Associated curator of the exhibition Mimmo Rotella’s retro d’affiches
The two stylistic paths that Mimmo Rotella undertook simultaneously, starting in1953-1954, and for which he is now recognized as one of the key figures in 20th-century art, are represented by his décollages and retro d’affiches. Two compositional approaches launched immediately after a brief crisis that the artist went through upon returning to Rome in late 1952 after a stay in the United States.
The purpose of this text is to identify some salient points through which to better analyze one of Rotella’s two productions of that period: the retro d’affiches. Specifically, we will examine the artist’s interest in the expressive possibilities of sound and in the creation of musical compositions, demonstrating how it was a decisive antecedent for the genesis and development of this work. We will look at the cultural climate in which the artist found himself – that of Rome in the early ‘50s - to better understand how the particular historical moment in which Rotella lived provided a stimulus that was determinant in the creation of the retro d’affiches. Finally, after a brief description of the morphology of these works and in view of a future study, we will take a preliminary look at Rotella’s relationship with the NouveauRéalisme movement, analyzed from the point of view of the production of the retro d’affiches.
Futurist echoes and the fragmentation of sound
Rotella made his first statements on sound and music starting in 1949, the year he wrote the “Manifesto of Epistaltism" and during which he began reciting poems using epistaltic language, which he defined as "a means of expression consisting of words and sounds with no apparent logic or meaning, but having in themselves an emotional content "(1). In the same letter the artist lists a series of "historical precedents", as he calls them, into which he inserts the Dadaists Hugo Ball, Kurt Schwitters, the Futurists, Marinetti and the composers Edgard Varèse, Pierre Boulez and Alexej Kručionych. That the phonetic poems are closely tied to the experiments carried out by the historical avant-garde and in particular by the Italian Futurists is abundantly clear and has already been argued elsewhere (2). One need only compare what Rotella writes in his manifesto with some of the performances or declarations of the Futurists to find similarities in style and content (3). For example, the concert in 1913 by Francesco Balilla Pretella, the inventor of Futurist music, entitled "Hymn to Life", is described by Enrico Prampolini as a "faint tinkling of triangles, meowing trombones, a deafening clang of trumpets, the scraping of dishes and the banging of tom toms"(4). In the manifesto written by Luigi Russolo on March 11, 1913, titled The Art of Noise, he suggests using "voices of animals and men: Shouts, Wails, Moans, Screams, Howls, Laughter, Wheezes, Hiccups" (5) in the field of musical enquiry. Directions and ideas for new sources of inspiration that echo those of Rotella’s Manifesto, especially points 5, 6, 8 and 9:
5) words are above all sounds: the dividing wall between music and poetry, which are essentially the same thing, must be removed.
6) the true essence of words lies in musicality and therefore in sound.
8) the human voice should not be limited to the monotony of articulate speech.
9) it is an inexhaustible source of natural musical instruments (6).
From the beginning of his career, Rotella intuited that sound and music would provide a certain means of achieving a new way to communicate. Closely related to this interest in the potential of the language of music was his love of jazz (in fact a work of his from 1956 is titled Il jazz). His very first encounter with this musical genre was in Rome in 1945, in the artistic cabaret opened by Plinio De Martiis. "In this cabaret avant-garde comedies were recited and a local orchestra played ultra-modern jazz "(7). When he arrived in Kansas City, Missouri in 1951, through a grant from the Fulbright Foundation, he again the opportunity to hear jazz, thanks to the patronage of an establishment managed by some Italian-Americans with whom he made friends. "On the stage a jazz trio of black men played that kind of music. It was the true jazz of that city. I don’t believe that this style was yet known even in New York. I was very fond of jazz back then, it felt like I had touched the sky” (8). And again, "Kansas City was a typical American town [...] lots of bars and nightclubs with fantastic little orchestras of black musicians" (9). During this American period, he diligently continued to organize concerts, including some with musicians of the university orchestra who would accompany him while he recited his phonetic poems. Sometime later, in the ‘60s, after returning to New York, he would have the opportunity to listen to Miles Davis. Commenting on this event, he said "I have always believed in this new musical art form since I started composing my phonetic poems in 1949", citing by way of emphasis point no. 8 of his manifesto (10). Also worth mentioning is his personal collection of instruments, which included tabla drums and other percussion instruments, which Rotella himself played on several occasions (11).
His view that sound compositions are intimately connected and have points of contact with the expressive possibilities offered by the visual arts is explicitly stated in his Manifesto of 1949, where epistaltic compositions are compared with what was happening in the other arts:
3) the inclusion in the epistaltic compositions of passages from reality corresponds to the use of mixed media in sculpture and collage in painting. (12)
Yet in the year he wrote his Manifesto, Rotella produced works such as Composizione, Construction verticale and Composizione ritmica, which still bear no trace of the mixed media and collage (except in rare cases) of which he speaks. The paintings that he realized at this time were characterized by a strong abstract-geometric rigor and do not yet seem to evince any interest in those "passages of reality" which are instead present in the phonetic poems. It was not until a few years that the drive towards the destruction of compositional syntax, the inclusion of "passages of reality" as mentioned in the Manifesto, and the more general desire to break up the classic, organically constructed score, whether in musical compositions or on the surface of a painting, would find a new application. In 1951, on the occasion of the exhibition at the Vetrina dei Chiurazzi in Rome, entitled "Paintings and drawings by Rotella. Ceramics and drawings by Meli”, Rotella showed paintings labeled as "oil in the neo-plastic style"(13). But what is interesting is the way in which, in the brochure accompanying the exhibition, Achille Perilli, a friend of the artist, provides a comparison of the phonetic poems and the works on display. "It is as if each square or rectangle were a sound, and each fits the other to come together in a space-time, not definable by the limits of the canvas. His phonetic poetry is articulated in the same way "(14), a brief comment that gives us some lucid indications of the precise directions in which the artist was moving at that time. Perilli cites the space-time factor, thus placing Rotella’s work in close connection with the enquiry of the historical avant-garde. He describes forms that tend to go beyond the "limits" of the canvas, almost anticipating the events that would soon take unfold, and ultimately equates Rotella’s research in the field of painting with what he was doing in music, talking about "sound" and his epistaltic poetry.
It would not be long before Rotella would take the next step with the creation of the first décollages and retro d’affiches, conceptually transferring to canvas the expressive possibilities offered by the sonic modulation of the voice, percussion instruments and the rhythms of jazz. A complex mixture that would lead to the enunciation of a new linguistic formula characterized by the fracturing of classical harmony, by adherence to contemporary reality, by the ability to communicate a strong sense of freedom, by his immediate power to convey emotions and by the use of improvisation as a means by which to arrive at the creation of new pictorial compositions.
Rome and material painting
In the brochure of the exhibition at the Chiurazzi, in addition to Perilli’s text there is an essay by Piero Dorazio which concludes by stating that "he [Rotella] is one of us" (15), which is to say that Rotella belongs to the movement of abstract artists who in those years were vigorously challenging the realists through a common front. In the spring of 1`947, Dorazio himself, together with Carla Accardi, Peter Consagra, Mino Guerrini, Perilli, Antonio Sanfilippo and Giulio Turcato, had signed the manifesto of a new group called "Forma uno," whose members, declaring themselves "formalists and Marxists", intended to oppose (16) to the figurative current whose leader was Guttuso. Since 1947 Rotella had been frequenting the same artists who were then also part of the Art Club, whose purpose was to organize exhibitions and create events that would place Italian artists in relation with those on the international scene. Along with Accardi, Dorazio, Perilli, Turcato and Enrico Prampolini (17) - who, together with Józef Jarema, was one of the founders of the association – Rotella participated in several exhibitions organized in Italy and abroad by the Art Club, including one of the most important held in 1951 at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome entitled "Abstract and Concrete Art in Italy in 1951". Yet even though his world and his acquaintances were made up of abstract artists, Rotella would never become truly "one of us", preferring to take a slightly more detached position, both artistically and politically. This attitude did not stop him, however, once he had returned from America, from fully experiencing and absorbing the cultural climate that had arisen in Rome, especially in an area of the city situated between Via Margutta , Via del Babuino and Piazza del Popolo, location of the Caffè Rosati, which became the meeting place for all the avant-garde artists of the time. Returning to Rome in 1952, Rotella found himself in a situation somewhat similar to the one he had left the previous year - in fact, the heated controversy between abstract and figurative artists continued - but in other ways already in the process of evolution. With the arrival on the scene of certain key characters, Alberto Burri foremost among them, the context of Italian art began evolving insofar as "around 1950 it faced a completely new phenomenon as impossible to attribute to realism as to abstraction that both critics and public alike struggle to understand and classify. The emphasis on the sign, gesture or material by the artists of this “other” current eluded in Italy the long-standing dilemma of form vs. content, leaving everyone confused "(18).
It was during this process of profound change, ignored by common opinion but acutely perceived by those fighting on the front lines of the avant-garde, that Rotella fell into crisis. It is a period about which he has since spoken several times. "Coming back from the U.S. I drew my conclusions: ‘Enough, I quit, everything has already been said’. In fact, wasn’t painting any longer, I was just composing phonetic poetry." (19). Geometric and abstract art, which up until the trip to America had been an expressive territory in which he felt at home, now felt outdated. The only survivor of this total impasse was the "phonetic poetry" that the artist perceived as the only compositional possibility still able to keep pace with what was happening around him. This was the most dramatic and critical moment of his career which he finally overcame in 1953-54, thanks in part to the people he frequented, to his knowledge of the Roman scene of that time, and to the intuitive speed with which he managed to get back into the game and grapple with the most advanced innovations.
The cultural situation in the early ‘50s in Rome saw a strong cultural ferment that led to the emergence of figures like Burri, who as early as 1949 had exhibited the first Catrami, in January 1952 the Neri and Muffe series, and in 1953 the paintings in which glue and soil were incorporated into the tar. Two years earlier, Capogrossi had founded, along with Mario Ballocco, Ettore Colla and Burri, the Gruppo Origine, born from the need to make a clean sweep of the involutions of abstraction, to return to the "origins". Also dating from 1953 was the first solo show of Robert Rauschenberg, titled "Personal Boxes and Fetishes", at the Galleria dell’Obelisco. The following year Pliny De Martiis opened the Galleria La Tartaruga. Lucio Fontana, though working in Milan, where he presented a series of "Holes" in 1952 at the Galleria del Naviglio, became an important point of reference for those seeking to go beyond abstraction in pursuit of a new linguistic interpretation where gesture, sign and material were at the core (20).
It was within this dense network of encounters and events that followed one after the other, creating a vibrant and dynamic situation, that Rotella made his first décollages and retro d’affiches. In both cases, the operating process was the same and consisted of a first step that took place on the streets of Rome, where the artist would tear down posters affixed to the walls of the city, and a second phase that took place in the studio, where he glued these posters onto a support. In this second step, using the tip of a brush or a scraper, the sheets were first assembled and glued and then torn. In the case of décollages, the posters are attached to the support by the recto, while the retro d’affiches are applied by the verso. The retro d’affiches incorporate additional elements such as rust, chunks of plaster, glue, mold, strips of paper and dirt, quite literally the pieces of the city that remained stuck to the backs of the posters after being stripped from the walls. Consequently, it is the retro d’affiches that historically connect Rotella’s activity to the phenomenon mentioned by Matitti whereby the material acquires a strong communicative value. Present in many of the works conceived in this period, material is no longer a random element but rather insinuates itself into the compositional process in a decisive and systematic way, becoming a source of inspiration for many artists operating in those years, both nationally and internationally.
With the abandonment of geometric and rational rigor, and the transposition onto canvas or cardboard of the same process of obliteration that he had always applied to sound, Rotella manages to put in place a system for the dismantling of the pictorial construction, in which the elements of fragmentary decomposition and random assembly, which the artist now applies deliberately, become the predominant features. With the retro d'affiches the classical score is trampled in favor of a magmatic chaos in which we hear the echo of the sounds of the urban reality that surrounds the artist, and of which he needs to feel a part – another instance whose antecedents can be traced to the historical avant-garde.
Rotella’s affinity for the other artistic personalities who were putting new materials at the center of their work was immediately pointed out by certain critics like Emilio Villa and Leonardo Sinisgalli, who were among the first to appreciate and write about his new way of working. Villa, in the text accompanying the exhibition at the Zattere del Ciriola (1955) in Rome, where for the first time Rotella showed the décollages, first denounces the deadening of abstraction that he saw in its most recent expressions. “A great syntactical hypothesis was proposed by the mystification of space by abstractionism. But the hypothesis, after further attempts, fell into the hands of an ignorant plethora of impetuous followers, and so this exciting and compelling ideology was reduced to a monotonous amphitheater ... ". Villa the concludes, "behind these paintings, behind their perennial, analogical materials, wax lacquer oil canvas cork paper lime, and right in the shadows that they conclude with a violent lighting, lurks a Large Prey, the free availability of supernal clarities"(21).
In another article published in the September/October 1955 issue of " Civiltà delle macchine" (22), just before Rotella’s important solo exhibition at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan (23), Sinisgalli groups Rotella with several of the main figures working in this new artistic ferment. "Burri with sponges and surgical stitching, Fontana with holes, Nando with nails and Rotella with torn paper: what do these madmen want from us? I do not think they would especially enjoy playing with loaded dice, to always win big over our common sense. The poetics of the formless, of stains on a wall, of cracks and broken vases gains new followers every day. It can be said that the accident, the exception, come increasingly to pollute the quiet, the monotony of the event, the predictable, the compliant".
The artist himself would return a few years later to the question of material, placed in relation to the world of music and sounds, in a self-presentation published in the brochure accompanying his exhibition at the Galleria d'Arte Selecta in Rome in the spring of ‘57. It is Rotella’s reflection on his work, and on the impulse that led him to go down into the street to look for inspiration. At the beginning of the text, he "binds" his poetry decisively to collage, to the point where he even says, "I wish I invented collage ...". Then he describes the protestant origin from which the act of tearing posters from the walls of the city derives. "Tearing posters from the walls is the only recourse, the only protest against a society that has lost its taste for change and amazing transformations. I paste the posters then tear them, and new, unpredictable forms are born. I abandoned the easel in protest. If I had the strength of Samson I would glue Piazza di Spagna...". On the merits of his work, he writes, “... it is a search; an enquiry that relies not on aesthetics, but on the unexpected, on the mood of the material itself. It's like a trumpet, a drum, a saxophone playing alone. I support the drum and trumpet and saxophone". And lastly he talks about material, referring, it would seem, to the retro d’affiches: "If I move from the investigation of color to that of the material, then the meanings are transformed, they become dramatic. What will the planet be like after the end of the world? It might be smooth and cold as a marble surface, crossed by twisted channels like trails in the desert ... "(24)
He refers to material again in one of his most famous quotations, in which he describes the genesis of the idea to tear the posters. "In 1953, walking the streets of Rome, I was drawn to the posters-materials on the walls. They were a real stimulus to the imagination. I began to collect them, tearing them at night and keeping them under my bed "(25). Indeed, in many of the retro d’affiches such as Ricerca della materia (c. 1955), Materia perfetta (1956), Materia murale bruciata (1956), Materia 5 (1956) and more than 15 others, the word "material" is present in the titles of the works themselves.
Villa returned to speaking of material in the introductory text for the Rotella exhibition at the Galleria La Salita in Rome in 1959. “Passive people complain about the ‘material’ of this painting, posters torn from walls, on corrugated iron, on palisades. Material? We will make paintings out of everything, with all matter in the world, perhaps with carob juice, styrax bark, Phoenician dye and Ishmael’s incense... " (26).
Morphology of the retro d’affiches
As with the décollages, of which there is evidence of their first realization as early as 1953, in the case of the retro d’affiches, such as Strati ineguali, 3000 anni avanti Cristo and Palinsesto there is certain documentation in the Rotella archive from 1954. As for their earliest appearance in a publication or exhibition, this happens almost simultaneously with the décollages. We know that the latter were exhibited in the spring of 1955 at the Zattere del Ciriola show in Rome. They are small works whose technique is not yet precisely identified, and in fact an article published in the summer edition of "Art News" by American journalist Milton Gendel defines the style as a form of "new Dadaism" (26 ). It would be Villa, in the May issue of the magazine "Arti Visive” to speak first of décollage (27). For the inclusion of the retro d’affiches in an exhibition - to date it has not been proven they were shown at the Zattere del Ciriola (28) - we must go back to the article that Sinisgalli wrote a few months after the show was held, in the September issue of "Civiltà delle macchine" (29). The text is accompanied by reproductions of three works by Rotella - two décollages and a retro d'affiche (Untitled). This is the first public appearance of a retro d'affiche, although it is grouped with the décollages under the generic title of “Le carte lacerate di Rotella” ("Rotella’s torn paper”).
In December of the same year, on the occasion of the artist’s first solo exhibition at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan, this time the décollages are accompanied by retro d'affiches like Antico and Lettere nascoste, both made in 1955. There follows a series of exhibitions in which the two types of works are given the same weight, such as the solo show at the Galleria La Salita in Rome in 1959, for which a detail of one of the retro d'affiches on display, Al reverso (1959), was printed on the cover of the exhibition brochure (30). This same show included other retro d'affiches such Not in Venice (1959), Qualitativo (1959), HARU-GA-KITA (1957) and Up Tempo (1957), this latter a large work (172 x 283 cm) which would be acquired in 1965 by Palma Bucarelli (director of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome) as part of the permanent collection of the museum.
Although critics of the period fail to make the distinction between the retro d'affiches and the décollages, what is immediately apparent when looking, for example, at the reproductions of the works in the article by Sinisgalli, is that they represent two entirely different formal solutions. While starting from the same gesture, the décollages and retro d’affiches are structurally very dissimilar. The décollages are characterized by the juxtaposition and overlapping of boldy colored poster fragments, heavily ‘manipulated’ by the artist [Tommaso Trini talks about this as "assisted décollage" (31)], whereas in the retro d’affiches Rotella maintains the ‘urban artifact’ nearly intact (32). In this type of work, his intervention tends to be almost imperceptible, limited to the indispensable. Bright colors are all but absent, and there prevails instead a pasty amalgam of low tones that run from gray, yellow and brown to pink and orange. The surface created by one or more sheets of glued paper is grainy, forming clumps from the layers of posters thickened by paste, by fragments of material that streak across the composition. The traces of color, when present, are from the letters of the text on the other side, which appear backwards and thus lose their meaning to become abstract signs. There is a difference of style between the décollages and the retro d’affiches that becomes increasingly apparent as the former shift towards a Pop iconography and the latter towards an emphasis on physical material.
Depending on the different materials and the kind of intervention that Rotella carries out with each retro d’affiche, they can also be very different from one another. For example, in the case of Connessione verticale (1953-1954), Nuvola rosa (1954), Come un animale (1954), Composizione astratta (1955-1957) or Ero io (1958), the artist, as if wishing to unveil his working process, leaves a glimpse of what is written on the poster. Large words scroll from right to left. In other cases, such as Materia e fiocchi bianchi (1957) and Il primo isolato (1960), the perception of the poster is completely lost and one is confronted with a magma of shredded paper and various materials that form highly abstract surfaces. In other cases still, Rotella’s intervention is minimal, at the limit of the perceptible, yet one detects a subtle attention to the compositional structure despite its being concealed by apparent randomness. In Orange (1955), Argentina (1957) and Il primo isolato (1960), there are slight touches of red, while in others like Uno dei primi (1955) there are white spots that almost suggest Pollock’s method of dripping, or Japanese characters (33) that create broad espanse which become integral parts of the composition. While in the décollages the title of the work very often refers in a literal way to whatever is written on the poster used by the artist, there is a different procedure for the retro d’affiches. Their formless surfaces, devoid of any reference to reality, push the artist toward titles which in some cases become the key to reading the work and allow one to go back to its source of inspiration. A typical example in this regard is the series of retro d’affiches that refer to the walls of Rome: Muro romano 1 (1957) and Muro romano (1958), or Partendo dall’angolo della strada (1954) and Muro romano con macchie e bruciature (1956). In other cases the title is inspired by the forms, colors and materials present in the composition: Strati ineguali (1954), Connessioni verticali (1953-1954), Fumé (1954), La ruggine in basso (1955), Verniciato con macchie (1955), Macchie (1955), Macchie chiare (1956). In rare cases like Amazzonia (1954), Religioso (1954), Uno dei primi (1956) and Not in Venice (1959), the connection between the title and the work seems to derive from the artist’s own life and memories.
Unlike the décollages, labeled as such from the outset to indicate their technique, the term retro d’affiche had a harder time catching on with critics. Suffice it to say that Pierre Restany, in his essay of 1963 (34), still calls them "negative lacerations", and only in the captions accompanying the reproductions of some, in the document summary at the end of the book, refers to them by the French term retro d’affiches. Perhaps one of the reasons why décollage and retro d’affiche were not initially distinguished can be ascribed to the fact that both are interpreted as two sides of the same coin, and why décollage, thanks to its great success, would be the term that came to indicate almost without exception all the work carried out in those years.
Décollage as a term assumed such importance that it would often be used, even by the artist himself, to indicate the origin of this new linguistic path, the starting point for everything, including the retro d’affiches. This interpretation seems to have been placed in question by Cesare Vivaldi in an interview with Rotella from 1965, where the critic suggested that it might have been precisely his interest in the material - much more present in the retro d’affiches than the décollages – that drove the artist to the disruptive act of tearing posters from walls. In the interview, the critic first pigeonholes the “history” of décollage into three periods: "The first period which focused on color juxtapositions; a second period where material was most important, to the extent that there was very little color, you were working on the back side of the poster, more interested in the material, the grain of the paper, rust, humidity; and the third period of the new image”. Then he asked Rotella, almost fishing for confirmation of his own thesis, “Was it material that led you to a completely new way of painting?” (35) – a question to which the artist responded not by referring explicitly to material but by citing collage (36), which he obviously feels, as evidenced by the inclusion of various materials and objects in his compositions, to be the direct precedent of his new production. "I had already done collages before, and I felt that I had to break with the traditional technique and switch to a more instinctive and direct approach" (37). Vivaldi's thesis was revived in a more assertive way by Maurizio Calvesi, who said about Rotella’s activity in 1954, “Initially the artist, once having detached the poster from the wall, exposing the back side and not the image, playing with the abstract distribution of stains, clots and smears of glue; then later in the ‘50s presented the front of the posters…”"(38).
The retro d’affiches and the New Realism
If in the case of the décollages the debate continues still today as to who started creating this type of painting first – Rotella or the French artists of the NouveauRéalisme (39) - in the case of the retrod'affiches, also made for a certain period by François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains and Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé, the issue does not seem to arise. Apart from analyzing the similarities and differences in style, conceptual motivations and sources of inspiration behind the retrod'affiches developed by Rotella and his French colleagues, it is worth taking a look at the basic chronology. Drawing on the historical data relative to the beginnings of the NouveauRéalisme movement, it appears that Rotella’s invention of the retrod'affiche precedes the French by several years. While the Italian artist is recorded in both exhibitions and newspaper articles as having been making them as early as 1955, in the case of the French it is not until the end of the ‘50s that we find evidence of similar works. Even if we go back to 1949, the year when Villeglé and Hains collaborated on M, indicated as one of their first (40) décollages, and ACH ALMA MANETRO, realized according to the artists that same year (41), and even if we consider their first exhibition in 1957 entitled "Loi du 29 juillet 1881" at the Galerie Colette Allendy in Paris, where they showed a number of décollages, we must wait until 1959 for their first documented retrod'affiche. The same is true for the 1/8ème du plafond pour la 1ère Biennale de Paris by Dufrêne (42) and Untitled, a work from this same exhibition by the same artist, realized in 1960. It is interesting to note that, just when the Nouveaux Réalistes began producing retrod'affiches with greater frequency, especially Dufrêne, Rotella was already about to abandon this type of work. Between 1960 and 1961, they became still more rare, until eventually disappearing entirely in 1962 in favor of décollage. Meanwhile, the new décollages were changing, becoming less abstract and taking on an iconography more closely tied to a new figuration. Rotella’s attention turned to the advertising posters of the moment, particularly those for films and consumer products. In 1960 an exhibition was held in Rome at the Galleria La Salita entitled "5 pittori. Rome 60". Participating were five artists who soon became his friends: Franco Angeli, Tano Festa, Francesco Lo Savio, Mario Schifano and Joseph Hooks. The event represents an important step, marking the entry of a new generation with an "inclination to break with abstraction" (43) and characterized by a greater attention to the iconography of Pop. The decline of interest on Rotella’s part for the retrod'affiches was triggered precisely by this new scenario in which the artist became once again the creator and a figure of reference. In 1964, at the XXXII Venice Biennale, the artist drew up a list of the works to be presented in the room dedicated to him (44). His choice fell on a series of large décollages made between 1963 and 1964, without a single retrod'affiche in the list. Endnotes
1) M. Rotella, typescript, 1956, Archivio Mimmo Rotella, Milan.
2) See M. Di Stefano, La materia oggettiva: da Boccioni a Rotella alla primarietà strutturale, in B. Corà, T. Sicoli, Around Rotella. L’artista e il suo tempo, Gli Ori Editore, Pistoia, 2009.
3) The connection between Rotella and the Futurists is reinforced by a simple historical contingency, insofar as the period in which the artist composed and recited his poems coincides with the moment when figures like Balla, Severini and Prampolini were still important models for young artists. More than anyone, it was Prampolini, founder of the “Art Club” in Rome in 1945, who brought attention to Futurism at the time, and who became a figure around whom Rotella and others could orbit, as he himself recounts of the Futurist artist’s reaction to one of his first décollages: “The first time Prampolini saw one of my décollages he became furious: “What are these things?”, he shouted”. M. Rotella, in G. Appella, Colloquio con Rotella, Edizioni Della Cometa, Rome, 1984, p. 11.
4) E. Prampolini, in G. Lista, Enrico Prampolini futurista europeo, Carocci, Rome, 2013, p. 21
5) L. Russolo, L’Arte dei Rumori, in “Le Figaro”, 11 March 1913.
7) M. Rotella, in Autorotella.Autobiografia di un artista, Sugar editore, Milan, 1972, p. 56.
8) M. Rotella, Autorotella, op. cit., p. 84.
9) M. Rotella, Autorotella, op. cit., p. 91.
10) M. Rotella, Autorotella, op. cit., p. 116.
11) A description of these events was recently provided by Achille Perilli: “[Rotella] had learned to play African drums and invented a way of performing concerts with Olivetti typewriters, and this ability immediately gained him a reputation which opened all the doors to the world of Rome’s bon vivants. He had met an American choreographer, Minsa Craig, who then married Alberto Burri, and in their home Rotella participated in happenings of modern dance, alternating playing his drums with recitations of phonetic poetry”. In: Rotella. Roma Parigi New York, ed. A. Fiz, Skira Editore, Milan, 2009, p. 44.
14) A. Perilli, in Pitture e disegni di Rotella – Ceramiche e disegni di Meli, Galleria Chiurazzi, 1951, exhibition brochure.
15) P. Dorazio, in Pitture e disegni di Rotella – Ceramiche e disegni di Meli, Galleria Chiurazzi, 1951, exhibition brochure.
16) C. Accardi, U. Attardi, P. Consagra, P. Dorazio, M. Guerrini, A. Perilli, A. Sanfilippo and G. Turcato, Forma 1, in “Forma”, Rome, 15 March 1947.
17) E. Prampolini, who had written Arte polimaterica in 1944 (Edizioni del Secolo, Rome, 1944), continued to campaign for the use of different materials in works of painting in order to expand their expressive potential.
18) F. Matitti, Gli eventi. I luoghi di incontro, gruppi, tendenze e movimenti, mostre pubbliche, in Roma 1948-1959.Arte, cronaca e cultura dal neorealismo alla dolce vita, p. 84
19) M. Rotella, in G. Appella, Colloquio con Rotella, op. cit. p. 11.
20) For a detailed historical reconstruction of the context in which Mimmo Rotella worked during this period, see the chronology included in this volume.
21) E. Villa, in I sette pittori sul Tevere a Ponte Sant’Angelo, Edizioni Palma, Rome, Zattere del Ciriola, Rome, exhibition brochure.
22) L. Sinisgalli, Le carte lacerate di Rotella, in “Civiltà delle macchine”, Rome, a. III, n. 5, Sept-Oct 1955.
23) The brochure for this exhibition reproduced the article by L. Sinisgalli that originally appeared in “Civiltà delle macchine” in September 1955.
24) M. Rotella in Rotella, Galleria d’Arte Selecta, Rome, 1957, exhibition brochure.
25) E. Villa, in Rotella, Galleria La Salita, Rome, 1959, exhibition brochure.
26) M. Gendel, Summer events: Rome, in “Art News”, New York, summer 1955.
27) E. Villa, Décollages di Rotella, in “Arti Visive”, Rome, n. 2, May 1955.
28) The documentation recovered to date relative to this exhibition neither confirms nor denies the presence of retro d‘affiches, insofar as the list of works on display remains incomplete.
29) L. Sinisgalli, Le carte lacerate di Rotella, op. cit.
30) The work titled A reverso appears in reproduction in an article published in 1959 by B. Alfieri entitled Autoritarismo, sperimentalità, circo equestre, in “Azimuth”, Milan, 3 September 1959.
31) T. Trini, Rotella, Prearo, Milan, 1974, p. XVIII.
32) G. Celant, Mimmo Rotella, in Mimmo Rotella, Skira, Milan, 2007, p. 26.
33) Rotella’s interest in oriental calligraphy is demonstrated by the presence among his personal library of an exhibition catalogue entitled “L’inchiostro di Cina nella calligrafia e nell’arte giapponese”, held at Palazzo Brancaccio in Rome in 1956, and which the artist most likely visited.
34) P. Restany, Rotella: dal décollage alla nuova immagine, Edizioni Apollinaire, Milan, 1963.
35) C. Vivaldi, Mimmo Rotella, in “Marcatrè”, Genoa, nn. 16,17,18, July-Sept 1965, p. 266.
36) A connection between the retro d’affiches and the collage that becomes particularly tight in certain works like Tela grezza (1955) and Ricostruito (1955), where the poster fragments are applied to the verso but assembled, as in a collage, on an old canvas which is in turn glued onto a further support.
37) M. Rotella, Mimmo Rotella, in “Marcatrè”, Genoa, nn. 16,17,18, July-Sept 1965, p. 266
38) M. Calvesi, Alberto Burri e i mutamenti dell’arte, in “Burri gli artisti e la materia 1945 – 2004”, Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo, 2005, p. 24.
39) For a detailed analysis of this topic, see G. Celant, Mimmo Rotella, op. cit.
42) As for the relationship between Rotella and Dufrêne, it is interesting to not how the two artists shared the same interest in poetic experimentation in their early careers. Dufrêne had been part of the “Lettrista” created by Isidore Isou since 1946 Rotella composed his first epistaltic poems starting in 1949.
43) T. Festa in conversation with G. De Marchis, in G. Celant. A. Costantini, Roma – New York, 1948 1964, The Murray and Isabella Rayburn Foundation, New York, Inc. Charta, Milan, 1994, p. 176.