Founding of a New Classicism in Contemporary Art



After about forty years of artistic research that have, in a rapid series of language modifications, de-connoted and re-connoted the very nature of art, in its functioning and its form, it seems to me that there is now an opening up, at least for those like me who believe in language being an instrument for the fulfillment of Style, to a new terrain non-connoted by closed ideologies or fixed patterns of research. Here, the creation of a language of art is returning to questions relevant to the values of form, of meaning and of space, seen as true elements of artistic work, re-acquiring their key role.


A sensation….

We are in the very fortunate position of living the present with a new maturity and complexity, even, we could say with a ‘virgin’ view, and thanks to our past experiences, which, of course, we cannot return to, our perceptions are sharper and deeper.

Never before has the “memory of the past” forced us to come to terms with ourselves and, at the same time, offered us the conditions for the creation of a free artistic thinking, of a higher dimension of art. By being released from the social ties, where artistic thinking had appeared to be reduced to a slavish recorder of reality, and by unburdening itself of the constant apprehension of having to “deny” (still another time!), it has returned to going beyond the immediate circumstances. We could even say “beyond the parts”, reacquiring a universal sphere and, consequently, a meaning of timeless permeability. I would call this, the New Classicism.


Some points of reference…


The historical antecedents of this New Classicism are, in my opinion, traceable not only to some of the great European artists of the beginning of the last century, and before all, I would place Costantin Brancusi (but, also not forgetting the work of Piet Mondrian!) – but also, to a study of the Italian scenario, in the wholly Italian sensitivity of how to represent space and create an image.

I believe this particular sensitivity is generally recognizable in Italian art, also in the more recent art, and its capacity for insight is such as to become a telling trait, a true Linguistic system.


The hypothesis…


My hypothesis, it being understood that from these antecedents only two starting points clearly remain, is that from the meeting and contamination of a classical influence, at times strong and at times quite latent, present in Italian and European art of the this century – and I’m not only thinking of the work of the old Brancusi followers, but also, for example, of some of the extraordinary sculptures of Tony Cragg, and the avant-garde experiences of recent years, particularly American Minimal Art and our Arte Povera, and as well, the usual creative adventurousness of artists such as Lucio Fontana, and I see not only “Tagli”, but also “Nature” scattered across the grass from this meeting – there could arise a fertile terrain of work based not on the progressive impoverishment of the language but on enriching it, on the development of the image, on a re-found linguistic complexity and (why not?) on a new modulation of style.

Consequently, archetypical forms and old dormant materials from over the centuries, full of past memories and evocations, could find themselves projected into those spaces, more imaginary than physical, that contemporary research and aesthetics have discovered as new places of art, new environments where art manifests itself and is received. And, obviously, the opposite is also possible, where very modern materials can re-create and re-interpret artistic dimensions that were present in the long distant past – the temples, the history of humankind.


The ideality…


Only a strongly inspired creative project, of deep idealism, where the elements and times of our history merge with each other, instead of being dispersed or eliminated, can produce a solid creative thinking, firm in the face of artistic events that follow on from each other very rapidly, one after the other, and that witness, today, the extremely monotonous reiteration of what has already been said or done yesterday or before yesterday, recycled, and what’s more in quite modest and home-made versions.

My idea of classicism lies in the notion of strengthening the language of art seen in its constituent elements and fundamentals of form, material, and space, filtered, however, by the scheme of an existential awareness arising from contemporary thinking and from the new knowledge that people have acquired about themselves in the world.

This awareness that has produced the zeroing and redefining of the language of art, today, must take us beyond and further.


Time… a time…


There is “ the Time” for classicism and there is “a Time” for tradition.

Classicism and traditionalism seem, in the current interpretation, to be tied to a guiding idea, as if one implicates, in some way, the other.

However, if we, at least once, shift our point of view, moving from the usual interpretation to a philosophical one, we then realize, that the conceptions of time found in the two terms, are very different and, therefore, “Classical” and “Traditional” do not mean the same thing or explain the same event.

There is a Classical Line in art that transversally cuts across the whole of art history, returning from one period to another, dialoguing between the past, the present and the future.

The Time of Classicism, with neither the before nor the after, is the non-time, that which allows us today, but also allowed us yesterday, and will allow us tomorrow, to enter into the same type of interior syntony involving works belonging to different time periods in the history of art. A Time of Tradition is “a time”, precise and singular, made up of separate times as points, that as a whole create a particular culture and not another – it is a relative time, recording the past but not linking it with other dimensions.

I would say, stressing this point, that what has been defined as “traditional” has no link with Art and whoever, today, uses this term as a label to classify a work of art or a thinking about art, does not help in clarifying the diversity among the existing artistic options. Maybe, they simplify it, but this, today, is not enough. The place of discernment can be found elsewhere.


The interior journey…

In Art, Classicism, as I see it and live it, is not only a poetic choice. It corresponds more to an interior dimension, to an idealism inherent in humans themselves, with no specific language or set tendency.

The signs, on a poetic and language level, are a direct consequence of a prior thinking, determining one’s attitude and sensitivity compared to what is the reality.

So, the artist that sets off on this path, this interior and deep journey,where you can still “feel” the World in its entirety and uniqueness, should not expect to be rewarded with great gratification. They will occupy, intrinsically, a position of marginality.

A marginality, relative to the tempo of daily life, always searching for a focal catalyzer, that is the last to arrive, but waiting for others to arrive. However, the same condition of “laterality” inscribed in the patient annals of History, has become an exclusive condition, and has allowed those who experience it, to detach and to distance themselves, and its permanence in time still generates History.


Lucilla Catania 

Written by Lucilla Catania, published in “Titolo”, Year II , n. 7, Winter 1991/92