Art Balla and Dorazio meet in Lugano

Balla and Dorazio meet in Lugano

Giorgia Massari

The two masters of painting Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) and Piero Dorazio (1927-2005) meet in Lugano in the exhibition Balla ’12 Dorazio ’60 Dove la luce at the Giancarlo and Danna Olgiati Collection, open from Sept. 24 to Jan. 14, 2024. The exhibition, with the skillful curation of Gabriella Belli and masterful staging by architect Mario Botta, stems from Danna Olgiati’s great love for Dorazio, which inevitably brings her back to Balla. The real encounter between the two artists, the former a pupil of the latter, is to be found in light. Both, in different years, experience a narrow period of research on light. More precisely, Balla did so in 1912 with the Compenetrazioni iridescenti while Dorazio in 1960 with his famous Trame. “If we look at Dorazio’s textures we see an extraordinary work of painting, a superimposition of colors. Balla, on the other hand, goes in search of the essence of light.” – says Danna Olgiati during the Sept. 22 press conference-, “The two artists I could see them combining, so I asked Gabriella what she thought of this idea and she afterwards did everything. She envisioned the exhibition and then Mario Botta did the installation.” The exhibition Dove la luce is the story of an extraordinary elective affinity between these two great masters of twentieth-century Italian art and, as curator Gabriella Belli says, serves to “focus on important points in Italian artistic research.”

The theme of light

“Light was the great theme of the nineteenth century. It was a light that wanted to restore truth, reality. For these twentieth-century artists, on the other hand, starting with Balla, light is a scientific experience. So it is no longer necessary to represent truth but to represent truth. Truth through light.” explains Belli. In this sense, the Olgiati Collection exhibition becomes essential to investigate and thus to rediscover the great work done primarily by Giacomo Balla, which is still reflected in contemporary research. “In some way, the exhibition tells about how, and what, the Futurist legacy managed to bring into the second postwar period and to feed research by so many other artists. We are talking about artists who did research other than Dorazio, but even Emilio Vedova and Fontana himself owe a debt to the Futurism of these years and especially to that of Balla. If we think about the figures who still continue to say something in contemporary times, certainly of all the artists perhaps Balla is the one who still makes an impact today.” continued Belli during the lecture, during which she gave a real art history lesson, recounting that 1912 so crucial to Balla’s research. The artist began making sketches in which he took up the geometric form of the triangle, reinventing it, or rather, using it from a scientific perspective and making it somewhat magical. In his works from this period, it is as if the artist looked through a microscope at the refraction of light and synthesized it into this form, resulting in “an exercise in abstractionism.

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Giacomo Balla, Compenetrazione iridescente radiale (Vibrazioni prismatiche) 1913-1914 ca. Tempera su cartoncino GAM – Galleria civica d’Arte Moderna e contemporanea. Su concessione della Fondazione Torino Musei © 2023, ProLitteris, Zurich

Balla’s research in this field quickly petered out. These works will be hidden by the artist himself and will never be exhibited. It will be Dorazio around the end of the 1950s who will rediscover them. “For Dorazio we have chosen another topical date, 1960,” says Gabriella Belli, “That year Dorazio presents himself with a monographic room at the Biennale and chooses to exhibit the light plots. He chooses to exhibit the painting that made sense of the continuity of the line of Italian art. He makes a leap from Balla’s reconnaissance, amplifies and develops a scientific research by building a wonderful cycle of paintings. In a sense it is a homage and a conclusion to Balla’s research. They are lattices of light and color made with a light hand, diagonals weaving together. A wonderful weaving. It is a fabric of pure painting, of primary, complementary and secondary colors that intertwine with an extraordinary rhythm and consume all their energy within the frame of the canvas.”

Piero Dorazio Allo scoperto 1963 Olio su tela 162 x 114 cm Pinacoteca “Corrado Giaquinto”, Bari © 2023, ProLitteris, Zurich

The exhibition and the installation

The Olgiati Collection boasts the presence of many works by Balla, but they are not featured here. Most of Balla’s Iridescent Compenetrations in the exhibition come from private and museum collections, particularly from Galleria d’arte Moderna in Turin and from the Mart in Rovereto. More than 20 specimens are on display, including the very valuable postcard addressed by Balla to his friend and pupil Gino Galli in November 1912 that attests to the first news of the new research on Compenetrazioni. Dorazio’s Trame also number more than twenty. Most significant are those works in which the grid breaks up and sharply changes chromatic register, as in Time Blind (1963) and Tenera mano (1963).

Mario Botta‘s installation helps create a dynamic dialogue between the works of the two masters. The genius of the design lies in the choice of colors and shapes. Most of Balla’s works are placed on a white background, inside a niche and positioned suspended. This helps to embellish and enhance these works, which are smaller in size than those of Dorazio. The latter, on the other hand, are placed on large black surfaces that help to enhance their textures.

An illustrated catalog edited by Mousse-Milan was produced for the exhibition.
More information about the exhibition can be found here.

Installation view photos © Studio Fotografico Enrico Cano Sagl

Written by Giorgia Massari
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