A Sculptural Dialogue

05 June – 31 July 2010

Arnaldo Pomodoro and Edoardo Villa are two of Italy and South Africa’s most renowned living sculptors. The Nirox Foundation in association with the Embassy of Italy and SMAC Art Gallery is proud to present Arnaldo Pomodoro and Edoardo Villa: A Sculptural Dialogue an exhibition of select major sculptures by these artists at The Nirox Sculpture Park, The Cradle of Humankind, Magaliesberg in Gauteng. This is the first time that Pomodoro has exhibited in South Africa and it is a rare opportunity for South Africans and visitors to view these masterpieces in a unique environment.

The exhibition was opened on Saturday 5 June 2010 by H.E. The Ambassador of Italy Elio Menzione.

Both Arnaldo pomodoro and Edoardo Villa rose to prominence in the 1960s and their art has come to represent an era of Modernist and Abstract Sculpture, symbolic of rapid Post-War industrialization. Imposing steel and bronze sculptures have (unintentionally) become monuments to capitalism and industry. Milan and Johannesburg, the homes of these artists are the financial and industrial centres of their respective countries. Both cities were transformed in the 1960s and 1970s during a period of unprecedented innovation, growth and economic advancement. The sculptures of Arnaldo Pomodoro can be seen all over Milan in important public spaces, the same applies to Villa and Johannesburg.

Ironically, the appropriation of their art as a physical manifestation of the industrial-capitalist ideal, contradicts the philosophy underpinning the work of both artists.

Arnaldo Pomodoro is probably best known for his large bronze spheres (or spheres within spheres), treated and polished to have a distinctly gold appearance. These iconic sculptures can be seen outside the Vatican Museum and the United Nations headquarters in New York, to name only two of the numerous landmark sites around the world. These globes are cracked-open or dissected to reveal a complex inner core or layers upon layers of cores. Pomodoro was largely influenced by Lucio Fontana (his friend and mentor) and his sculptures draw on Spatialist theories, where the artwork reveals real concepts of space and time. Therefore, despite its large physical weight and presence, the work is not constrained by the vessel in which it is contained; it is a gateway to worlds within worlds, to space and time. Pomodoro’s spheres are smooth, polished and perfect on the exterior, but beneath we find a myriad of shapes and machine-like components, intertwined and inter-dependent cogs, gears and toothed pulleys which grind, pound and wrench.  The metaphorical significance of these sculptures can be analyzed ad infinitum, but one aspect of these works should be glaringly apparent, namely; Pomodoro’s undisguised and scathing criticism of greed, capitalism, industrialization, mechanization, exploitation of the planet and other related issues. These are issues which were reinforced by Pomodoro’s stay in the USA during the 1960s where he befriended many of the Beat poets such as Jack Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara and discovered the strong parallels between Beat culture, philosophy and that of his Italian contemporaries, such as the artists from the Arte Povera movement.

In this context, the importance of the two large sculptures on view at Nirox can be understood. In Memory of JF Kennedy (1963-1964) was inspired by the shock and trauma experienced at first hand by Pomodoro during his stay in the USA, by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This historic and tragic moment represents a violent tremor, a schism, an abrupt end to the elevated ideals and aspirations of his generation. Doppia Porta (1979) is a well known work which has been exhibited in numerous public spaces. It is a door with two sides standing in an open area representing portals to unseen space or dimensions, or in this context; as double-sided barriers to free space. These are two major and historically important sculptures, which were specifically selected by Arnaldo Pomodoro for this occasion.

Edoardo Villa was born in Bergamo, Italy and was classically trained as a sculptor. He came to South Africa as a prisoner of War and remained in his adopted country where he still lives and occasionally works at the age of 94.

Arguably Villa’s most important sculpture was produced in 1978, entitled; “The Confrontation“. This large public sculpture marked a conscious stylistic change from the use of smooth, rounded, tubular shapes to an aggressive, jagged, coarse, rusted vertical assembly of figures. Here, Edoardo Villa addressed head-on the anguish and tension which had become pervasive in South Africa. The late 1970s saw the rise of public disobedience, conflict and social uprising, exemplified by the tragic Soweto riots of 1978. Villa’s Confrontation demonstrates how the raw material; steel can express deep-seated angst and distress and convey profound social and political messages. The medium becomes integral to the message, enhancing it and giving it dimension. Herein lies the impact of the sculptures by both artists, where the viewer is confronted by the raw power of emotion and meaning contained in these uncompromising, immovable vessels.

Arnaldo Pomodoro has regularly visited South Africa over the past five years and developed a genuine affinity with the country and its people. He recognizes South Africa’s pivotal role as an example of change and tolerance. Pomodoro wishes to “leave his mark” on South African soil, and considers this an important part of his legacy and philosophy. For reasons explained earlier, he chose these two specific works for this occasion due to their universality but also their specific historical and political connection to the upheaval in the USA during the civil rights era of the 1960s and therefore their relevance and connection to South Africa. Pomodoro was introduced to the works of Edoardo Villa and was fascinated by his story and his art. He had no hesitation to the idea of placing his work in conversation with that of Edoardo Villa and instinctively appreciated the complexities that such a dialogue would explore and unveil.

Edoardo Villa represented South Africa at the Venice Biennale in 1956. He returned to the Biennale regularly after that and in 1964 was exposed to the work of Arnaldo Pomodoro. The exact extent of Pomodoro’s influence, if any, is difficult to gauge, but during the late fifties and early sixties, Villa made a considerable effort to travel to Europe and counts numerous sculptors of this era (Chillida, Mastroianni, Chadwick, Manzu, Moore, Smith, Caro and Pomodoro) as having made an impact on him.

In this exhibition, a dialogue initially develops on a surface level as a result of the many stylistic similarities and parallels which can be drawn between the artists and their work, but the conversation intensifies as the subtext is revealed and a ‘confrontation’ occurs when we approach the substantive core underlying these powerful and imposing structures. The use of metal as primary media in the construction of their art cannot be over-emphasized. Pomodoro’s highly reflective polished bronze surfaces have the appearance of Gold. Villa’s choice of steel and bronze is not coincidental, but as a direct consequence of the abundant mineral and industrial resources of his adopted city and country. South Africa’s economic strength and development is driven by its rich mineral wealth. Mining is the lifeblood of the country and Johannesburg is the “City of Gold”. The origin of the source material is an integral element in the process of both artists and the impact of their sculptures inevitably depends and draws on the sheer weight and strength of the material used.

In this context, the Cradle of Humankind literally becomes a crib where these transformed, moulded steel and metal creations are returned to Mother Earth, to Africa, to their origin. These hard, cold and uncompromising symbols of the urban, concrete and steel environment which man has created on the back of extracting the natural and mineral riches contained deep within the earth’s core are transfixed, transplanted and apparently displaced. They are returned to a place which represents the origins of our species, a place which hides many mysteries and secrets about our prehistoric and primordial existence.

In 1990 Edoardo Villa produced a controversial body of work which directly addressed the issue of materiality in sculpture. He constructed a series of sculptures from discarded polystyrene packaging. Due to the cheap nature of the material used, the public did not accept these works as having value. Villa then proceeded to bronze some of these sculptures which immediately increased their value and critical acceptance. Two major examples from this series form part of this exhibition. In order to transform these sculptures, a ceramic moulding process was required, which caused the original polystyrene sculptures to disintegrate. These works speak directly to the commercial appreciation of sculpture where the value depends on the type of material used and Villa directly challenges these perceptions.

The influence of African art on Modernism is well documented. European artists have always been fascinated by the artistic mysteries of the Dark Continent. Dali, Picasso and Moore are well-known examples. Edoardo Villa found himself at a very interesting and important intersection at the end of the war. Classically trained in Italy, strongly influenced by Modernism, Abstraction and other Post-War movements, Villa started and then spent his entire artistic career living and working in Africa. The strong African spirit contained in Edoardo Villa’s work is undeniable. It is an intangible which makes his art and that of other South African artists from this generation so fascinating; Cecil Skotnes, Larry Scully, Christo Coetzee, Douglas Portway, Sydney Kumalo, Ezrom Legae  and others. Villa was a leading and influential figure in the Amadlozi (“spirit of our forefathers”) group – a group of Modernist African artists who successfully exhibited in Europe during the 1960s and 1970s. This merging of influences and the presence of an “African spirit” is well exemplified in Mapoga Woman (1964). This intangible energy enhances the “confrontation” between Villa and Pomodoro.

In this relatively small and limited exhibition of a carefully selected body of work, we are literally overwhelmed by the genius of two great masters. The conversation engages on so many levels, that numerous visits will not suffice. Edoardo Villa celebrates his 95th birthday on the 30th of May 2010 (the opening date of this exhibition) and Arnaldo Pomodoro celebrates his 84th birthday on June the 23rd 2010.

Villa’s large outdoor steel sculptures are visible all over South Africa, including the famous red “Knot” outside the Civic Centre in Cape Town. Pomodoro’s sculptures can be seen in many important public spaces worldwide, including The Vatican and The United Nations. This is the first time that works by Arnaldo Pomodoro will be seen in South Africa and the exhibition coincides with Edoardo Villa’s 95th birthday.