Artistic processes for the foundation of a “new architecture", 1950-70

Relevance of Research in Architecture Conference, Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin University, 3-5 July 2023

Bianca Felicori
Adolfo Natalini, No title, 1960. Exhibition “Ragioni diverse” at Università Popolare di Pistoia, February 1960. Adolfo Natalini Archives, Florence
Adolfo Natalini, No title, 1960. Exhibition “Ragioni diverse” at Università Popolare di Pistoia, February 1960. Adolfo Natalini Archives, Florence

The relationship between art and architecture has been expressed differently overtime. During the 20th century, it experienced a crucial and subversive phase of exploration. Despite the profession’s progressive specialization, the importance of preserving and strengthening the relationship between the two disciplines was emphasized by Le Corbusier’s famous definition of a"synthesis" of the arts (Le Corbusier 1928) and Gio Ponti’s promotion of a "composition" of space, painting and sculpture (Ponti 1932). However, what the relationship between art and architecture was destined togenerate in the second half of the century drove research concerning a synthesis to its extreme consequence: a critical revision of architecture it self, including its role, forms, boundaries and content. Beginning in the1960s, creative processes, figurative suggestions and critical positions in art were experiments against the backdrop of the break with early-century avant-garde movements and became the starting point for the founding of a "new architecture" (Celant 1968) that has since been described as “radical" (Celant 1972), “visionary” (McQuaid 2002) and “fantastic” (Rouillard 2004).

The aim of the research is to reveal how the foundation of that “new architecture” was influenced by contemporary artistic experimentation, to extend the body of references from which the “new architecture” took shape, and finally to study the works produced by the protagonists of that “new architecture” in the light of contemporary artistic experimentation.

The research, although still at an early stage, has already identified some central themes for understanding this relation. Superstudio is one of the research’s protagonists and it has been studied through the pictorial work of its founding member Adolfo Natalini, during his formative years (1956-66). Unpublished archive documents (drawings, sketches, paintings, notes and notebooks) are now revealing how graphic techniques, methods of representation and even theoretical visions used in painting by Natalini (who experimented with different pictorial languages, such as figurative, abstract and pop) have been reflected on Superstudio’s work. The research is investigating Paul Klee as a crucial reference for Natalini — who was mentioned among his notes in 1964 — and how Klee’s volumes Theory of Form and Figuration influenced Superstudio's work. Based on this discovery, the research aims to go back to the origin of the group’s foundation and to re-read the group's photomontages as compositions of abstract geometric volumes on various landscapes. The entire work of Superstudio thus becomes an expression of an art that is not evoked for aesthetic or formal purposes, but for processes and methodologies: art is a "means of cultural updating", as Natalini write sin his notes (1966).



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