The idea of movement in the inanimate object is evoked in many of Melotti’s sculptures. His philosophy “Art is an angelic geometric state of mind. It addresses itself to the intellect not to the senses” goes hand in hand with Melotti’s background in physics, mathematics and engineering. This is central in his work which is often complex, sometimes dramatic and yet always clear. Melotti’s work is nothing if not playful and delightful, another nod to his many strings (forgive the pun) which also include music to his bow.
16 January –7 April 2019 Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London
The exhibition begins modestly (Gallery 1) with an emphasis on Melotti’s more abstract and playful work. Some of the sculptures are reflected in his drawings and painting: Sculpture (Infinito) 1969 beside Arabesque 1955 and Senzotitolo 1953 beside Orpeo c1945. Orpheus as a subject runs form Melotti’s early works to his mid-years. The Uneasy Conscience/La Consciencza Inquiets 1973 shows Melotti’s scientific background. It is as if motion and energy sweeps through the inanimate.
Suddenly (Gallery 2), the sight of Melotti’s precision sculptures comes as a blast, almost overwhelming in contrast. The exquisite metal sculptures reign supreme. It is as if the wispy, delicate touch of little pieces is replaced by something more confident. The structures are still finite and precise however, using lines and loops of steel in complex cages or simple sheets to evoke a person standing or laying down. The paintings are more strident, dark and stronger suggesting the power of thunder. The Seven Sages/I Sette Savi 1960 stands tall and ghostly silent in the midst of the gallery. Harlequin’s Bride/La Sposa di Arlecchino 1979 is another ghostly sculpture but this time faint, with wisps of brass.
It is possible to leave the exhibition perfectly satisfied, but worth continuing with another complementary exhibition The Making of Modern Italy 1960s. Here you can find a mention of Melotti who worked with Gio Ponti and other designers and architects in the early and mid-twentieth century catapulting Italian creativity into the limelight. It is this mix of disciplines that underlies so much of Italian art, not just in twentieth century movements such as futurism and Melotti’s body of work but stemming from the Renaissance, not least Leonardo da Vinci.
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Images clockwise from left: La coscienza inquieta (The Uneasy Conscience), 1973 Brass, mirror; Studio per contrappunto (Study for counterpoint), 1962 Tempera, pastel colour and pencil on paper; L’amico leone (The Lion Friend), 1960 Brass Unique; Orfeo (Orpheus), 1945 Glazed polychrome ceramic; I Sette Savi (un elemento) The Seven Sages (one element) 1960 (1978) Plaster; Senza titolo (No title), 1955 Tempera, pastel colour and burn marks on paper. Courtesy Fondazione Fausto Melotti and Hauser & Wirth.