© Mimmo Rotella by SIAE

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Mimmo Rotella was born in 1918 in Catanzaro from a middle-class family, after obtaining his diploma in 1940, in 1941 he was called to arms. In 1943 he left the army and the following year he obtained a diploma of artistic maturity in Naples. Between 1944 and 1945 he teaches drawing and calligraphy in Catanzaro. In 1945 he moved to Rome where he attended the young avant-garde made up of the exponents of the Forma 1 Group (Carla Accardi, Ugo Attardi, Pietro Consagra, Piero Dorazio, Mino Guerrini, Achille Perilli, Antonio Sanfilippo and Giulio Turcato). After the figurative beginnings and the first experimentations, he begins to paint abstract-geometric pictures inspired by the works of Vasilij Kandinskij and Piet Mondrian. In 1947 he participated in the first exhibitions in the Art Club. In 1949 he devoted himself to experiments in phonetic poetry, which calls epistaltic [1][2] (a neologism invented by the artist), which in the same year draws up the Manifesto. In 1950 he exhibited in Paris at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. In February 1951 participates in the exhibition "Abstract and Concrete Art in Italy - 1951" organized by Palma Bucarelli and Giulio Carlo Argan at the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome, the following month, is engaged in his first solo exhibition at the gallery Chiurazzi Via del Babuino. In 1951 he is awarded a scholarship by the Fulbright Foundation, which allows him to go to the United States as an "Artist in Residence" at the University of Kansas City. In 1952 he had his second solo exhibition at the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art in Kansas City and completed a mural panel on the theme of astronomy at the Physics and Geology Department of the university. For Harvard University he completes a performance of epistaltic poetry. In autumn he returns to Rome, devoting himself to the phonetic production. In 1953 he understands that the pictorial medium is no longer suitable for the expression of his poetics and suddenly has what he calls "Zen enlightenment": the discovery of the advertising poster as an artistic expression. Thus was born the décollage: Rotella took from the walls of Rome and glued on canvas pieces of posters torn in the street and then reworking them in the studio, adopting the collage of the Cubists and contaminating it with elements borrowed from an informal matrix close to Hans Arp and Jean Fautrier and the Dadaist ready-made. In 1955, in Rome, in the exhibition "Seven painters on the Tiber at Ponte Santangelo", invited by Emilio Villa, exposes for the first time the 'torn manifesto'. In those years he also uses the back of the posters, obtaining the abstract works called retro d'affiches [3]. Still in 1955 Carlo Cardazzo organizes an exhibition dedicated entirely to décollage and retro d'affiches in his Galleria del Naviglio in Milan, while Leonardo Sinisgalli publishes on the number of September-October of "Civilization of Machines" a wide reflection on the new technique invented by Rotella, comparing his work with that of Lucio Fontana and Alberto Burri. In 1956 he participates in the Graziano Prize and in 1957 the Battistoni and Encouragement prizes of the Ministry of Education. His works are exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Italy and abroad, particularly in London, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) (September 1957). Towards the end of the fifties, his décollages begin to show some figurative details. In 1958 participates in the exhibition "New trends in Italian art" organized by Lionello Venturi in the Roman headquarters of the Rome-New York Art Foundation. The following year he met the French critic Pierre Restany, with whom he began a long association that would last until the death of the French critic, which occurred in 2003. In 1960 he joined the Nouveau Réalisme (although it does not sign the manifesto), which is theorist Pierre Restany and brings together, among others, Yves Klein, Spoerri, Tinguely, César, Arman, Christo and Niki de Saint Phalle. The group also includes the French Hains, Dufrêne and Villeglé, who work with the technique of décollage in the same years. Along with the décollages, Rotella also performs assemblages and ready-made with objects purchased from junk dealers such as bottle caps, ropes, wicker baskets and pieces of fabric. This reference to the object of common and everyday use brings him close to the contemporary practices of British and American Pop Art. In May 1961 he exhibited in the historic exhibition À 40° au-dessus de Dada, curated in Paris by Restany at the Galerie J. The same French gallery hosts in 1962 the series of works inspired by the world of cinema on the occasion of the exhibition "Cinecittà". His décollages, from the beginning of the sixties, are characterized by the presence of the stars of the silver screen and music as Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley. In this period intensifies its relationship with America through the organization of a solo exhibition at the Galeria Bonino in Buenos Aires in the summer of 1962 and participation in group exhibitions "The Art of Assemblage" (New York, Museum of Modern Art, October-November 1961) and "New Realists" (New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, November-December 1962). During this last exhibition his work is compared with French artists (Arman, Christo, Raymond Hains, Yves Klein, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely), Italians (Enrico Baj, Gianfranco Baruchello, Tano Festa, Mario Schifano), Swedish (Öyvind Fahlström, Per Olof Ultvedt), English (Peter Blake, John Latham, Peter Phillips) and American (Peter Agostini, Jim Dine, Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Moskowitz, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, George Segal, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann). He exhibited two décollages, The Cup of Coffee and Beer, which originate from advertising posters in which the product is emphasized, becoming the absolute protagonist of the composition. The following year, Restany presents the first monograph on the artist, Mimmo Rotella: from Décollage to the new image, during the personal exhibition organized at the Apollinaire Gallery of Guido Le Noci in Milan. In 1964 he was invited to exhibit at the Venice Biennale with a personal room. The same year is indicted for possession of narcotics and imprisoned at Regina Coeli for about five months. Embittered by the judicial events, he moved to Paris where he continued the production of photographic reports (or reportages), already started in 1963, in which he uses photomechanical procedures of image reproduction. The first exhibition dedicated to this new series of works took place in April 1965 at the Galerie J in Paris under the title "Vatican IV". Parallel to the technique of photographic carry-over, he realizes what he calls artypos: in the typographies he selects the printing proofs of the posters - sheets marked by a random superimposition of images, otherwise desitinati to the pulp - to apply them on the canvas. Later, in the early seventies, some artypos are made plasticized, thus obtaining the artypos-plastique. In 1966 he starts to keep a diary that will be published in 1972 with the title Autorotella. Autobiography of an artist. At the end of 1967 he moved to New York, hosted by friends Christo and Jeanne-Claude: at this juncture he met Andy Warhol. The critic Lawrence Alloway invites him to give a lecture on his artistic practice at the School of Visual Arts. Rotella in this period lives at the Chelsea Hotel, where he frequents artists such as Claes Oldenburg, Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein. Returning to Paris at the end of 1968, he continues his exhibition activity. At the beginning of the seventies produces some works by intervening on the advertising pages of magazines with the use of solvents and reducing them to the stage of impression (frottage) or erasing (effaçage). In 1974 the critic Tommaso Trini publishes for the Editions Giampaolo Prearo an updated monograph on the activity of Rotella, while the following year a large retrospective exhibition is organized at the Rotunda of Via Besana in Milan. In 1975 he recorded his first record of phonetic poems produced by Edizioni Plura of Milan and in 1976 he took part in Poésie action. Poésie sonore 1955-1975 organized in Paris by the poet Bernard Hiedsieck. Other experimentation, in those years, is to crumple the posters and close them in plexiglass cases, thus creating the plastiform. On September 9, 1977 he was hit in the face by an iron ball during a demonstration of Autonomi in Milan and was rushed to the hospital. This is a symbolic episode of the climate that has characterized the years of lead in Italy: reflecting on these episodes, Rotella elaborates some photographic reports with a socio-political theme. In 1980 he leaves Paris for good to settle in Milan. In the capital of Lombardy elaborates the blanks or "covers": zeroed advertising posters, covered by monochrome sheets, as is the case with expired advertising. In 1984 he created large acrylic paintings dedicated to cinema: Cinecittà 2 at Studio Marconi in Milan. In 1986 he participated in the second Havana Biennial. In the same year he made the "overpainting", inspired by graffiti: pictorially intervenes on posters torn and glued to a support. He traces writings and symbols like those that can be read on city walls. In the same year he realizes the sculpture in travertine Homage to Tommaso Campanella for the Sicilian city of Gibellina. In 1990 it participates to the Centre Pompidou of Paris to the show "Art et Pub" and to the Museum of Modern Art of New York to the exposure "High and Low". He marries in 1991 with Inna Agarounova and in 1993 was born the daughter Aghnessa (Asya). Receives in 1992 by the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, the title of Officiel des arts et des Lettres. He was invited to the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1994 for the exhibition "The Italian Metamorphosis 1943-1968" curated by Germano Celant, then again at the Centre Pompidou in 1996 on the occasion of "Face à l'Histoire". In 1996 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles he organized "Art and Film since 1945: Hall of mirrors", an itinerant exhibition that toured the world. In 1998, he dedicates to Federico Fellini's cinema the cycle of works called Felliniana. In 2000, the Mimmo Rotella Foundation was established by the artist. The Foundation followed the artist in the last five years of his life, supporting him in the various activities and helping him in the organization of exhibitions and the publication of monographs. In 2002 he published his second autobiography entitled L'ora della lucertola (The hour of the lizard), while the following year Restany defined new icons as a series of works that Rotella created by placing a pictorial sign on film posters partially covered by monochrome tissue. Parallel to this type of work, he produces décollages of imposing dimensions. In 2004 Rotella receives an honorary degree in Architecture at the Università degli Studi Mediterranea of Reggio Calabria and the director Mimmo Calopresti makes a documentary about him, entitled L'ora della lucertola (The hour of the lizard). On March 18, 2005 opens the House of Memory in Catanzaro: his birthplace is adapted to house-museum by the architect Marcello Sestito. Still in full activity, he dies in Milan on January 8, 2006 at the age of 88 years.

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