginning of the text hailed the “Great exploit for the glory and happiness of the fatherland. Modern tragedies, or anecdotes, gathered from that which was witnessed by me in Rome in 1980, after the return of painting and the Ancient”.


So far it has not been possible to reconstruct the show exactly as it was held in the Sperone gallery in Rome. There is no complete documentation in the artist’s archive and we were not able to retrieve any photographic documentation from the archives of Mimmo Capone and Vicenzo Pirozzi, who were both working for the gallery in those years.


In his monography dedicated to Mariani and published in 2001, David Ebony mentions that the preparatory cartoon was also included in the show, next to the painting. This is confirmed in the volume edited by Anna Minola, Maria Cristina Mundici, Francesco Poli and Maria Teresa Roberto (Turin 2000), which charts the activities of the Sperone gallery. It also mentions that, as well as La costellazione del Leone, the show also included the paintings Ganimede (1981) and Eros e Psiche (1979).


Together with other works from the same group, these formed a nucleus of paintings featured in various other Sperone galleries. The series of shows had begun in May 1980 in Turin, with a selection of paintings including Eros e Psiche and Ganimede, presumably all accompanied by their respective preparatory cartoons. The Rome show, with the addition of La costellazione del Leone which Mariani had finished in 1981, was later presented at the Fischer-Sperone-Westwater Gallery (which Fischer would leave shortly after), where it was expanded to include other paintings. The Ganimede picture probably entered the collection of Andy Warhol at that point (it was recently sent up for auction).


Assuming all this available information is correct, all these shows were structured around a comparison between the finished paintings and their preparatory cartoons – all works made using traditional techniques such as oil paints and drawing. It is hard not to interpret this display of the procedure which goes into the completion of an artwork as evidence that this choice was also a Conceptual one – particularly in view of the decision to reveal the imaginary, not from real life in these cases, source of the images themselves. The text which accompanied the shows was also decidedly Conceptual in style. Today Mariani refers to this painting as a “mental performance… a heightened artistic scene conveying a lofty grandeur”.


Mariani already had an established career prior to the Sperone show. The conceptual side to his previous work was, however, never without an important painting aspect to it. The works he exhibited at the Seconda Scla show in Rome entitled iper / ri / cognizione, in 1973, offer a good example of this. A series of oil paintings depicted magnified details of the human body and were placed in relation to other elements. The painting showing an ear, for example, was exhibited alongside a recorder. In another show held at the Gian Enzo Sperone gallery in 1977 and entitled Animula blandula vagula, Mariani presented a series of oils on canvas depicting people related to the life of Angelica Kauffmann and, in part, to the history of the palazzo where the gallery had its premises. The complex connections between each of the works on show and the lives of these historical characters were clarified in the text and illustrations published in the exhibition catalogue. On the opening night, two women in Eighteenth Century costume sang the verses of two female Arcadian poetesses whom Angelica Kauffmann is known to have admired.


These new shows organised by Sperone (the Rome show had been preceded by a first-time presentation of a series of preparatory cartoons by Paul Menz in Cologne, in 1978) were the first in which artists submitted only works created using the traditional tools of art. As Mariani explained in a text dating from 1988, “this was a voluntary intention derived from an ‘extreme’ attitude’. By opposing the prevalent artistic trends of the early 1970s, I wanted to react provocatively against those currents which were going in the direction of a complete dissolution of the artwork into theory. It was therefore necessary to return, with a critical spirit, to the question of how painting relates to figural representation”.  

(Daniela Lancioni)