This work will be included in the forthcoming Paolo Scheggi Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by Luca Massimo Barbero.
Foligno, Palazzo Trinci, Lo Spazio dell'Immagine, 1967
Florence, Parterre, Situazione 68. Rassegna biennale d’arte e letteratura d’oggi, 1968
Milan, Teatro Durini, Materiale per sei personaggi (Material for Six Characters), 1969
Exhibition Catalogue, London, Robilant and Voena, Paolo Scheggi. The Humanistic Measurement of Space, 2014, p. 140, no. 132, illustrated
Francesca Pola in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Robilant + Voena, ‘Paolo Scheggi, The Humanistic Measurement of Space, p. 57.
Created for Paolo Scheggi’s seminal exhibition in 1967 at Galleria Naviglio, Milan, Parete della Intercamera Plastica (Wall of the Plastic Interchamber) marks the very apotheosis and highest achievement of the artist’s conceptual engagement with the aesthetics of space. The present work today stands as the only surviving part of Scheggi’s original environmental masterpiece, Intercamera Plastica (1966-67), which was exhibited to astounding critical acclaim. Originally executed in yellow for its inaugural 1967 show, the present work and its accompanying parts were repurposed and repainted white only a few months later for the artist’s exhibition, Lo Spazio dell’Immagine in the Palazzo Trinci in Foligno. Thereafter, where the extant parts of the installation were dismantled and disbanded, the present piece was preserved and once again re-purposed in 1969 as the theatrical backdrop for the avant-garde production Materiale per sei personaggi directed by Roberto Lerici at the Teatro Durini in Milan. In 2008 the entire installation was reconstructed in full and in yellow as per the Naviglio show for exhibition at the Miart fair in Milan, and today resides at the Centro Pecci per l‘Arte Contemporanea in Prato. Having resided in the same collection since the 1960s, the re-appearance of this central componant of Scheggi’s original ground-breaking aesthetic environment denotes an extraordinary auction event.
The present piece was installed as the inner-most chamber of Scheggi’s curvilinear architectural vision which consumed an entire room of the Galleria Naviglio. Upon encountering the inner-sanctum of this very piece the viewer is immersed into a curving panorama of modulating patternation; circles arranged in perspectival convergence reveal layers of further circles underneath. Comprising superimposed wooden panels painted in pure white – although originally painted in solar yellow for the ’67 exhibit – this piece adapts in relation to the viewer’s own movement and position; continuous interaction with its three-dimensionality imparts mutating patterns of light and shadow. Influenced by the work of Lucio Fontana – whose theorising on Spatialism deeply affected an entire generation of artists in Italy – Scheggi transformed his forebear’s lessons into a distinctly humanistic and dynamic architectural environment. Towering an immense three metres in height and spanning an enveloping two and a half metres across, this lone surviving piece is the ultimate expression of Scheggi’s precocious vision and stands testament to the pioneering mind of one of the brightest lights of the post-war Italian avant-garde.
1966 was the break-through year for Paolo Scheggi. During this prophetic 12 months, the artist took part in important European and American exhibitions and established himself on the international stage. Of the most significant events, his participation in the exhibition Pittura-oggetto saw his work exhibited alongside a roll-call of the leading names in Italian contemporary art: Fontana, Bonalumi, Castellani, Scheggi, were the names that topped this exhibition’s bill at the Galleria Arco d’Alibert in Rome. Following this was Scheggi’s invitation to contribute to the 33rd Venice International Biennale of Art where he presented four large monochrome intersurfaces in yellow, red, white and blue on a single wall. This year was particularly significant for post-war Italian art in general; it was the year of Fontana’s prize winning Biennale entry, Ambiente Spaziale Bianco (White Spatial Environment) in which a number of monumental white canvases adorned with a single slash were exhibited in an immersive and chapel-like space. Undoubtedly inspired by Fontana’s engrossing installation, Scheggi immediately embarked upon plans for his own integrated aesthetic environment, the Intercamera Plastica which he began work on in late 1966. In this regard Scheggi was not alone, Enrico Castellani similarly transposed his iconic introflexions and extroflexions into an immersive environment entitled Ambiente Bianco (1967, and since destroyed) for exhibition alongside the now all-white Intercamera Plastica as part of the historic Lo Spazio dell’Immagine at the Palazzo Trinci in Foligno.
Scheggi’s Interchamber arrived four years after he had first surperimposed canvases with his iconic Intersuperficie. The notion of ‘inter-space’ between the superimposed layers of these canvases can be viewed as the crucial inquiry that led him to arrive at the Intercamera Plastica in 1966. It thus marked an evolution that strove for an encompassing spatial contiunuum in which the viewer was engaged as an active participant. As outlined by Francesca Pola, “With its curved and enveloping walls, sinuous and essential trajectories, optical profusions and structural primaries, the environment stands as the locus of a transit as necessary as it is noetic [sic], and tends to heighten viewers’ awareness of the conventionality of the habitual relations with the spatiality surrounding them” (Francesca Pola in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Robilant + Voena, Paolo Scheggi, The Humanistic Measurement of Space, 2014, p. 167). Herein, Scheggi’s spatial research lies at the very core of the problematics pioneered by Fontana and explored by his contemporaries, Castellani, Bonalumi, among others; and yet, his work remains distinct for its abiding classical foundation. Indeed, the cadence and composition of his ‘spaces’ echo the divine proportions as innovated by the humanist cosmologist, Luca Pacioli, during the Renaissance. Taking such historical concepts to their ultimate manifestation, Paolo Scheggi’s Intercamera Plastica reigns supreme as one of the most ground-breaking creations, not only of 1960s Spatialism, but in the entire canon of post-war Italian art.
Intercamera Plastica: Birth and History
Luca Massimo Barbero
The installation Intercamera Plastica fulfills the aspiration of spatial engagement and environmental construction that marks Paolo Scheggi’s entire path. The young artist developed this ambition in the first half of the 1960s, when it became increasingly clear to him that an artwork may, and indeed should, become a sculptural integration to architecture, to quote Scheggi’s own theoretic expression.
Intercamera Plastica thus embodies the achievement of the environmental experience that the artist conceived in the summer of 1966 and then built and presented as a truly experimental event during his personal exhibition at Galleria del Naviglio in Milan in January 1967. The immersion and participation of the public becomes an evident and unavoidable motif, thanks to the totalizing dimensions of the space and to the intense yellow colouring. The latter is intentionally perceptual against the openings of the curved and punched wooden panels that constitute the space – and animate it with a rhythmical sequence created by the distribution and sensorial engagement of the openings and perspective sinkings of the tondos, the ‘Interferences’ that traverse and compenetrate it. The Milan exhibition represents an extraordinary apex of the artist’s brief yet intense creative journey. At the time he was 26 and was making important exhibitions. He attracted much attention among the critics and, even more so, among the public. The Intercamera incarnates the spirit of design, thought and concept that underlies Scheggi’s whole oeuvre. This is indeed the coherent, continuous thread of his artistic creation, from his very first works on canvas. The spatial and dramatically environmental direction of the artist’s oeuvre had strong matrixes, and was nourished and indeed founded by connections in the thought-rich avant-garde of Milan. For this reason, it is important to note a number of previous events as well as the artist’s further development after Intercamera Plastica.
Paolo Scheggi’s first studies on the theme of space and architecture date back to 1964. They are partly due to his unceasing dialogue with the painter Getulio Alvani and with the architectural firm Nizzoli Associati, and also with Alessandro Mendini in particular. They also relate to the commission he received from Lombardia’s Regional Association of Architects to create a research committee on the theme of ‘total planning’.
Scheggi’s attention to space was stressed at the time by Carlo Belloli in his critical text composed for the artist’s third solo exhibition. This opened on 26th May 1964 at Galleria del Deposito in Genova, and was titled 7 intersuperfici curve-bianche + 1 intersuperficie curva-dal rosso + 2 progetti di compositori spaziali (7 curved-white intersurfaces + 1 curved-from red intersurface + 2 projects of spatial composers). The exhibition’s title highlighted the fact that alongside his research on Intersuperfici, Scheggi was beginning to experiment sculptural integration with architecture. He was indeed developing, as he wrote himself one year later, ‘the relations between functional disposition of volumes and virtual sculptural spaces’, in an attempt to ‘complement the research of pure plasticity with architectural research’.
Compositore cromo-spaziale (Chromatic-Spatial Composer) was one of the first results of such research. It was realised for Bruno Munari and Marcello Piccardo’s Hall of Experimental Cinema at the 13th Milan Triennale, which was held from 12th until 27th September at Palazzo dell’Arte at the Sempione Park, devoted to the theme of Free Time.
During the summer of 1964 Scheggi continued developing his research of sculptural integration with architecture, planning the new location of Germana Marucelli’s tailor’s space in Milan. Here, from October 1964 onwards, Scheggi’s artworks are an essential part of the architecture, expanding its lines and interacting directly with the surrounding area through space and colour, thus characterising it.
Scheggi confirmed his radical interest for spatial experimentations that integrate the complexity of the artwork by signing the manifesto Ipotesi di lavoro per la progettazione totale (Hypothesis of work for total design) in 1965. It was presented to Lombardia’s Regional Association of Architects in January 1965, and tellingly drafted together with Germano Celant, Angelo Fronzoni, Alessandro Mendini, Gian Mario Oliveri, and Giancarlo Sangregorio.
Invited to participate in the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966, Scheggi asked the organizers whether he could insert the four white, blue, red and yellow Intersuperfici within the gallery walls, in order to produce a closer relation of the work with the space. Even though he did not obtain such authorisation, Scheggi enriched his consideration on the sculptural integration with architecture. But let us return to the complex and rich question of the Intercamera.
During the summer of the seminal year 1966, Scheggi discussed his upcoming solo exhibition at the Galleria del Naviglio for the following January with Renato Cardazzo. The project to extend the artwork into space can be already attested by the end of August 1966. It was destined to become the Intercamera Plastica, that would then be set up in one of the inner rooms of the gallery, occupying it entirely.
Between the 9th and 22nd January 1967 the yellow Intercamera Plastica opened to the public at Galleria del Naviglio. It was introduced by a dense critical text by Umbro Apollonio, who stressed how:
“[…] this intercamera plastica of Scheggi is thus a model […] a room, simply a space, with varied appearances, made homologous only by the same colour that runs over them.
On the surfaces of its walls, the punctuations of the holes with their created shadows, ordered in different rhythms, more or less crammed, more or less straight, accompany alternatives of coincidence and condition according to whether the spectator relates [to the artwork] through a process of adjustment or rather of protest: namely, according to the way in which such interdependences are observed and felt beyond conventional schematisms […]”.
Intercamera Plastica was published internationally and was documented for the memory of critics by an important photo shoot of Ugo Mulas as well as by other photographers who perceived a totalizing and estranging quality in the artwork, that interacted well with the photographic medium and the public that went through it, making it ‘active’. The invitation for the artist to exhibit this spatial installation at Lo Spazio dell’Immagine (The Space of the Image) at Palazzo Trinci in Foligno, an exhibition that is almost mythologized nowadays, confirms its great success. Here artists, ranging from Lucio Fontana to the young Scheggi, exhibited exclusively spatial artworks, marking a new epoch in the development of Italian and international contemporary art. Scheggi’s artwork acquired here a different aspect, alongside a significant chromatic change.
Intercamera was in fact completely repainted white to accentuate in a new way, compared to the Milan exhibition, the concept of spatiality and interaction among its parts and its spectators in an estranging manner, that was perhaps more abstract and significantly symbolic.
On this occasion Scheggi published a Note for Intercamera Plastica in the catalogue, defining it:
‘[…] a discourse that draws on certain past researches of mine on the volumetric interferences of pure plasticity within the boundaries of an a-functional architecture, in parallel to the first curved intersurfaces. On this occasion it intends to be a pre-project of intentionally productive behaviour, rather than a model. […]’. The artist thus confirms the work’s centrality within his experimental path, as a ‘climax’ of his previous works.
From this moment the artwork became a reference work on a number of occasions. From the autumn 1967 onwards, Intercamerca plastica - the maquette of which became a reference also for scholars - was used as the model for a series of lectures entitled Structural Meta-Projectualities, held by Dino Formaggio at the Architecture Faculty of the Milan Politecnico. Formaggio taught Methodologies of Vision there.
The artwork was then divided into segments, dismembered, giving birth to the artwork that is exhibited on the present occasion, reappearing to the public after many years. Scheggi conceived an individual destiny for this part [of the artwork] - the only surviving original section of the Intercamera. He considered it an autonomous artwork and reiterated its spatial and architectural potential several times. The artist exhibited it as an autonomous artwork, still painted white, at Situazione 68. Rassegna biennale d’arte e letteratura d’oggi (Situation 68. Biennale of contemporary art and literature), held at the Parterre in Florence from 6th until 31st December 1968. This made it one of Scheggi’s few spatial artworks of large dimensions, all conceived as ‘walls’, accessory and motif of spatial and architectural alteration. This artwork’s most noteworthy exhibition adventure was its role in the production of the play Materiale per sei personaggi (Material for six characters), directed by Roberto Lerici at Teatro Durini in Milan between the end of March and the beginning of April 1969. Scheggi used this part of the Intercamera there as an engaging space both on the level of perception and, especially, on the physical level. He made the public and the actors interact with the space, altered by the massive presence of the artwork, which became the focus of what the artist called Scenoplastica Bianca (White Scenoplastic), thereby giving the remaining wall a new title. Videos and images were projected on its white surface, transforming it into an artwork where action, images, words and theatre coexisted. The artwork was then stored for many years in a private collection where, thanks to its important size, it preserved its spatial character in the installation that characterizes it and for which Scheggi conceived it as an autonomous and ‘functional’ work. History therefore gives us back a portion of experimental time, confirming the importance and particularly the vitality of the artist’s work, through one of his most significant or indeed emblematic inventions.
As if to confirm Scheggi’s posthumous success among the critics (he passed away in Rome in 1971), the maquette of the Intercamera Plastica was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1976, in the exhibition Ambient-Art. From Futurism to Body Art curated by Germano Celant, and was successively quoted by scholars as a central element of Italian art in those years.
Intercamera Plastica was exhibited in its entirety in 2008 at the International Art Fair Miart in Milan, abundantly and philologically reconstructed in yellow at the behest of Franca and Cosima Scheggi, respectively the wife and daughter of the artist. Between March and June 2013 the reconstructed artwork was also exhibited at the Centro Pecci per l'Arte Contemporanea in Prato, in a solo exhibition tellingly entitled Intercamera plastica e altre storie (Intercamera plastica and other stories). The exhibition was dedicated to an in-depth study and historical contextualizing of this space, donated on the occasion by Franca and Cosima Scheggi to the Centro Pecci per l'Arte Contemporanea.
This portion/original artwork, with its history and developments, gives back instead a primary element to the catalogue of the artist’s works. At the same time, thanks to its formal and inventive autonomy, it narrates an important chapter of ambient experimentations – the very experimentations that were so central in the quest for a contemporary avant-garde in the 1960s, a decade that was a real harbinger of novelties for the ensuing decades that led contemporary art to the present date.
Translated by Iante Roach
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