Cries - I Gridi
Leo Castelli can be well satisfied with Gianni Bertini's “Historic Cries”, painted during the period 1948-49 – indeed, doubly satisfied and well served, because, after a decade, he will be promoting, in New York, the most fabulous profit-making launch in the whole history of art: that of American Pop Art”, Mikos N. Varga wrote in “Gala” in December 1974. Indeed, if one looks at the pictures entitled “Tre”, “Sette”, and “Halt”, painted in 1949, one cannot help noticing surprising similarities to work by Jasper Johns or Robert Indiana. Other works of the same period, however, caught up in a rotation movement (“Luce”, “Rotore”, “Nord-Sud”, “Luna, Nord-Sud”, “Solo” etc.) have distant roots in futurism and dadaism, ready to take off into the nuclear age. In fact, the inscriptions here hinged no so much on pictorial values, being, rather, false description and phenomenal provocation. A third distinction, which had launched the “I Gridi” process, may be identified in certain works characterized by free lines in an informalist landscape, or held within a vaguely geometrical rapport (“Carnevale” and “Grido”). Two of these works, “Carnevale” and “Grido Grosso”, had appeared under the titles of “Astrazione No.1” and “Astrazione No.2”, at the large “Arte d'oggi” exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence in June 1949. They were not too well received, and were even mocked by painter friends. One of the latter, Gualtiero Nativi, was to recall in January 1980: “I must admit that the two pictures... left us somewhat perplexed: our geometrical discipline, the will to eliminate any unresolved problems had been handed down to us as a tradition to Italian painting, with the certainty of being able to express, in summary form, a new world in the process of organization, the desire for something classic .... - all these were good reasons for us to adopt an intransigent, dogmatic attitude towards others, with polemical excesses that did not achieve their intended effect, but, on the contrary, contrived to interrupt promising relationships. The “Grido Rosso” (Red Cry), for example – and Bertini should not hold it against us if I admit it thirty years later – had been baptized, with more than a hint of fierce if informalist Florentine irony, with the name of a political party of whose emblem it was a vague reminder”. Which raised a quandary: was it Bertini's fault for choosing company whose basic dogmas were a bit too uncomfortable for him, or were the others to blame for not having fully understood his freedom to experiment? Bertini himself was to write, in an issue of “Rassegna” dated September 1949, that “the reasons for poetic validity may nowadays be sought only within the confines of abstract painting, since today the need for discipline and clarity, which is entirely notional ..., is an absolute necessity that hinges on a precise requirements, the same ones that have broken the link that existed until yesterday with reality”. That meant he agreed with rigid partisans of the abstract in their struggle against “figurative naturalism”, but at the same time took care not to fall into exaggerated pragmatism. For Bertini, abstract painting – he says this as a sort of aside - “should still be regarded as the creation of new problems whose roots lie in movements more vital than those that preceded them”. And here we find Gianni fishing in waters that many others had forsaken. The fact is that his immediate future lies in the direction of the Movimento Arte Concreta (MAC), founded by a number of guests at the Florentine show (Dorfles, Monnet, Munari, Soldati). On the other hand, he had already answered an artist who, on the occasion of his first personal exhibition at the Palazzo alla Giornata di Pisa, in May 1949, prophesied that he would be changing his type of painting: “But of course, I could destroy all these paintings of mine. The important point is that I want to keep moving forward, and take refuge behind old forms”. However, these two years of “blockbusting” and premonition remain. He had enjoyed the challenge and surprise himself in overcoming general incomprehension – even on the part of those who considered themselves avantgarde. Unfortunately, his trials were to have an echo that boomeranged on him; but the record remains, indelible. If you want to blaze a trail, you have to choose the righ time to do it.
Extract from Luciano Caprile, Bertini. Works 1948-1993, Contemporary Art Museum. L'Agrifoglio editions, Milano