Arnaldo Pomodoro (1926)
Arnaldo Pomodoro was born in 1926 in Morciano, Romagna (Italy) into a lower middle class family of talented artisans and state lawyers but whose father, a hippy before his time, ended up squandering the family inheritance. After the Second World War, which had widely destroyed his environment, he had to give up his studies in architecture and become a surveyor: working as a civil engineer in Pesaro, he took part in the reconstruction of the town's civil buildings. Through his association with students of the Institute of Art, his vocation as an artist soon strengthened and he started making jewellery in a goldsmith's workshop.
In Milan where he settled in 1954, he made friends with numerous artists, among them Lucio Fontana, who would prove to be a teacher and father to him. In 1955 a Milanese gallery exhibited his first sculptures which at that time took the form of small dark pictures made of lead and cement relief, apparently illustrating the rebirth of towns in the middle of devastated landscape and thus the superiority of life over destructive forces (La Luna il sole la torre, 1955, Il giardino nero, 1956, Orizzante, 1957). Then, struck by the cuneiform writing on Mesopotamian tablets, Egyptian papyrus and the drawing style of Paul Klee – so many discoveries that were made in the library – Pomodoro created large wall panels bearing illegible glyphs strongly inspired by these marks.
From 1956 he travelled to the United States and around Europe. Although his meeting with Alberto Giacometti in Paris had a great impact, it was the revelation of Constantin Brancusi's pieces at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that was to prove decisive in his stylistic evolution, with their smooth forms of abstract and spiritual perfection: "...I was blown away. His sculptures unleashed an emotion so strong as to provoke in me a desire for destruction (...). Almost totemic vision. I was taken by an interior rage. And so came to me the idea of breaking open and eating into the solids of Euclidian geometry like a larva in wood.'
With this new approach for working the material, Arnaldo Pomodoro took part in the formation of the Italian group 'Continuità' at the beginning of the 1960s, alongside Novelli, Consagra, Tancredi, Turcato, Dorazio and Fontana, advocating an 'aesthetic of the continuum', defined as 'the absence, uncertainty of the boundary' and concentrating on the formal quality of the work.
From then on, the artist created sculptures in the round on a monumental scale that dominate their environment. Having presented a work in iron – a cylinder 5.6m tall – at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto in 1962, he adopted polished gilt bronze to make his first spheres in 1963, such as Sfera grande (Large sphere) which topped the Italian pavilion of the Universal Exhibition in Montreal in 1967 before being permanently sited in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, or the Sfera con sfera (Sphere within sphere), a sphere 4m in diameter encompassing another sphere and turning around it, a gift from the artist to the Vatican for Cortile della Pigna. A copy was given to the UN by Italy to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, and put on permanent display on the esplanade of its headquarters in New York. Over time Arnaldo Pomodoro thus made a whole series with differing diameters, bearing different names and displayed in various spaces.
"That is what drove me to make spheres: it's about breaking those perfect, magic forms in order to discover the internal fermentation, mysterious and living, monstrous and pure. This act frees me from absolute form. I destroy it but at the same time I increase it. For me, the work acquires its best continuity this way: it is not simply about an object to consume, but rather a response to a need for discovery which is found in each of us and which remains unsatisfied by industrial mechanics.'
Indeed the perfect form, smooth and imposing, is made from a noble material that recalls the goldsmith's workshop. Cut out of a block, it reveals areas where the bronze seems to have been shredded by an implosion that had occurred at its heart: a symbol of internal energy, of the origin of matter and of its perpetual evolution on a cosmological scale, but also of fragility revealed by these wounds showing on the surface, like the ones caused by History.
This game between the visible and the hidden is about provoking the exploration of this mysterious and infinite world that hides inside matter, as it does in the heart of man. These mechanical works reveal at the same time Pomodoro’s fascination with technology, so that he is also searching for a genuine continuity between science and metaphysics.
Continuity in the destruction-regeneration process but also in the process of planning works, loyal to tradition: a stage of preparatory drawing, followed by the making of a life-size plaster cast, before entrusting the casting to a foundry.
According to these same principles, Arnaldo Pomodoro created many monumental sculptures from other basic geometric figures, notably the column, pyramid, cube, disc, and cone, whilst some adopt an undulating form (the Radars and Papyrus series) or the shape of an arc, a stele or an open book. Thus the group Pietrarubbia (1975-2015) – in reference to a village of his native region that was destroyed by the war – is suggestive of indecipherable signs, but also has an easily legible inscription, "I am looking to bring you back to life, but I'm not managing to do it": a work displaying the artist's emotion and a message that is heard as the village does get restored.
History continues to impregnate his work as the recurrent presence of these 'glyphs' suggests, the significance of the titles (eg, The Tivoli Arch on Piazza Garibaldi in Tivoli, or The Great Gate of Marco Polo, Universal Exhibition in Shanghai, 2010) or the work itself (in the centre of the Piazza Meda in Milan, Grande Disco makes reference to Leonardo de Vinci; in Marsala in Sicily, Moto terreno solare shows fossils whilst evoking Minoan civilisation). It is true too of technology (The Oscillation Detector in the central hall of Frito-Lay Inc. in Dallas), Freccia (The Arrow) – at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris – a symbol of the rise of culture and education, bringing together two poles that are sent off into the future.
These works, often gigantic in size, are conceived to combine with the space, whether urban or natural, in order to be part of the continuity of History: 'The first requirement in my work has always been the relationship of the work of art with the space where it is displayed. A sculpture determines its own space within the wider space where we live and move. If a work of art transforms the place where it is displayed it truly acquires value as a witness of its time and manages to enrich a given context with new layers of memory.'
In the 1970s Arnaldo Pomodoro devoted himself to a parallel activity: he conceived utopian inventions, mechanisms with movement, alongside feasible architectural projects such as the one in the Urbino cemetery inspired by estruscan hypogea which won the competition in 1975 but will remain unfinished.
Between 1982 and 2009 the artist made about twenty stage designs – scenery and costumes – as much for plays in the theatre (eg The Tempest by William Shakespeare in 1998, Antigone by Jean Anouilh in 1996) as for operas performed in Italy (eg Semiramide by Gioacchino Rossini).
Constantly moved by the idea of continuity, the artist has taught art since 1996 in prestigious American universities (Stanford, Berkeley, Mills College) and in 1995 created the Arnaldo Pomodoro Foundation in Milan, his adopted city, intended to preserve the memory of his work whilst supporting contemporary production.
Recognised internationally since 1967, Arnaldo Pomodoro has work on permanent display in numerous cities in Italy – in Sorrento, Rimini, Pesaro, Rome, Milan, Terni, Turin, Tivoli, Belluno – but also throughout the world, in Copenhagen, Brisbane, Dublin, Los Angeles, New York, Charlotte (North Carolina), Moscow and Paris.
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