January 23, 2018 - Nouveau Musée National de Monaco - Alfredo Volpi: La Poétique de la Couleur
January 23, 2018

Nouveau Musée National de Monaco

Alfredo Volpi, Sem título, 1955. Tempera on canvas. 54x73 cm. Private Collection, São Paulo.

Alfredo Volpi
La Poétique de la Couleur
February 9–May 20, 2018

Nouveau Musée National de Monaco – Villa Paloma
56 boulevard du Jardin Exotique
98000 Monaco

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The NMNM presents the very first retrospective in a public institution outside Brazil of Alfredo Volpi, a major Brazilian artist born in Lucca (Italy) in 1896 and who moved to São Paulo’s Cambuci Italian neighborhood in 1898. Alfredo Volpi died in 1988 in São Paulo.

The aim of the exhibition is to retrace Volpi’s career, starting from his early oil paintings in the 40s—mostly landscapes and "cityscapes"—to the works of the 50s, 60s and 70s, in which the same subjects are metamorphosed into colorful geometric compositions, oneiric archetypes of the façades of buildings and festive banners, and a humble and poetic "algorithm" that gives Volpi the chance to make infinite color variations on the same subject.

The exhibition features more than 70 works retracing the history of this independent and self-taught painter, whose fascination for the Italian early Renaissance, for Matisse, Morandi and the sphere of popular culture led him to win the Best National Prize at the 2nd São Paulo Biennial with Di Cavalcanti, and intrigued the celebrated English critic Herbert Read, who described him as an artist “… aware of the general movement, but who created something contemporary with an indigenous theme: the shapes and colors of Brazilian modern architecture.”

Volpi is probably the most-loved Brazilian artist of the 20th century, but has remained little known outside of Latin America until now. Having trained at an early age as a woodcarver and bookbinder, he began working as a commercial artist, assisting a wall painter and decorating the houses of the rich bourgeoisie of São Paulo. This "school," as Mario Pedrosa wrote, allowed him “to learn the finest techniques” and to earn enough money to develop his artistic skills and desires, avoiding academism and developing his own imaginary. 

The friendship with celebrated artists like Emygdio de Souza and Ernesto de Fiori had surely influenced him to welcome certain aspects of the modernist style, as well as his participation in the Santa Helena artists’ group, but his direct experience of the works of other great European artists exhibited in Brazil throughout the 40s became a new source of inspiration for his formal solutions and space organization. 

During the 40s, from Paul Cezanne to Henry Matisse, from Mario Sironi and Carlo Carrà to Giorgio Morandi, Alfredo Volpi would learn how to remodel the pictorial space, and as Lorenzo Mammi wrote, “those new poetic coordinates oblige Volpi to modify his media. The transition from oil to tempera allows the movement of the brushstroke to be now a visible and constitutive element of his paintings, granting at the same time the absolute value of the color independently from the light and texture; in other words, it allows conciliating Morandi with Matisse.”

Volpi does not follow a conceptual program. “Volpi paints Volpi” as Willys de Castro wrote, perceiving the potential of the modernity of popular art and creating a unique synthesis between "high" and "low" art, and between fine and naïve art. Popular art allowed him to find an atemporal and universal shape, far from European transcendent rationality and North American empirics.

Volpi the "colorist," like Morandi for the Italians, became a real hero and a legend in Brazil, and today we can easily find his role in the international vanguard movement as an isolated figure, midway between the modernist, concrete and neo-concrete movements in Brazil, a bit like Morandi caught between the experiences of the Novecento and the Metaphysical movements in Italy. Volpi’s unique and universal language must be considered a collective cultural and visual heritage and a positive example in the history of immigration 

A catalogue co-published by Capivara Editora and Mousse Publishing gathering texts by Lorenzo Mammi, Jacopo Crivelli Visconti and Cristiano Raimondi will be released around the end of April in French and English. 

This exhibition is curated by Cristiano Raimondi and supported by Instituto Alfredo Volpi, São Paulo.

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La Poétique de la Couleur
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