Pietro Consagra (b.1920-d.2005) was born in Mazara del Vallo in Trapani. He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Palermo before founding the ‘Forma I’ group in 1947 in Rome, a formalist and Marxist collective which rejected the popular metaphysical romanticism and distortion of the time. Exhibiting at various galleries in Italy and taking part in the Venice Biennale eleven times between 1950 and 1993, Consagra enjoyed international acclaim, including exhibitions at the Peggy Guggenheim collection, Venice, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Gallery in London.
Consagra was one of Italy’s most renowned post-war sculptors whose work rejected the tradition of three-dimensional sculpture to embrace a more direct mode of interaction between art and audience. Primarily interested in liberating sculpture from the burdens of any historical legacy, Consagra worked in bronze and iron to create sculptures that were flattened and almost two-dimensional. In this way, he disposed of a normative authoritarian centre in favour of a frontal outlook that established a far more open ‘tete-a-tete’ between work and viewer. For Consagra, “placement became meaning”; his works used abstraction to expose meaning that would otherwise never have been revealed. From 1952, he established the ‘Colloqui’ series, a collection of bronze sculptures that were defined by the plasticity of their flattened surface: overlapping planes, gaps and varying texture destabilised any semblance of a ‘conventional’ viewpoint.
In the sixties, colour became an essential element of Consagra’s sculpture. His ‘Transparent Irons’ series saw monochrome works of pink, violet, blue and crimson take on the issues of a frontal perspective by becoming mobile, rotating at the touch of a hand. Ultimately, the curving fragments and defiant colours of Consagra’s works were the most vital part of his rejection of traditional sculptural canons. In the words of the artist: “Art is the only way to keep oneself suspicious, susceptible, nervous, intolerant, evasive, enthusiastic, balanced, unbalanced, attentive, aggressive, lazy, imaginative, libidinous, free, ungraspable.” The tension that arises from these contradictions is what makes Consagra’s works retain a psychological power for the audience to engage with.