Italian abstraction in focus

PUBLISHED: 16:08 16 August 2012 | UPDATED: 16:18 16 August 2012

Osvaldo Licini,  Rhythm, 1932. Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Villa Croce, Genoa

Osvaldo Licini, Rhythm, 1932. Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Villa Croce, Genoa

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A new exhibition at the Estorick explores 50 years of innovation

“Painting is the art of colours and forms freely conceived,” said the Italian abstract painter Osvaldo Licini, defining his credo in 1935. His playful, lyrical painting Rhythm (pictured), made three years earlier, has proved a popular attraction at the latest exhibition at the Estorick Collection in Islington. The museum is known for its core collection of Italian Futurist art and In Astratto: Abstraction in Italy 1930-1980 explores fifty years of innovation initiated by earlier pioneering experiments of Futurist artists such as Giacomo Balla.

The paths taken were diverse, from the geometric imagery of Manlio Rho and Mario Radice to the dynamic mixed-media constructions of Enrico Prampolini. The 65 works are drawn from Liguria’s three principal museums dedicated to contemporary art and range from artists unfamiliar outside the region to the internationally famous Lucio Fontana whose trademark was the slashed canvas.

The exhibition includes an important cult work of Fontana, who founded the Spacialism movement. It’s from his mature period in the mid-Sixties. In the informative catalogue Marzia Ratti describes Spatial Concept (pictured) as “an aesthetic triumph of colour in the dialogue between the luminescent surface and the green canvas false bottom”. The painting is part of the collection donated by Giorgio Cozzani to the Centro Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in La Spezia.

This city has been a focal point for avant-garde non-figurative art in Italy since the inter-war years. It’s close to my favourite place in Italy – the village of Tellaro on the so-called Bay of Poets. The exhibition moves to La Spezia in October, so if you miss it in Islington, consider catching it there!

Until September 9 at 39a Canonbury Square N1. Wednesday to Saturday 11am to 6pm, Sunday noon to 5pm. £5, concessions £3.50, free to under 16s and children. On Saturday September 8 at 3pm there’s an informal gallery talk: A United Front: Futurists, Abstractionists and Cultural Politics in 1940s Italy by Christopher Adams, Assistant Curator of the Estorick. Free with admission.

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