LEONARDO CREMONINI (1925-2010): TIMELESS MONUMENTALITY Paintings from The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation
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FAIRFIELD, CONN (Sept. 22, 2016) -- The Fairfield University Art Museum presents a new exhibition, “Leonardo Cremonini (1925-2010) – Timeless Monumentality: Paintings from The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation,” on view from Friday, November 4, 2016, through Saturday, March 4, 2017, in the museum’s Walsh Gallery in the Quick Center for the Arts on the campus of Fairfield University. An opening reception, free and open to the public, will take place on Thursday, November 3, from 6:00-7:30 pm.
The Italian painter Leonardo Cremonini (1925-2010) attained the height of recognition and critical acclaim in the second half of the twentieth century. His British contemporary Francis Bacon was an early admirer and praised him to the poet W. H. Auden. Italian literary giants Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, and Alberto Moravia authored lyrical appreciations of his work. Another champion was William Rubin, legendary director of The Museum of Modern Art, who articulated the essential idea that Cremonini’s canvases embody a “spirit of timeless monumentality.” Although he enjoyed this renown, and his work is to be found in numerous public collections across Europe and the United States (including MoMA), Cremonini is today largely unknown to all but a few art-world specialists. The ascendancy of abstraction and conceptual art and concurrent marginalization of figurative painting in the later twentieth century are part of the explanation for this arc of renown followed by obscurity (a trajectory that is by no means unique in the history of art).
This survey exhibition of close to forty works from the peerless holdings of The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation—the first devoted to the artist in over two decades, presented at a moment of renewed interest in modern and contemporary Italian painting—will serve to introduce Cremonini to new audiences and foster a critical reappraisal of his art. William Louis-Dreyfus, long an admirer of Cremonini, collected his work in depth. He was a generous and enthusiastic supporter of the Fairfield University Art Museum’s exhibition and was energetically involved in its planning until shortly before his death on September 16. It is a great sadness that he did not live to see its realization. In tribute to this extraordinary man, whose profound kindness and generosity of vision in support of the Harlem Children’s Zone was the subject of a recent film, Generosity of Eye, by his daughter actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her husband, Brad Hall, the exhibition is presented in his memory.
Cremonini’s canvases are striking both for their obvious technical mastery and for their distinctive, haunting imagery. Primeval, lithic forms (both human and geological), dark, untamed beasts, and over-effulgent foliage dominate the artist’s early works. In the 1960s, his palette lightens and his figures become more ethereal and anemic. Psychologically remote, languid and detached, they are eternally frozen in train cars and bedrooms, in bathing huts or on seaside terraces, caressed by a sultry Mediterranean light that induces indolence rather than industry. Even when the figures themselves are absent, their erstwhile presence lingers in the carelessly opened drawers, doors left ajar, discarded clothing and overturned chairs (all rendered with acute descriptive power), while vaguely sinister cast shadows belonging to unseen passers-by promise their imminent return.
Although he lived and worked for much of his career in Paris, Cremonini’s art is fundamentally Italian in its privileging of a figurative idiom, and in its deliberate grounding in Italian art history. His geometric clarity and purity of form recall the still lifes of Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964). Surrealist elements like detached, floating eyeballs invoke Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978). Flayed and butchered animal carcasses, a favorite subject in Cremonini’s paintings of the 1950s, have a long tradition in European art, with some of the most celebrated examples—most notably Annibale Carracci’s Butcher Shop (1580)—having been produced in Cremonini’s native Bologna in the late sixteenth century. And the rigorously constructed architectural spaces that adhere to the geometric rules of perspective hark back even further, to Piero della Francesca and other artists of the Italian Renaissance.
Cremonini’s technique became increasingly painstaking and laborious over time. A meticulous and careful application, scraping away, and reapplication of paint layers resulted in the paradoxically smooth, tissue-like surfaces that his canvases so frequently exhibit. Reminiscent of the dilatory practice of Leonardo da Vinci a half a millennium earlier, his method often included long periods of scrutiny unaccompanied by any movement of the brush. At least some of the many works formed of two joined canvases are the product of this protracted genesis, which could transpire over a period of years. In a two-part campaign, the artist would sometimes join a new canvas to an existing, earlier painting, the original then reworked to create a unified and integrated whole with its extension. The slow, meditative process, and the sense of timelessness these long gestating and occasionally hybrid works paradoxically project are not unrelated. Contemplation and permanence, rather than speed and flux, are the essence of Cremonini’s technique and subject matter alike.
The exhibition was organized by Dr. Linda Wolk-Simon, Frank and Clara Meditz Director and Chief Curator, Fairfield University Art Museum, and is made possible by a generous gift from the Louis-Dreyfus Foundation. It is presented in memory of William Louis-Dreyfus. A fully illustrated catalogue is available.
A program of films and lectures, free and open to the public, complements the exhibition. Prior to the opening reception on November 3 at 5 pm, Yvonne Elet, Associate Professor of the History of Art and Architecture, Vassar College, will present “Raphael's Garden in Mussolini's Rome and the American Countess who made it Modern.” On November 15 at 5 pm, Emily Braun, Distinguished Professor, Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, will speak on Cremonini and Magic Realism in Italy. And on February 9 at 5 pm, Stephan Wolohojian, Curator of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, presents Leonardo Cremonini: Obstacles, Journeys and Reflections. Advance registration for lectures is recommended (fuam.eventbrite.com).
Also planned in conjunction with the exhibition is Italian Film at Fairfield, a 3-part program of films and lectures devoted to Italian cinema from the 1960s to the present, organized by Mary Ann Carolan, Professor, Modern Languages & Literature, and Director of Fairfield University’s Italian Studies Program.
New Italian Comedy is the topic on Tuesday, October 4, 6:30 pm, when the film An (Almost) Perfect Place will be screened, followed by a Q&A with director Massimo Gaudioso (Multimedia Room, DiMenna-Nyselius Library). La dolce vita, an Italian classic, introduced by Mary Ann Carolan, will be shown on Monday, November 14, 6:30 pm, in the Kelley Theatre, Quick Center for the Arts. The films of Nanni Moretti are explored on Monday, December 5, 4 pm, when Millicent Marcus, Professor of Italian, Yale University, presents a lecture entitled The Restless Priest and the Reluctant Pope: From the Mass is Over to Habemus Papam (Multimedia Room, DiMenna-Nyselius Library). Italian Film at Fairfield programs are free and open to the public; no advance registration required.
This series has been made possible by a generous grant from The Humanities Institute of the College of Arts & Sciences as well as by support from Italian Studies program, departments of Modern Languages & Literatures and Visual & Performing Arts.
The exhibition is open to the public when the University is in session, Wednesday through Saturday from 12 noon – 4 p.m. For further information about the exhibition and related programs consult the museum’s website (www.fairfield.edu/museum).
Vol. 49, No. 40
Fairfield University is a Jesuit University, rooted in one of the world’s oldest intellectual and spiritual traditions. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 36 states, 47 foreign countries, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are enrolled in the University’s five schools. In the spirit of rigorous and sympathetic inquiry into all dimensions of human experience, Fairfield welcomes students from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and engage in open conversations. The University is located in the heart of a region where the future takes shape, on a stunning campus on the Connecticut coast just an hour from New York City.
Posted on October 21, 2016
Vol. 49, No. 40