Gallerynote 4/2012

November 22, 2012 to February 23, 2013

Antonio Calderara (1903 – 1978)
„La morte, fine e principio, dà significato al principio.”
(Death, end and beginning, gives the beginning its significance. Antonio Calderara: Pagine 1973)

„Lebenszeit und Weltzeit” (Life-Time and World-Time) is the title of a book by the eminent philosophical writer Hans Blumenberg (1986). The tension and friction generated by this figure of thought indicates a conflict of serious consequence. Many of the precious notations by the painter Antonio Calderara, published in 1973 as a small volume under the title „Pagine”, illustrate his thinking that life and art’s connectivity and dimension of depth are rooted in the the arc of tension between finitude and infinity. World-time is enriched here by a metaphysical expansion, by a Latin coloration, which brings to mind Giacomo Leopardi, Giuseppe Ungaretti and Piero della Francesca. Blumenberg, for his part, found that the proportion of the world that can be experienced within one’s own lifetime is shrinking, that modern man increasingly perceives a shortage of time, despite the elaborate technologies for saving time.

With his life’s work, Antonio Calderara charted his way out of the dilemma. The paintings offer visible evidence of his solution. „Spazio, luce, colore luce, luce. L’uomo, il suo limite, il suo essere finito nell’infinito.” (Space, light, color light, light. Man, his limits, his finitude in the infinite.)

World-time provides the temporal measure in the general history of art. One of the last canonized chapters of this narrative is the history of the development and emancipation of modernism. The oversized scale of this parameter compelled Calderara to determine his own measure and render what was feasible for himself. „Bisogna sentirci niente per aspirare al più.” (We have to feel we are nothing in order to aspire to the highest.) With modesty and pretension, he undertook the creation of a parallel history, oriented to the measure of his own lifetime. Breaks and fractures do not manifest themselves as such. The new order does not impose and assert itself as an ultimate departure from continuity. For him, the revolutions of modernism are the impetus to discover and identify a formulation according to which these can result in a synthesis of the painter’s thinking, perception and actions.

From 1924 to 1958 he produced fine, small-format panels. A small number of large formats constitute the exception. Personal and delicate in their chromaticity and painterly qualities, the image layout and composition are clearly structured and often make reference to the framing. The motifs are taken from the painter’s immediate environment, reflecting the world of his existence: his daughter Gabriella who died at an early age, his wife Carmela, his parents and relatives, but also pitchers, flowers, mushrooms and the landscape of Lake Orta. The house from the seventeenth century in Vacciago above the Sacro Monte is the family residence and place of work. (After his death, the building would become the Museo Collezione Calderara di Arte Contemporanea.)

More and more, a common denominator – the result of concentrated and ambitious activity as a painter – is the fusion of light and color: color as light, light as color. In 1959, his work gradually and logically shifted toward abstraction with an unforced ease. Seeing becomes knowing and knowledge leads to coherent pictorial forms, always saturated with the richness of perception. The said landscape of Lake Orta offers itself as a reference point and formative condition, as a coordinate of visual solutions and inventions.

The panel painting, a felicitous reminiscence of the image supports of Italian painting in the Quattrocento, becomes an independent entity. Inspirations from works by Mondrian and Albers clarify and stimulate new understandings and insights.

The panel, in most cases quadratic and modestly dimensioned, is now the given territory. They initially exhibit a material thickness of about 10 mm, later roughly 3 mm. The painting is continued along the side surfaces. All the formal definitions refer to the entire field, which implies and provokes an imaginary expansion. The internal geometric order creates conditions that point toward an external order. The differentiation of the hues and the light/dark shading is achieved by applying the paint in many transparent layers. A subtle luminosity and closure of the surface emphasizes the unity and coherence of the pictorial object and means of painting.

In the late 1960s, in the early days of our gallery, we became acquainted with Calderara and had the pleasure of entering into a friendship with the maestro. In 1969, we presented his works for the first time. Several other exhibitions followed and the current show is a remembrance and homage to a special individual and great painter. 


November 16, 2008 – 2033
Sol LeWitt
A Wall Drawing Retrospective

Yale University Art Gallery and Williams College Museum of Art