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Tullio Vietri


Brief anthology of writings selected from the most significant
in the general bibliography, writings by Vietri and about Vietri
Writings by Tullio Vietri
Abstract art and realistic art
Tullio Vietri, in “La Squilla”, Bologna, 18 December 1958
I would really like to begin this paper of mine on contemporary art with a few words by G. Lukacs, aimed at clearing the field of discussion of some very common misunderstandings regarding the problems of form and content: “the most remarkable artistic productions, although they are always and inseparably implementations of great formal principles, always set the most important formal problems in a new, more or less, way. It is clear that this does not at all mean that an uninterrupted formal revolution takes place in the development of art, let alone that such a revolution is the essential element of every leap forward”. It seems to me that one can unreservedly agree with this formulation. Even a cursory examination of all the valid pieces of all times seems to me to be sufficient for this purpose; every valid piece has its own precise and particular structure that characterizes it, a new form that reveals its story and places it in a determined historical framework. In this regard, it would be interesting to consider an examination of the general change (and not in individual personalities, although this may seem more correct at first glance) of certain approaches and formal solutions in the actual historical-social framework in which they occurred, naturally taking into account the inevitable and obvious cultural mediations that give rise to new ferments. In this way, it is possible to actually see that the “decisive and prolific novelty” is not the form itself (if not, seemingly, in the completed work), but “it is always the new content, that comes from changes in the socio-historical reality, to constitute its mirroring” (Lukacs, Literary Criticism). Therefore the form is nothing but the form of contents, the form of the mirroring of socio-historical reality (in its broadest sense). Within this framework, but only within this framework, it seems to me that discussions on the problems of form, and in particular those of the new form, can be concretely placed. In a few words, the problem of form arises as a search for solutions to the problem of the expression of the relationship between producer and reality, “of that social amalgam – to use M. Gorkij’s words – which makes spiritually and artistically possible a profound and vast mirroring of reality”. Another problem this point poses for us: if the producer, the artist, like every being is an historical product, is it not perhaps necessary for him to consciously insert himself into the general historical process in order to grasp all its aspects, both negative and positive, in order to search for its constant and permanent lines of development? This seems to me to be an important question in terms of the process of inner clarification of every personality and therefore not only for the purpose of clarifying the general socio-historical framework in which a personality fits in. In this regard, another appropriate consideration is the one concerning the formation of intellectuals in our country, with particular regard to the past and present history of artists. The examination of their introduction into social life in various eras (modes and conditions of existence, relations with the various social classes, relations patron-producer, producer-market and producer-official criticism in the various historical moments). We could thus explain the anti-realist phenomenon during its rising and in its different stages of evolution. A study of the real reasons for the diversifications, of the changes, not only formal, and therefore apparent, within the process of unrealism would also appear opportune, since an autonomous history of forms is to be denied, without, however, denying a relative autonomy of development of artistic activity. Each individual artistic activity inevitably links up with the preceding one, while developing it, modifying it in a natural process of evolution and overcoming the old towards the new. On the other hand, it is necessary to carry out another investigation into the historical continuity of the process of development, from previous modes and forms of artistic production to current ones. This investigation aims at establishing whether or not there is a rupture in this historical continuity, a rupture that cannot be determined by simple corrections and the development of the process itself, but which can only be provoked by the abandonment of an entire tradition in the vain and illusory attempt to build from scratch. By this I do not mean that such a simple attempt to create a new art, a new painting, is not justified and felt, but the mistake in setting up the basic problem brings as its inevitable consequence an incorrect solution. As a matter of fact, to say “that one must speak” in order to be precise, to fight for a new culture and not for a new art (in the immediate sense) seems obvious. Perhaps it is not even possible to say, to be precise, that one must fight for a new content in art, because this cannot be thought of abstractly, separated from the form. To fight for a new art would be to fight for the creation of new individual artists, which is absurd because artists cannot be created artificially. An aspect that needs to be talked about is fighting for a new culture, for a new moral life that cannot but be intimately linked to a new intuition of life, until it becomes a new way of feeling and seeing reality, and thus a world intimately connected with “possible artists” and “possibile pieces” (Gramsci, Literature and national life). This does not seem to me to be the current attempt for a “new art”. In fact, the renewal (if it can be called that way) represented by the abstract “isms”, today (and I stress today, since for Kandinsky or Mondrian it is a different matter), consists in a variation of pure form and not in the renewal of the real form-content nexus, with the consequence, unfortunately, for many, for too many young people, even very gifted ones, of working in a void with an effort and in a direction that is effectively and practically (for the purposes of deepening and expressing one’s personality) completely useless. Not gratuitously, Cesare Brandi in “The End of the Avant-garde” defines such work as “intellectual onanism”, to remain in the field of aesthetics, or mere decoration if one allows oneself to get out of it. It seems to me that this formulation makes it possible to explain, as well as the phenomena of the sudden notoriety of certain artists, followed very quickly by an equally sudden and inexplicable (at least apparent) oblivion, the much more important phenomenon of abstract epigonic cosmopolitanism, as was amply demonstrated at the last Venice Biennale: there, the pavilions of the participating nations offered a bleak and squalid picture of the abstractist “esperanto” that is rampant today. In this regard (quoting Gramsci again) one can share what Benedetto Croce said in “Too much philosophy” in 1922: “… when a piece of poetry or a cycle of poetic pieces has been formed, it is impossible to continue that cycle with study and imitation and with variations around those pieces: by this route one only obtains the so-called poetic school; the servum pecus of the epigones. Poetry does not generate poetry; parthenogenesis does not take place; it requires the intervention of the male element, of what is real, passionate, practical, moral. The highest critics of poetry warn, in this case, not to resort to literary recipes, but as they say, to remake the man. Having remade the man, refreshed the spirit, a new life of affection arises, a new poetry will arise from it”.
Enquiry on censorship and entertainment, in “Il Ponte”
Tullio Vietri ( interview to ) November 1961
(In this issue of the monthly political and literary magazine Il Ponte, dedicated to Censorship and Entertainment in Italy, sixty-eight intellectuals answered a five-question questionnaire; the respondents included Nicola Abbagnano, Enzo Biagi, Dino Buzzati, Italo Calvino, Pietro Germi, Massimo Mila, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mario Praz, Carlo L. Ragghianti, Natalino Sapegno, Roberto Tassi, Antonello Trombadori, Giuliano Vassalli and Bruno Zevi. The first questions (to which Tullio Vietri’s reply refers) ask: 1.- Article 3 of Reg. 24 September 1923 no. 3287 of 24 September 1923 grants authorisation for the public screening of films only if … the following institutions, rules and values are respected and protected: decency, morals, good social customs, public decency, national reputation and decorum, public order … Furthermore, the film must not contain scenes that condone a crime, incite hatred between social classes, depict scenes … that are crude, repugnant or cruel … In your opinion, is this protection sufficient, insufficient or excessive? 2.- What do you think censorship should mean (in relation to the granting or not of authorisation) for morals (public or domestic)? for public morality? for public order? for national reputation and decorum? for schooling and incitement to crime? 3.- Do you reckon that the Italian censorship of the various plays and films presented in our country has been … too rigorous or too hasty, or has it been fair? The protective measures provided by Article 3 of the Censorship Law seems to me to be dictated by a conception of reality and relations between men that has been overtaken by history, based on a pretended absence of internal contradictions in today’s society and the struggle between social classes. A static and idyllic conception that translates, in my opinion, into the protection of values that are not clearly defined … Therefore, the problem of giving a current content to words such as modesty, good social customs, public decency, the first ones listed in the norm, also poses the problem of the relationship between these values and cinematic art, between them and the freedom of artistic expression. These problems are complex and difficult to solve in our historical period. Since the time of the first industrial revolution, man has witnessed the rapid overthrow of idols and fetishes, of traditions and myths, of centuries-old prejudices and beliefs, the astounding rapid progress of production techniques and sciences, today at the conquest of space. In our society, industrialisation has not only given this to men, but also wage labor, alienation from themself, and anti-humanism. Man has thus lost himself and any concept of good and evil as attested by the products of European culture over the last sixty years, as atrociously witnessed by the Nazi extermination camps. What then remains of the values and institutions indicated by law such as national reputation and decorum, decorum and prestige of public institutions and authorities, public order? The immediate political concern of the legislator, not coincidentally fascist, tending towards social preservation, appears more evident than ever. And the law is aimed at social preservation as the protection of transient and uncertain values, accepted as certain and universal, can be translated into an instrument of obnubilation of consciences, an instrument of civil, moral and political corruption, as a deterrent to any free, non-conformist, unprejudiced search for the true, real values of our age, of our society, of man today. Man still seeks himself through all the instruments at his disposal, and therefore also through art, cinema, theater. No other task seems to me to be fulfilled by censorship, even when it tends to protect scenes of cruelty, murders, suicides, because the man of today has experienced unspeakable atrocities and cruelties and suffered atrocious wounds in his own flesh, whether Aryan or Jew, whether elderly men, women or children, partisan, civilian or military, because everyone, Jews, Aryans, women, elderly men and children, have known war in its worst aspects, the hunger that prostitutes, the moral annihilation, the torture of the extermination camps, the fires, the rapes, the violence, the massacres of the Nazi and Fascist band, because in the heart and conscience of the man of today are forever engraved, with all their horrors and misery, the names of Buckenwald, Auschwitz, Dachau, Lidice and Marzabotto. And further confirmation that this is an instrument of domination is to be found in the fact that the values and institutions protected are never seen in relation to the cinematographic work, in relation to expressive needs. Hence, the fruit of erotic-sexual complacency or gratuitous and inexpressive aestheticisms and technicalities are tolerated by censorship (see the American and Italian production at commercial level…). At the same time, censorship does not tolerate works of art that appeal to the noblest human feelings, as they are bearers of unconventional ideas, realistic analyses, real vivisections of contemporary society (Visconti’s “Rocco e i suoi fratelli”, Antonioni’s “L’avventura” and others). Such are the reasons I believe to be valid for eliminating all forms of censorship on works intended for adults, excluding any arbitrary and reactionary discrimination among them.
The intellectual’s discomfort
Tullio Vietri, in “Questioni d’arte”, July 1969
(…) Art … according to René Koenig is not an artist’s mere interior fact, a mere vision. It is an objective fact and when it takes on concrete expression in the piece realized it becomes a sociological reality and must be considered as such. Since the individual, long before the production of a work of art, carries in himself a collective spirit with which he expresses himself and addresses groups of spectators, art must be considered to be conditioned by the constellation artist-artistic experience-audience or producer-artistic experience-consumer, along with the mediators of artistic life (patrons and critics) and those who prepare it (educators and scholars) and the art dealers. Artists have understood all of this. Today’s art is no longer solicited by evasion, by renouncing to the world, as Pierre Restany says: art becomes increasingly desalienated on an individual level, it aims at ensuring the happiness of today’s man. In fact, today’s artist no longer pretends to impose his egocentric vision of an inner world that repudiates even the slightest reminder of the immanent reality, he no longer escapes the chaos of appearances, he has regained faith in Man through science and technology and intends to participate fully in the ongoing elaboration of the new world order. It is precisely from this participation that the discomfort of today’s artist has its source. The artist no longer recognises himself as an artist separated from society, separated in his own function as an artist, producer of poetry and/or merchandise, but as an intellectual, as a citizen, as a politician. But to recognise oneself as an intellectual means above all to propose a conception of art as knowledge, as criticism, not as a mere operative technique, devoid of problematic relevance and without connection to real historical-social problems, and destined to have an irrelevant social function or to be a weapon of domination and oppression. It means proposing a conception of the artist as the subject of his own “becoming an artist” and as the self-interpreter of his own artistic-scientific-didactic needs, of his own cultural formation. At the same time, it involves rejecting a conception of the artist as a more or less passive object of a process of formation in which freedom of cultural choice and cognitive autonomy are programmatically excluded and conditioned in any case. That means demanding the development of artistic preparation in close connection with problematic awareness, rejecting significant irrelevancies, uncritical technicality, the inability to place oneself and pose socially and therefore humanly significant problems and to identify operational tools to resolve them. To place oneself as an intellectual means conceiving art as artistic research. Artistic research potentially encompasses a relationship with reality in which the circle of precise and effective self-mystification is broken, while bearing in mind that technical specialism cannot be overcome with abstract and generic humanistic instances that are not very demanding … Real effective humanism passes through technical and specialized problems, it advances to the extent that it succeeds in understanding the meaning of these problems in the social totality. (…) As such, artistic research is an intrinsically critical activity that inevitably entails social consequences. Indeed, research is destined to undermine myths and purely emotional states, traditional prejudices lacking any logical-ethical basis, individual and group aberrations, and political regimes that are based on the consensus artificially created and maintained by the human masses, from which all possibility of autonomous critical judgment is taken away by modern means of mass communication. Artistic research in the proper sense always poses a “political” problem and is therefore always and necessarily in direct relation to a given social reality, in direct relation to the development of humanity and its decisive problems. On the other hand, unless one starts from an ultra-historical theory of nature, or unless one considers man in society as an ahistorical entity, one cannot claim that art transcends history itself. In reality, there is no art worthy of this name that is not historical art. Without the use of history and without an historical sense of psychological issues, the artist cannot adequately formulate those problems that should be the points of reference and orientation of his research, his studies, his work. However, this problematic awareness cannot exist without an authentic sociological imagination that allows one to see and evaluate the great context of historical facts in its reflections on the inner life and outer behavior of a whole series of human categories. Therefore, bringing again personal discomfort, dissatisfaction, and alienation of individuals to objective disturbances of society and transforming public indifference into interest in public problems. Because … says Lukacs, only works of art that in a broad and profound sense related to the development of humanity as such are preserved. Works of art, or so-called works of art, that, while reacting vividly to certain everyday problems, are not, however, able to develop them to the point of touching upon the decisive problems of the development of humanity (in either a positive or negative sense) grow old in a relatively short time. An indispensable factor of the work of art is that of its immediate effect on the present, the hallmark of all art, which can occur on a deep or superficial level. (…) But the defenders of art for art’s sake … do not only claim that the artistic effect is absolutely sovereign and that it is based on the microcosmic completeness of the work of art, but they also claim that any reference to a reality outside the work of art irretrievably destroys the aesthetic illusion. This, in and for itself, may also be right, only it must not be forgotten that this illusion by no means exhausts the entire content of the work of art and that it is not the exclusive and indeed not even the most important goal of the artist’s endeavor. While it is also true that in order to enter the magic circle of art, we must disengage ourselves, to a certain extent, from reality, it is not less true that all authentic art leads back to reality itself, by a more or less wide turn. Its greatness consists in an interpretation of life that helps us to better dominate the chaotic state of things and to obtain a better, more challenging and safer meaning from existence. (…) The authentic work of art, in comparison to other aesthetically worthless artistic products, is valid as a true and just achievement, adequate to its purpose, idea and means. More problematic, however, is the other aspect of validity that falls within the field of aesthetic judgements. In this second case, the aesthetic value should be attributed to the fact that the artist, in his creative activity, is guided by ultra-personal formal principles, by generally valid rules and norms, and that the level of his realization depends essentially on whether and to what extent he succeeds in conforming to these laws. This is clearly a complete disavowal of the nature of art and the mechanical transfer of the concept of logical validity to the object of aesthetics. If it is possible to speak of validity in the field of art, it is only in the sense that the values already realized are presented with a certain objective meaning and with a certain need for recognition. This does not mean that they are absolute values, fixed a priori and valid in themselves, that must or can be realized by the artist. (…) The theory of art oriented according to this concept of validity sees in individual works the application or variation of an ideal model; it is considered as “fallen from the sky” while its creator would only have a mediating function. This invention is certainly necessary for the correct understanding of the work of art, which must be conceived as a complete structure, a configuration separated from any relationship with the outside, in order to become the object of a broader explanation. But the assumption that these formal principles are fixed a priori is, after all, only a working hypothesis; aesthetic laws are only valid if certain psychological needs are assumed. Works of art never owe their effectiveness and value to the fact that they satisfy abstract norms independent of the observer’s psychic constitution, but only to the fact that they satisfy concrete, historically and psychologically conditioned, contingent and changing requirements. Without these requirements, the recognition that the validity of a piece or norm finds in the field of art would not be explicable at all. But when needs and demands change, no norm will retain its general validity, and a value will only be reconstructible a posteriori on the basis of already known and fulfilled needs. Artistic values are concrete historical realities; they only exist from the moment they take shape. The artist does not “discover” them; he “seeks” them. The artist always finds himself in a certain socio-historical situation and behaves, often without knowing it and without wanting to, in a way that corresponds to his needs. (…) Today’s art necessarily becomes art against manipulation because manipulation is the basic characteristic of our time, of established society. Indeed, Kofler argues that “Voluntary Integration” no longer stands for the spontaneous and naive conscience, for the man in the street, as it originally meant “to participate in the substance of reflections” and rational conclusions, but “to participate in the substance of an irrational education, in blind assent”. (…) In fact, with the means of big industry comes a product destined for mass consumption, which requires a special apparatus to bring millions of manufactured means to individual consumers. It was from this necessity that the system of manipulation was born and then extended to society and politics. Now this apparatus dominates all expressions of social life, from the election of the president to the consumption of ties, cigarettes. (…) But precisely today a new problem arises: that of manipulation that raises a barrier within individuals, between their existence and a meaningful life. The manipulation of consumption does not consist, as is officially claimed, in informing consumers about which is the best refrigerator or the best razor blade, but rather in the control of consciences. Due to manipulation, the working man is pushed away from the problem of how he could turn his leisure time into “otium”, because consumption is instilled in him in the form of a fullness of life with an end in itself, just as in the twelve-hour working day life had been dictatorially dominated by work. The difficulty now lies in the fact that a new form of resistance must be organized, that cannot consist of nothing more than ideological work aimed at making it even clearer how this manipulation is contrary to proper human interests. (…) The formation of a conscious minority is the prerequisite for a mass movement. And this is the task of intellectuals, men of culture and especially artists. (…) Indeed, class consciousness is made more difficult by the fact that the consumer goods industry, that manipulates freedom in the field of literature and art, for example, leads to a permanent reduction in the spiritual potential of the vast majority of the population and the artists themselves. The truth is the goal of freedom, and freedom must be defined and limited by truth. Freedom is self-determination, autonomy. Freedom establishes one’s ability to determine one’s own life: being able to determine what to do and what not to do, what to tolerate and what not to tolerate. And the problem of making such a harmony between the freedom of each individual and the other possible, is not that of finding a compromise between competitors or between freedoms and the law, between general and individual interests, common and private welfare in an established society, but that of creating the society in which man is no longer a slave to the institutions that spoil self-determination from the very beginning. And it is not anyone who does not see that the first task for artists in such a framework of problems is precisely to claim for themselves, immediately, that freedom, to claim the freedom to self-determine and self-govern. But to govern oneself means first of all to address the problem of the de-institutionalisation of all exhibitions on the one hand, and on the other, the deconstruction of the artist-artistic experience-market relationship as established. As Walter Benjamin rightly observes, the fetish of the art market is the name of the master. The modern artist must contribute to destroying this fetish, beforehand, by suppressing the notion of the value of mental products, the symbol of this value, their price in money. Only then this commerce that seeks to stabilize the myth of culture and support its authority would be affected. The collusion between commerce and culture is very close, radical, they support and reinforce each other; they cannot exist one without the other; one is the accomplice of the other. Once this fetish is destroyed, a new functional relationship artist-artistic experience-audience will be established that will contribute to the transformation of current “taste”. (…) It is for these reasons that revolutionary, non-conformist artists of all political, ideological and aesthetic backgrounds today refuse to participate in exhibitions deliberated by the bureaucracy of cultural institutions, at whatever level they belong, by the bureaucrats of established culture, by ideologists and the more or less hidden persuaders who hold the power to manipulate consciences. It is for these reasons that they reject the established market and its enticements. It is for these reasons that they reject the invitations and the awards and the hierarchies of values and the market that said values determine. It is for these reasons that they gather in free, united, interdisciplinary assemblies (painters and sculptors, poets and musicians, directors and actors, art critics, film, theater, literary and music critics) to which are freely invited to participate students and workers, and the general public interested in questions of art, in questions pertaining to the lives of people today. It is for these reasons that they appeal to all democratic organizations, to all democratic municipalities, so that they may favor such meetings, so that they might give these assemblies the necessary contributions to realize the plans they have resolved upon, for creative and organizational intervention, so that they first, in an exemplary manner, renounce their own cultural policy plans (even if the implementation is delegated to “specialists”) concerning contemporary figurative arts, if these plans go beyond the mere encouragement of artists’ autonomy and self-government.
Singing human love and pain is the office of art-poetry
Tullio Vietri, About the pessimism of intelligence and optimism of willpower, in “Critica Radicale“, 1989
(…) That the communication of feelings conveying ideas is absolutely necessary in works of art is affirmed, in our century, not only by Worringer (1881-1965) but also by one of the greatest contemporary art historians. Indeed, Ernst H. Gombrich, says, in 1981, in Natura e Arte come esigenze spirituali (Nature and Art as Spiritual Needs, lecture collected in Custodi della memoria. Tributi ad interpreti della nostra tradizione culturale, op. cit. p. 96, Keepers of Memory. Tributes to interpreters of our cultural tradition) that “it is interesting to note how, about seventy years ago, styles were still attributed an emotional significance. All in all, this attitude was preferable to a purely aseptic and erudite approach. Art demands involvement, otherwise it becomes craftsmanship. One can love or hate genre painting, one can have a soft spot for Van Gogh or feel closer to Poussin. In any case, it is always possible to discover new languages, new masters, new works that offer us new ways of seeing, feeling and communicating”. And still remaining in our century, this is also stated by the great art historian Henri Focillon in Vita delle forme (Life of forms),1934 (Italian translation, Einaudi, Turin, 1972, essay collected in La Critica d’Arte della pura visibilità e del formalismo edited by Roberto Salvini, p. 311, The Art Criticism of Pure Visibility and Formalism). In fact, Focillon writes that “The artist’s idea is form and his affective life assumes the same aspect. Tenderness, nostalgia, desire, anger, are sometimes, but not necessarily, more colorful and nuanced in him than in other men. He is immersed in life and drinks in it. He is human and unprofessional. (…) But his privilege is to imagine, to remember, to think and to feel by means of forms”. We “do not say that the form is the allegory or symbol of the feeling, but its own activity: form acts on feeling. We say, if you wish to, that art does not merely clothe sensibility with form, but that it provokes form in sensibility”. Therefore, it is obvious that works of art that are not expressions of feelings conveying ideas are to be considered, as Dante says in the Convivio “vicious delectations”, a judgment similar to that expressed by all the philosophers of the period, as Panofsky says of the early Renaissance (including Ugo di San Vittore and Tommaso d’Aquino) which is good, in this grave moment of moral and political crisis, and thus of cultural crisis (which is a crisis of democracy itself, as Norberto Bobbio asserts, because our society is increasingly dominated by oligarchies and corporations), to re-propose it in its most solemn epigraphic form: “Mira sed perversa delectatio”. So that it may be a solemn invitation to attentive loving study by all citizens, by the young citizens above all, since they are the builders of the future city, as “warm dreamers and rational transgressors for the construction of a present”, with love and trust, with a human dimension, as the Rapporto Censis 1987 (Angeli Editore, Milan 1987) writes. Baudelaire himself, writing a page of great interest, teaches that Dante is the great master to whom all poet-painters still must turn to today. Although, this text goes beyond the love for Dante, touching problems that have been left out until now and can be undoubtedly summarized here: “Cherche la solitude”, “les choses qu’on éprouve seul avec soi sont bien plus fortes et vierges”; “Recueille-toi profondément devant la peinture et ne pense qu’au Dante” (op. cit. p. 96). Also because “technique in art is everything”, and “a painter owes everything to technique” because “nous ne connaissons jamais ce que nous pouvons obtenir de nous-mêmes”. Bearing in mind that “La froide exactitude” is not art. Whereas technique means “moral reason, hygiene, conduct”, a way of agitating the body and indolence spirit, and reacting to all the intermittences and imbalances of genius. And therefore technique as means of overcoming technique itself, that is, the power to dissimulate execution and to continually vary one’s impressions, because in variation lies the possibility of obeying an “émotion vraie”. (…) And that the communication of ideas-feelings is necessary, irrepressible, is also said by Ficthe in the famous five lectures he gave to the young people of the University of Jena in 1794, lectures that earned him an immediate expulsion because they were drawn up on the basis of the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity that exploded with the great bourgeois revolution of 1789, … lectures collected in La missione del dotto (Italian translation CEDAM, Padua 1939, pp. 53, 54 and passim, The mission of the scholar), which states that man is characterized by social instincts, and that “the social instinct” “is an instinct to communicate and an instinct to receive”, because, as “the ultimate end of society” is “the perfect equality of all its members”, the instinct to communicate is “the instinct to educate others in those aspects in which we are particularly educated, the instinct to make each other, as far as possible, equal to ourselves, to our best and deepest selves”; and the instinct to receive is “the instinctive tendency to allow ourselves to be educated by each one of those aspects where others are particularly educated and we feel particularly imperfect”. Bearing in mind that to educate is “to never make use of reasonable beings” and therefore social beings, that is to say men, for one’s own ends. No one “is allowed to use them as means even for their own ends”. It is not permitted “to act upon them as upon brute matter or animals in order to achieve any end through them without making any allowance for their freedom. Nor is it permitted to make any reasonable being virtuous or wise or happy against his will”. For “no one can become virtuous or wise or happy except by his own labor and effort” (ibid., pp. 40, 41). But how is the communication of ideas-feeling realized? Peter R. Hofstätter (Psicologia, Italian translation, Feltrinelli, Milan 1964, p. 122, Psychology) answers this question by providing an outline of the communication system that can be summarized as follows: content of communication ? symbolisation ? transmission of signs with motor production of the signs and then sensory reception of the signs themselves by the receiver ? de-symbolisation ? orientation of the receiver, followed by an appeal to the receiver himself to change his life, his ideas. (…) Because understanding a work of art means “recognising” the “nature of an object” (i.e. the reasons that determined the individual forms, the signs), and “grasping its meaning by reproducing it, thus reliving it”, and attributing meaning to it by framing it in one’s own world of categories and values (ibid., p. 209). First of all, this implies a judgment on the work of art, in an immediate, unreflective way, and then necessarily in a mediated and reflected way, that is, through the intervention of reflection, of the intellectual-cognitive, logical-conceptual capacities. For this reason, the first immediate response “I like this and I do not like that”, must be followed by the immediate response “for this and that other historical-critical reason”.
Metaphysical Painting. Giorgio Morandi.
Tullio Vietri, in “Critica Radicale”, 1990

Having examined the theoretical positions and works of Giorgio de Chirico, and therefore highlighted the real meaning of his “realism of the enigma”, or his “enigmatism” as some define it; having examined the theoretical positions and works of Carlo Carrà (clearly distant from those of de Chirico), and therefore highlighted the real meaning of his “magical realism” or “mythical realism”, it remains to examine, not the theoretical positions (which appear never to have been expressed in written form), but the works of Giorgio Morandi. In order to highlight the real meaning of the “Morandi mystery”, as Francesco Arcangeli defines it (Giorgio Morandi, Einaudi Turin 1981, p. 87, already published by Edizioni del Milione in 1964). And therefore to answer the questions: is Morandi a metaphysical painter? Is he closer to Carrà or de Chirico? Evidently, after establishing whether his works follow the canons set by de Chirico for his metaphysical painting or by Carrà for his own. Undoubtedly, what Arcangeli writes (op. cit. pp. 86, 87) facilitates the examination: “Repressing that sentimental passion that did not fail to attract him”, Morandi took his metaphysics of 1918-19 … “to the height of authoritative and disinterested purity, that of the ancient Mediterranean tradition, of plastic so humanly deified, as to include in itself a motionless philosophy of moral hierarchy, of sacred discipline, of harmonious and unchangeable order”. And all this can be deduced from a careful reading that Arcangeli himself makes of the works of this period, in which “light is bewitched, an impossible noonday without escape besieges the objects, but everything is dominable, and dominated by the eye and the mind (…)”. I would say that one could agree with Arcangeli’s words if that verb used at the beginning of the speech did not distort, as I view it, the real meaning of the positions expressed by Morandi. To repress, in fact, means to take away force by using force. Thus, to take force away from sentimental passion. The repressing virtue and the virtue of overcoming passion should be attributed to the “disinterested purity” of his painting, which is “that of the ancient Mediterranean tradition”. In fact, I do not believe we can speak of repression-surpassing sentimental passion in Morandi, just as we cannot speak of repression-surpassing sentimental passion in Picasso … In fact, Picasso says that art is drama, the fruit of moral tension, of ideas and emotions, of the emotions of the painter “constantly awake before the lacerating, burning (…) events of the world”, and who “is totally modeled in their image”. Painting is not decoration, but “an instrument of offensive and defensive warfare against the enemy” (Picasso’s Writings, Scritti di Picasso, edited by Mario De Micheli, Feltrinelli, Milan 1973, pp. 47, 69). (…) The Morandi-Picasso parallel (and obviously de Chirico, whom Leymarie’s words clearly refer to) does not seem bold. Also because these authors have another extremely important element in common: the great lesson of Cézanne. For Morandi, Cézanne’s lesson is undoubtedly fundamental. Since 1911 the strong emotional and formal tension of his works constantly refers back to Cézanne. To all of Cézanne, and not only to his last period, the period favored by official critics. And therefore to Cézanne’s painting that,evaluated as a whole, cannot but be described as dramatic. Cézanne’s painting, in fact, is always an expression of that strong moral tension, that lyrical impetuosity, that violent emotion, that revolt against what exists, which are the characteristics of his personality, as John Rewald attests (La Storia dell’Impressionismo, Mondadori, Milan 1976, p. 174). And it is precisely these characteristics that allow Cézanne (because “they resemble him”, Baudelaire would say) to deeply love Tintoretto and Michelangelo, Ribera and Zurbaran (and I would say El Greco, as Lionello Venturi acknowledged in his famous 1936 study on Cézanne), and Daumier and Delacroix. And through their lecture, to arrive at the period of Impressionism with the lesson of Manet … Of Manet who loved … above all that Velazquez … who came from Ribera and Zurbaran (and from El Greco, therefore) and who was loved by Courbet and Delacroix, by Daumier and Corot, by Degas and Renoir, as attested by Leon Paul Fargue (Velazquez, Editions du Dimanche, Paris 1946, p. 3). It was precisely these authors (and their lessons) that allowed Cézanne to arrive, as is attested by his drawings and his painting up to 1871/72, to a kind of expressionism that makes us think, at certain moments, of Nolde (see for example Autopsy, The Funeral Vanity set… ); and then between 1872 and 1878, to an Impressionism that became increasingly sui generis; indeed a sort of “post-impressionism”, characterized more and more by the rationalization-geometricalisation into “cylinders, spheres, cones, everything put into perspective”, as Cézanne himself says in a letter to Émile Bernard (reproduced in Cézanne, Lettere edited by Duilio Morosini, Bompiani, Milan 1945, p. 107). “Post-impressionism” is certainly not a sudden, voluntaristic, cold, constructivist rationalization-geometry of the natural object in its objective truth. Because it is not a simple “outgrowing” way out, of overcoming, of winning, what Lionello Venturi (La Via dell’Impressionismo, Einaudi, Turin, 1970, p. 263) calls “expressionistic – romantic forcings”… “Post-impressionism”, will characterize all his subsequent production, is instead a living synthesis, a composition of the various components that are therefore always present: the romanticism of revolt and simultaneously the classicism of the willingness to know and of everything dominated and dominable rationally. Of all that man must rationally dominate. To Cézanne “the Cubists owe almost everything. Picasso owes him a great deal,” says Duilio Morosini in the preface to the book cited above (p. 13) … To Cézanne, Morandi also undoubtedly owes a great deal. To his formal lesson because it is moral, and moral also because it is formal, he will always be faithful. Not only in the years 1911-1914, but also in the so-called Futurist phase (which is not Futurist, if anything Cubist) of 1914-1915. And in the following phase (1916-early 1917) characterized by the recovery of a certain lesson from the Viennese “secession” (Klimt), filtered most probably by the lesson he received from Augusto Majani, his teacher at the Accademia in Bologna, rightly remembered as a graphic designer, poster designer and talented caricaturist (he signed his name as Nasica in such works), one of the most typical and valid representatives of the “Bolognese school”, “faithful to a stylistic and ideological line that, in cases such as his, qualifies the Liberty style as a movement of democratic thrust and anti-academic approach” (Rossana Bossaglia, Il Liberty, Sansoni, Florence 1974, p. 124, 125). And probably from a certain lesson, obviously still Liberty (as seems to be attested by Fiori, dated 1917, in a private collection in Milan, at no. 31 of the Catalogo generale Vol. Primo 1913-1947, Milan 1977 by Lamberto Vitali) received by Bistolfi who in 1907 had been called upon by the Municipality of Bologna to erect the famous monument to Carducci the day after the poet’s death. (…) And to the same Cézannean lesson Morandi would also be faithful, obviously, in his so-called metaphysical phase (1918-1919) by painting the drama of extreme rationalization-geometrization. In analogy, if you like, with what Mondrian did, expressionist in the style of Van Gogh and then Munch in the years up to 1910-1911 (i.e. he was then around forty years old, after twenty years of painting, as Umbro Apollonio attests in Mondrian, Milan 1965, p. 4) and then cubist. (…) Therefore, that of Morandi is a rationalization – geometrization of a moral protest, of a resentment, of an indignation and at the same time of a hope in bourgeois common sense, in the ideals of the bourgeois tradition, in the freedom guaranteed by them, because “the supreme ethical concept is that of freedom”, as Umberto Scarpelli says (L’Etica senza Verità, il Mulino, Bologna 1982). Evidently without witchcraft or magic evocation, as Cesare Brandi rightly says, recalled by Arcangeli (op. cit. p. 79). Therefore Morandi in his ethical commitment is very close to de Chirico, and certainly not to Carrà, as it can be seen from his works. He is close to what de Chirico proclaims as calm, serenity and power as sense and reason for being part of art in its moralizing action (Zeusi l’Esploratore, of 1911-15, reported in Paolo Fossati, Valori Plastici 1918-22, Einaudi, Turin 1981, p. 87), with the exclusion of all anguish, given the certainty of perspective. Because “the power of the specialized intellectual, artist and genius, (…) must pose itself as a service of political struggle”, he says of de Chirico, “to change the factual conditions of the situation” (ibid.). De Chirico himself, later on, in Valori Plastici (Plastics Values) of 1920, still nourishing hope in his own action of moralisation (through his writings and works of art), in condemning the exaltation of war and the “futurist revelry” of D’Annunzio’s “futurism”, writes: “Hysteria and shabby behaviors are condemned at the ballot boxes. I believe that by now everyone is satiated with those behaviors, whether political, literary or pictorial” (quoted in Massimo Carrà, Metafisica, Mazzotta, Milan 1974, pp. 189, 190). Facing the serious political events of those years (1919-1922), organized violence, Fascism, this rational structure seems to mist over, it seems to crack both in Morandi’s art as in de Chirico’s. The perspective of effective action in the reality of their moral = social commitment falls. But they are both aware of the truth enunciated by Alberto Savinio in n. 5 of 1920’s Valori Plastici (reported in M. Carrà, op. cit. p. 243): “When in the mind of man the memory of yesterday and the hope of tomorrow are obscured, he faces the threshold of nothingness, of despair”. And to such despair they oppose themselves, in an extreme recourse to reason, with different outcomes, necessarily. In de Chirico, the relationship between past (Greece, Renaissance) – present (industrial world) – enigmatic future (“Homeric dawns”) falls, to give rise to a present without past or future (his painting until 1927-28), interspersed with the “Classical Romanticism” of the Roman Villas, narrated in its dramatic nature of cogent conditioning of the individual without individual space, without defense; and later, placing himself completely outside metaphysics as he had previously theorized, in the years 1915-1920, when he feels that this conditioning (the “law for the defense of the State” in November 1926, the dissolution of the parties, the end of the liberal state) cannot but affect his own person. He will transform in the ironic past of the fable, of the mockery, in the vainglory of individual abilities, of rare qualities of painter and intellectual that inevitably recall that secentism and that technicalism previously despised, because, he said, “in art, if it is true art, technique has no role” (Zeusi the Explorer, op. cit. p. 86); because “monstrous emptiness” and “fabulous deafness” “stand out and reign in the painting of that century (…)” (La Mania del Seicento in P. Fossati, op. cit, p. 251). In Morandi, on the other hand, there will be a search for salvation in the recourse to a certain naturalistic descriptiveness (1920-24) in the recourse to a certain impressionism (Renoir, above all), and thus in the arrival at a certain intimism. But it is a brief reconsideration of that lesson, of that conception of the world, to arrive at a certain hermeticism in the style of Montale, and not the “naive” hermeticism of Ungaretti-Carrà characterized by the “poetics of the absence of time”, as Giuliano Manacorda says (Montale, La Nuova Italia, Florence 1973, p. 19). A synthesis of all his previous experiences, favored by renewed loves for Giotto, Masaccio and Piero. All placed in a certain relationship with Cézanne, and the “tactile values”, as well indicated by Bernhard Berenson in his famous four books dedicated to Italian painting between 1894 and 1897. (…) This synthesis, carried out by Morandi in the years following 1924-25, is the formal synthesis due to the conquered faith necessary to live and survive, that will be “faith in poetry, meanwhile”, “whose object may be obscure and that consists”, as Montale says (Uomini e Idee edited by Sandro Briosi, quoted in Giuliano Manacorda, op. cit. p. 9) “above all in living with dignity in front of oneself, in the hope that life has a meaning, that rationally escapes us, but which is worth experiencing, worth living”. This lively and profound feeling is that same sentiment that from the contingent historical reasons allowed to men who would have liked to oppose them, but could not or did not know how to find, for ancient historical reasons, typical of that pacifistic and quietistic and democratic, even if not socialist, sector of the Italian (but not only Italian) petty bourgeoisie to which Morandi belongs, the necessary forces, the necessary connections for action. This lively and profound feeling is the same feeling that, for contingent historical reasons, gave men who would have liked to oppose it but, for ancient historical reasons, could not or did not know how to find the necessary forces, the necessary connections for action, typical of that pacifist and quietist and democratic, if not socialist, sector of the Italian (but not only Italian) petty bourgeoisie to which Morandi belonged. Morandi’s approach is therefore connected to a painting that is still dramatic, albeit in a reduced tone, compared to the previous one, in which the echo (not the immediacy) of the happiness of discovery of the sensibility that was of the Impressionists and many Post-Impressionists, resonates in him within the measure of a modest life, paid for by what exists, in an apparent reduction to the mere relationship between the subjective self – objective nature. It is precisely this apparent reduction that allows Arcangeli to bring Morandi closer to Wols and Fautrier, and thus to Morlotti and Burri. To the informal (op. cit., passim, in particular p. 133). And to sustain (op. cit., pp. 128, 129) that Morandi “has opened, with a very few others who are not only painters, the battered, exhausting, anguished path of certain slow, hidden Europeans: Wols, subtle and profound German, Klee’s heir, but tempered on the old misted, corroded glasses of the Paris bistros; Fautrier, sensualist, sometimes aggressive, more often exhausted”. And he adds “it is not that I dream of ascendancies that Morandi might or might not like, for the sake of topicality (…) He will say that I am extremely moved by the pathetic history of this painting, which began with the highest formal magisterium, and passed, degree by degree”, having sensed “the life of ancient residencies, the desperate sprouting of a few flowers”, to “this sober, sad, homely informel” (ibidem, p. 129) … But as is well known, Morandi did not accept, approve or admit these ascendancies and descendancies attributed to him by Arcangeli, given their evident moral and intellectual emptiness, their mere naturalism, because the formalism in him … the giving of rational form, necessarily rational, to his deep-seated emotions, dependent on his ethical conception of individual and social life in accordance with the principles of ethicality and responsibility, is an essential constitutive element, a permanent structural element, always present and traceable even in the most “crepuscular” moment. Arcangeli’s exaltation of the informal could not, therefore, not be interpreted as condemnation (and not exaltation as Arcangeli would have wished) of the formal-ideological components (always inseparable) typical of Morandi’s painting. And this is how Morandi interpreted it (as can be seen from a clear allusion contained in a letter Arcangeli sent to me on date April 22 1962? Had his essay already been submitted to Morandi on that date ? And from verbal testimonies of that time subsequently collected). Also because this interpretation found comfort in another fundamental misunderstanding of Morandi’s painting, even in the presence of an exact textual reading. Arcangeli in fact says, referring to certain works of 1929, that “From the exquisite and profound and at times almost Canova-like description of external appearances”, “Morandi tacitly goes down within himself”; and “without ever losing the reality of figuration he presses from within, with such desolate force that he almost creates, in the effect,” (thus, apparently) “a sort of reversal of the creative process that is proper to him. It really does seem, in a group of works (…), that Morandi started from an inner motif” (op. cit. p. 168). (…) That Morandi, Morandi’s painting, is an expression of the petty bourgeoisie is attested by Francesco Arcangeli (op. cit. p. 35). I would say, however, that it is an expression of that traditional quietist-pacifist and democratic, though not socialist, sector of the petty bourgeoisie, which differs in these characteristics from another sector of the petty bourgeoisie formed in the 19th century, at that time of economic and functional-structural decline. The represented sector, in its rebellious-eversive phase, by the intellectuals of the “1896 generation”, was that of the generation that suffered the defeat at Adua and experienced the “general disillusionment” that followed. Unitedly with the anguish generated by the organization of the working class and its appearance in the national political limelight, in those years, were the decisive events that gave rise to the new nationalist, anti-socialist and anarchist movement of D’Annunzio and Marinetti, of Mussolini and De Ambris, albeit divided into anti-industrialists and industrialists, at least until the Second World War (cf. Adrian Lyttelton, La conquista del potere, il Fascismo dal 1919 al 1929, Laterza, Bari 1974, passim, in particular pp. 27, 79). (…) The lesson of de Chirico and Morandi, therefore, cannot be forgotten. Just as Sironi’s lesson cannot be forgotten, it is not too distant from de Chirico and Morandi themselves, even if it must be appropriately purged. Sironi, metaphysician, firstly, a futurist sui generis like Morandi, and then a novecentista sui generis. Because it must be recognised that Sironi is one of the greatest artists of our century and that everything he did “was dictated by absolute good faith”, as Ettore Camesasca says (preface to Mario Sironi, Scritti Editi e Inediti, Feltrinelli, Milan 1980, p. VII). He was dictated by “artistic and human responsibility”, by a profound faith and a profound ethical conception that produced (notwithstanding the partiality and therefore the falsity on a scientific level, consequently objectively, of the problematic proper to the professed political theory, or rather I would say because of such partiality felt, experienced as a necessary irremediable contradiction with the ethical demands that as such pertain to man in general, to man as a species) a strongly dramatic art, with a tendency towards tragedy. Therefore an art that “in spite of everything, shows itself to be deeply involved with its time, for better or for worse”, as Ettore Camesasca rightly says (ibid., p. XII), noting that necessarily “making history” (and this is true for the historian, but also and above all for the artist, according to what Thomas Mann says in Lettere a Paul Amann, Milan 1967, pp. 59, 190) “means first and foremost recognising the society and ideas in which an event took place” and the way in which each artist handles faith in dominant social dogmas. Because it must be recognised that Sironi is in an obvious way, a sincere expression of that sector of the Italian petty bourgeoisie (and not) and its drama. That is, of that sector to which D’Annunzio and Marinetti belonged, and then Carrà and Soffici, Martini and Gentilini and Rosai, that sector of the petty bourgeoisie that believed it could oppose with violence and anti-industrialism the structural-functional crisis that was affecting the bourgeois individual. Their lesson, therefore, and the lesson of the historical avant-gardes that inspired them and the lesson of the movements that preceded these avant-gardes, as well as the lesson of the great masters from 1200 to 1800 that they loved, cannot legitimately be forgotten. Obviously by the artist-intellectual, “by the true artist” who necessarily “works without worrying about criticism and critics” as Cézanne says (Lettere, op. cit. p. 115). And who, therefore, opposes the craftsman-artisan, a mere manipulator at the beck and call of the ideologue-duce of Sarfattian memory, and consequently of the market. They cannot be forgotten by the artist-poet for whom necessarily art-poetry is an indissolubly coinciding intellectual and moral life, as Eugenio Montale teaches us (op. cit. p. 24).

Writings about Tullio Vietri
The Tullio Vietri exhibition proposes some considerations…
Aligi Sassu, 1960
Some very precise constants stand out in the Bolognese and Emilian painting of today: references to metaphysical abstraction, traceable in a continuity of research and forms in the Morandi-Romiti line, and a sanguine and full-bodied expressive faculty linked to character, color, and the forms of the environment, evident feature in the works of painters such as Bertocchi, Borgonzoni, Corsi, and Vacchi. Vietri’s painting … seems to me to be alive with a contemporaneity not of taste but of substance, due precisely to its elaboration … attentive and free to all the solicitations that life and the desire to “communicate” with a certain audience exerts on a living and sensitive artist, in his pieces he is himself to the fullest, with the utmost sincerity. It is a sincerity that reveals itself in the clarity and cleanliness of form, in the deliberate sobriety and chastity of color, in the choice of subjects, in the limpidly evident content of portraits and drawings … Vietri brings us back to the essential, he emphasizes the most vivid and topical contents, but which are always relevant. The man in the ‘street’, cars, the landscape contaminated by the presence of our civilization. This is evident in the ‘walls’ and again in the ‘heads’ of women, in the anonymous ‘waiting for the bus’. The sign is wide, broad, defined, like the prominence of the light scores. The painting becomes evident, with shapes colors defined lines. An emotion that draws poeticity from ‘reality’, and becomes poetry of today, of us, of men who ask ourselves the question ‘who we are’ every day. The positive elements of these works, of this moment in Vietri’s art, seem interesting to me, also because in addition to showing us a personality of a painter engaged in a lively and topical research, he does not alienate himself and does not repudiate what has been done in the recent past by other artists. In the sphere of ‘Corrente’ and of the realist movement, these artists were the first to indicate, and realize, the contents and forms of a representation of a non-aligned reality in modern Italian art.
Tullio Vietri.
Gianni Celati, 1960
Vietri’s vision, sensitized in a sociological sense, accentuates his investigation and passes from the most obvious and common symbols that used to appear on the ‘walls’ to a more conscious synthesis of his own motifs, to the abandonment of all superfluous data consisting precisely of writing, posters, titles, etc. The man is the only symbol of these paintings, and his face, always disfigured, seems shaded, never characterized, it makes him appear gnawed by a shapeless insect, by an anguish and an immanent perplexity, in whose representation, however, the painter never expires into an existential or subjectivist problematic, because the objective world catches him alive outside himself and is not confused with the visions of his own ego. This is precisely because those representations are not objects of an existential but rather a sociological investigation. We could … go so far as to speak of capitalism and neo-capitalism, or of the irrationality of life in the western world, but suffice it to say that all these faceless men, hollowed out and examined, these gazeless black faces, perhaps with a sideways hat and a tie on a white shirt, represent the irrationality that the painter feels outside himself, into why these people live, crushed, oppressed and confused by the dense atmosphere, where sometimes some splash of bright color emerges as an illusory external call. And he works with an analytical, rational and ruthless coldness, using only a few colors with the brushstrokes of the palette-knife, among which black always prevails, to show us the confusion, the lack of humanity, the impending alienation in a given social reality. And this form is anything but a compromise between the magmatic use of ‘informel’ material and a generic figurative ‘realist’. In fact, I would say that the tones achieved by the artist are completely opposite to those of the ‘informel’ and ‘art autre’. This irrationalism, chaos and alienation are perceived by the painter as integral characteristics of his own self and the painter himself is unable to escape this very routine of life, constructing his own conscience in the opposite sense, therefore the great decay around him submerges him … On the contrary, Vietri is not disbanded and submerged by this irrationality: he is, instead, aware and sure of where the evil lies, and finds it around him, in every moment, in the objective world and in social reality. And to the chaotic aspect of life he opposes his clear conscience, which, in essence, identifies and finds itself in the possibility of a moral judgment towards those figures and that reality. Similarly, the expressive means never indulge in a pessimistic disintegration and irregular use of masses of color, the uncertainty of contours and backgrounds … What prevails is never the chaotic and troubled use, the destruction of space and the plan of the abstractionists. Even though Vietri very often obtains a visual effect that can be close to the informel in the details, he always arranges space rationally around these figures … until he obtains a real dimension where a chaotic and shapeless atmosphere circulates. From all this one can see how much this painting is a product of intelligence rather than of easy lyrical intuition. (…) [In Vietri] … the best paintings arise from a precise analysis of reality, of our human condition, of the unease and compromise that surround us. In this way, symbols have summed up their figurative value, things, streets, trees have their own meaning, outside of the simple compositional scheme of the painting. This is the only solution to restore a necessity to figurative representation, beyond 19th century naturalism and banal neo-realist chronicling … Because only in this way there will be a reason to paint a still life or a landscape or a figure instead of the synthesis and chaos of their forms, because that still life will not be a pretext to express a given form, but a symbol for us full of meaning. In this way, the human figure has, at last, regained interest. Its appearance of submission to the environment imposes its own shadows and chaotic atmosphere on it, to the point of erasing the features from its face. It is one of the most significant and expressive symbols of our time, if, as seen here, the investigation on this theme is conducted not on a psychological but on a social and historical level.
Tullio Vietri’s works.
Stefano Bottari, 1962
Tullio Vietri’s work … provides a ‘committed testimony’ to the human condition of our time … The squalor of the flooded plain, from the vastness of which the signs of human presence emerge like specters, locked in the sadness of their silence, returns in the paintings that extend the city into a ‘nameless’ suburb, just as ‘nameless’ are the characters who lean against the faded walls, with posters by now timeless, waiting for a bus, or are pressed against the windows of shops, isolated by a resigned sadness that no longer nourishes desires. It is a landscape that expresses the same human condition everywhere, in the countryside or in the city: the ‘condition’ of anonymity, which is so much a part of modern civilisation, presented here with moving participation, and yet outside of any easy polemic, in its reverse of barbarity. In that reverse … that, stripping the man of his humanity, leaves him nameless and that face fills with that particular sadness that ignores all regret.
Tullio Vietri’s Objectivism.
Fortunato Bellonzi, 1968
Realism is intended as an attitude of the spirit that does not simply register reality, but modifies it and is modified by it: a total reality, of course, which therefore is not just a landscape, a character or a still life, but is an ensemble of life conditions, with its problems and its hopes, made object of observation, of judgment, of proposals for the future, in ways that are not programmatic, but proper to art, namely content in images, that … They always exceed any attempt at formalistic investigation, revealing a man grappling with himself and with the external world, participating in the responsibilities of existence, committed to moral choices. Well, Tullio Vietri’s objectivism, that … takes into account the visual effects of the techniques of the so-called mass communications, such as photography, cinematography, television, and advertisement posters, resourcing to media similar to those of the consumer civilization to dramatically denounce our human condition. He is in the historical line of modern realism, and constitutes one of the rare positive outcomes of socialist realism, too often lost in an illustration without edge, for having mistakenly referred to a sort of resurrection of nineteenth-century verism. In addition Vietri looks at the imperious dryness of photographic reportage or advertisement graphics, wanting to fight technological slavery with equal weapons. He does not use photography or posters other than as models of immediate visual appeal: everything in his work is drawn and painted, which is still an indication of his rejection of the products of the cultural industry. In this artisanal work of drawing and painting, the typographic letters that Vietri introduces have feelings, a placement and a pictorial result very close to those achieved by the historical avant-garde. When he prints the anonymous crowd on the leprous walls of the city that invade the surface of his paintings, he achieves effects that can only seemingly be assimilated to those achieved by others with tears, materially achieved in the thickness of the overlapping affiches, or with the textured impasto of informal painting, because in reality Vietri’s commitment is much more severe, and it rejects randomness and playfulness, two idols dear to the old aestheticism that still lives with us. That anonymous crowd is a series of imprints of men without volume or shadow projections … captured with the burning topicality of the visual chronicle and with that emotional charge that snaps from hardening in the black of flat islands, decidedly cut out, between black and white broken scores (not, however, of light and shadow) that evoke the violence of the flash. Vietri’s painting is a document of contemporary society, whose alienation and incommunicability are revealed in a funereal mood. The human comedy … is here the tragedy of men without a past and without a future, alone in the multitude.
Tullio Vietri artist and intellectual, witness of the second half of the 20th century in the language of painting.
Roberto Costella 2001
Tullio Vietri’s artistic history unfolds in the second half of the twentieth century, with a prologue involving the 1950s and an epilogue extending into the following century. It is the story, both aesthetic and cultural, of a painter in search of a figurative language to express the social and intellectual, political and economic history of his time. It is the experience of an artist participating in the aesthetic and ideological debate in the season of post-avant-garde revisionism and neo-figuration, the advent of multimedia and synaesthetic languages; but also in the affirmation of advanced technocracy and economic globalization, the consolidation of mass society and the westernization of the world. Vietri works in Bologna, a place chosen as an emblematic urban reality, a privileged observatory, a mirror reflecting the dynamics of socio-economic transformation of Italian cities. Moreover, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the regional capital of Emilia Romagna seemed to have a centrality and peculiarity justified both in political-economic and socio-cultural terms, acting as an alternative pole, as a laboratory of new administrative and cooperative, entrepreneurial and commercial, urban and territorial experiences. […] Vietri’s artistic story (…) counts many aesthetic seasons that, through an increasingly radical formal synthesis, have conquered an ever stronger and harder content expressiveness. Precisely marked phases have punctuated the chapters of a history that started in the late 1940s and took shape during the 1950s, matured and became publicly affirmed in the 1960s, slowed down relegating itself to the private sphere during the 1970s, resumed and revived but always outside the market and art criticism throughout the 1980s. If the artistic seasons can be biographically associated with distinct existential stances and precise historical situations, the aesthetic and ideological choices have matured with exemplary continuity and unassailable coherence: Vietri’s painting, witness to the dynamics of socio-economic transformation of advanced industrial society, has evolved in a rigorous and consequential manner, achieving peculiarly homogeneous results both figuratively and conceptually. By 1963 the artist wrote that the theme of his painting “could be summed up with a single title: the contemporary man, or better, men in contemporary society”, specifying that it was an elaboration that “led him to conceive the reality of the contemporary world in a critical form”, to face “the great problem of the man-mass, or better, of the massified man”. Vietri, searching for “the causes of alienation (…) a particular moment in today’s society”, declares that he has “worked on reconstructing the character, no longer as man in general, an abstract man, but as a concrete man, in his historical concreteness, in his concretely historical determinations”. This punctual and precocious self-presentation, capable of identifying and declaring the nucleus of his pictorial research, does not only seem to support the figurative results of the 1960s, but, rising to the status of a declaration of intent, it orients and explains his entire subsequent artistic development: it is a choice of life, research and cultural commitment, which becomes the foundation of his aesthetic options and iconographic language. Like Gustave Courbet, Vietri intends to be an artist of his own time, documenting history contemporary to him, to interpret Western society of the second half of the 20th century with the utmost formal clarity, analytical awareness and ideological sincerity. In 1861 Courbet, the father of pictorial realism, declared: “Every era can only be represented by its own artists, I mean by the artists who lived in this era. (…) It is in this sense that I deny the painting of historical events applied to the past. Historical painting is essentially contemporary. Every era must have its artists who express it and represent it for posterity. (…) The human spirit has the duty to always work on the new, always in the present, starting from the acquired results” (published on Courier du Dimanche). This is Vietri’s intent and commitment, it is his continuous research and the systematic progression of his work. He opposes the aesthetic eclecticism and content indifference of so much 20th-century art with an intransigent and severe commitment, aimed at bearing witness to the changing human condition, on an individual and collective level, in the West at the end of the millennium. His production highlights a figurative anthropocentrism that over the years becomes increasingly tragically dramatic, as an expression of individuals without identity and memory, passive and unaware victims of consumer society. His painting seems to take the man back to where Francis Bacon had abandoned him, denouncing, in a totally foreign and emptied world, an unbearable and absolute existential solitude, an anguished and terminal psychological and spiritual condition. In the first issue of the magazine Critica Radicale (he founded and directed it since 1989), confirming the death of the “post-war pseudo-avant-garde”, Vietri complains about the widespread presence of an “a-communicative, a-historical, a-pathic, and therefore a-moral and a-significant” art, but above all he denounces “the death of every possibility of making art, even at a minimal level, because all men have for too long been accustomed to no longer digging into themselves (to know themselves and others)”. He also accuses “our increasingly technical and technocratic society. (…) our society of mass individualism without subjectivity, our society of the downfall of the imaginary, or rather of the design faculty of oneself and others. (…) our society of the imaginary is increasingly determined by the spectacularization … of art and culture, that is, by the utilitarian spectacularization of human love and pain, of the spiritual needs … of man”. Vietri’s attitude becomes increasingly hard and definitive; his distance from the world of institutional politics, official culture and academic art increases unbridgeably. He creates a series of paintings reduced chromatically to black and white, mixed with ochre and red, marked by broad, rough, dirty and smudged brushstrokes that barely manage to suggest bodies and faces, trees and houses, cars and roads. The pigment is contaminated with scraps of newspapers lost in the painting, mixed up and confused like pulp paper. The scenes are repeated in an obsessive and crude iteration, replicating distorted masks, black silhouettes, mechanical shapes, closed boxes, combusted vegetation, anonymous lanes. The post-historical dimension announced by P. P. Pasolini becomes the social and spatial reality of the West. End-of-the-century images almost seem to propose an updated “Triumph of Death” along with a cynical “Massacre of the Innocents”; from the ashes of the World Wars, evidently, a more civilized and just, freer and biophilic world has not been generated. Pablo Picasso’s Guernica unfortunately remains a true and close in time work, showing itself to be an open wound that cannot be healed: Guernica is not “yesterday” but also “now”, “at present”; it is not “there” but at the same time “here”, “everywhere”. Unlike the Spanish painter, in Vietri’s work death is not a cataclysmic event, however, in a more subtle and not less painful form, it is everyday life in action, temporal continuity, an individual existential condition and therefore a collective condemnation. Vietri goes so far as to denounce the attempt to normalize the absurd historical present, by attempting to pass off as “life” what is unequivocally “non-life”. It even seems that the dimension lamented by Franz Marc during the First World War has been extended and perpetuated: “We live in hard times. Hard are our thoughts. Everything must become even harder” (Pensieri, Thoughts, 1915). Does our time then constitute a dramatic painful continuity? Is the 20th century really the “Century of tragic greatness” (Massimo Cacciari, 1996)? The widespread fear, in western society, during the years of the “Cold War” is generated by the risk of atomic conflict between America and Russia, between capitalist and socialist countries; but it is above all induced by technological, mercantile and financial competition, by political, social and psychological tension, and by speculation, exploitation and even abuse of power applied on a global scale. In the early 1990s the war becomes a state of fact, a real localized situation; but on the planet, in addition to the Arabian peninsula, other lands are in danger of becoming war fronts (Albania, Yugoslavia, Somalia, Palestine, Algeria, Afghanistan). Vietri, as a citizen before as an artist, paints denouncing the violation of international rights, of constitutional principles, declaring in “Donna e manifesto” (“Woman and manifesto”, 1991) his absolute and peremptory “NO” to all of this. The disorientation that can be perceived in the paintings dedicated to the squares, the dynamic fleeing or the paralyzed immobility, the blackening of the subjects captures the extreme values of a society that, aware of the seriousness of the threat, seeks salvation in a world that offers no refuge and no prospect of peace. It is the nightmare of the present! Even the cars and buildings seem armored and they still express the attempt to get away, but without a destination, and the need to barricade oneself hoping for an unlikely safety. All the paintings of the 1990s manifest this irremediable dichotomy that denounces an alienated and schizophrenic existential condition. The eclipse of the Western man is resoundingly evident in “Four men in the piazza” (1995), “Italian chronicles 1995” (Two men in the piazza) (1995) and “Three Women from Behind” (1995): more than an anthropic presence, these obscured silhouettes, without identity and energy, constitute entropic forms. Wandering ghosts that move slowly, dissociated from the ground, in an indistinct and chromatically unreal spatial context, appear in “Piazza with black figures and green shadows” (1991), to shrink, approaching disappearance, in “Piazza with black dispersed shadows”(1995). “Six black figures in the Piazza” (1996) pass anonymously, close and yet invisible in their dress of darkness, fast and yet blocked by their perennial insecurity. The figure increasingly expresses a virtual movement, because every dynamic possibility is denied by the overcrowding of the lanes, by the fierce dispute to squeeze into the last free spaces, by the struggle between the large vans that impose direction and rhythm of advancement that the small cars that are forced to endure. In the period 1996-97, the paintings of trees and buildings, still present in the pieces of the beginning of the decade, tend to diminish. Vietri had symbolically interpreted the free and natural man through the natural form, so in the urban building he expressed the individual rooted to a family home, to a town community. Evidently, the being is “on the verge of extinction” if he loses his biological and spiritual identity, if he excludes himself from emotional and social relationships. Negumini of the century, the artist mainly paints figures in the piazzas and vehicles in the street: they are stereotyped images, regressively deformed, increasingly anonymous and indistinct, daubed with encrusted paper or dripping drops, reduced to just three or four dirty colors (white, black, ochre and sometimes red). Vietri’s artistic parable is therefore at its final stretch, his figuration reaches the limit of an abstraction that denounces, through a dramatic expressionism, the loss of form, space and light […].
What remains of the body.
Gian Mario Villalta 2010
Tullio Vietri has repeatedly represented groups of people, crowds, packed squares, the bodies of loneliness, violence and loss of identity in mass society. Since the 1960s, and then for long intervals, for decades, the deprivation of faces, the loss of the uniqueness of the body, the energy of the mediatised image have been a privileged subject of his art and at the same time a tool for understanding the contemporary man. The form’s adventure, capable of harmonizing the conflict between geometry and power, between symbol and figure, has never betrayed the mandate, deeply felt as its own, of civic responsibility. Exemplary dynamics, scans stretched on the limit between immobility and speed, images that mark the gaze at first contact. With them, through them, his radical question is on contemporaneity, focusing on what is happening to the man as he goes through ? Because of technology, communication, politics ? Such an anthropological change that any language seems insufficient to describe. The immediate intuition, for those who lay eyes on these pieces, is that the psychic condition of contemporary man can be found imagined in the new reality experienced by bodies. The numbered body, exhibited, perfectly recognisable as force, activity, receptor of social impulses. The body, that reveals itself in the apparent contradiction between immobility and movement: it is the place he inhabits that is emptied of symbols, a space that becomes a container, without contours, a square that is only a field of forces in the geometry of power. Bodies cast no shadows, they have no shadows that reveal their humanity. Because shadows are the truth that still gathers the sense of the human, as Paul Celan’s poem “You speak too” says: “Where will you go now, stripped of shadows, where?”. The shadows are the bodies’ attachment to the earth, but they are also what can be superimposed, blurred, without the bodies touching. They are also the link between the living and the dead. Some of the more recent pieces resume this theme. It is striking how, once again, intuition is immediate despite the skilful elaboration of the form. Faces are empty, inflated, modeled on clothes. The bodies gradually enlarge, until, you can sense it, they disappear.
Tullio Vietri civil painter.
Roberto Costella, 2018
Vietri’s figuration (…) does not allow easy classifications: defining it as pop art is superficial because his images shy away from kaleidoscopic palettes, scenic exteriors, formal simplifications and they never wink at modernity; his production, however, evokes Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Quadri specchianti (Mirror paintings), Sergio Lombardo’s Gesti tipici (Typical gestures), perhaps George Segal’s plaster casts, Rosalyn Drexler’s choral scenes, sometimes Ferenc Pinter’s graphics. It is, however, a matter of spirit of his time, of cultural climate, because Vietri, dissociating himself from the conventional communication of pop art, emphasizes another intentionality and communicative value. His iconography has as its theoretical foundation in the aesthetics, sociology and philosophy of György Lukács, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin: Vietri’s art is pregnant and semantically dense. Yet the sharpness and visual solidity of the compositions of the 1960s-1970s gradually diminished, losing clarity and optical definition to express the new, uncertain postmodern horizons. The turning point cannot be explained by the ‘end of the avant-garde’ predicted by Cesare Brandi (1949), but rather by the ‘pessimism of the intelligence’ that, prevailing over the ‘optimism of willpower’ led to the destructuring of the pictorial field. The aporia of seeing began to metaphorically express the difficulties of orientation, the loss of identity and planning feasibility of the contemporary world, the tensions and conflicts of advanced globalization. As Vietri’s painting approached the 21st century, without renouncing referentiality, it began decomposing forms, contaminating colors, thematically abandoning Strade, Case e Piazze (roads, houses and squares), concentrating on Campagne deserte e Alberi spogli (deserted countryside and bare trees), Volti deformi e Persone perdute (deformed faces and lost people); his figuration became an iconography of pain, extreme and even tragic, but in solidarity with oppressed life and offended dignity. It is no coincidence that Vietri entitled his latest exhibition “Sono, persone e non cose” (“I am, people not things”) to reaffirm anthropocentrism, a civil commitment and an appeal for humanity against the ongoing drift.
Tullio Vietri

The Atelier

The atelier preserves the family’s rich pictorial and graphic collection (approximately 1,500 pieces, between paintings and graphics). It periodically organizes temporary exhibitions within its spaces, in order to promote knowledge about the collection, displaying the works in rotation.

It is located in Bologna in Via Saragozza 135 under the historic portico of San Luca.
The Atelier can be visited, by appointment, from October to June. Guided tours available.

Tullio Vietri

The Museum

The Biblioteca Civica, managed by the Oderzo Cultura Foundation, displays the core of the collection owned by the Municipality of Oderzo, by the artist’s behest, custodian of his artworks (about 4000 pieces including paintings and graphics).

It is located in Oderzo (TV) in Via Garibaldi 80 at the Civic Library.
It can be visited during library opening hours and by appointment.