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(9 August 1919 – 25 October 2006)
Emilio and Garner were quite a volatile pair while working in Italian. I understand a very little Italian language and what was lost in translation was often made up for with gestures, often rude toward one another. The taunting was unrelenting.
'I must always get to the painting directly, maybe by jumping or sometimes with the help of a small stool [...] when I work, I move, I get physical, I jump and attack the canvas and the surrounding space.'
B. 1919, VENICE; D. 2006, VENICE, ITALY
Emilio Vedova was born on August 9, 1919, in Venice. Essentially a self-taught artist, he joined the Milanese anti-Fascist artists’ association Corrente (Current, 1938–43), which also included Renato Birolli, Renato Guttuso, Ennio Morlotti, and Umberto Vittorini, around 1942. Vedova participated in the resistance movement from 1943 to 1945. In 1946 in Milan he collaborated with Morlotti on the manifesto “Oltre Guernica” (Beyond Guernica) and was a founding member of the Fronte Nuovo delle Arti (New art front, 1946–50), in Venice. He described his paintings of this period as Geometrie nere (Black geometries).
Vedova’s first U.S. solo show was held at the Catherine Viviano Gallery, New York, in 1951. That same year he was awarded the prize for young painters at the first São Paulo Biennial. In 1952 he participated in the Gruppo degli Otto Pittori Italiani (Group of eight Italian painters, 1952–54), organized by Lionello Venturi, and exhibited at the Venice Biennale (following his 1948 debut). Vedova was the Italian representative at the first Documenta, Kassel, West Germany, in 1955 (again exhibiting in 1964) and won a Guggenheim International Award in 1956. He executed his first lithographs in 1958, the year he went to Poland for his retrospective at the Muzeum Narodowe, Poznań, and the Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, Warsaw. In 1959 he exhibited his large L-shaped canvases, a cycle of work called Collision of Situations (Scontro di situazioni), in an environment created by Carlo Scarpa for Vitalità nell’arte (Vitality in art), which opened at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice, and traveled to the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. This led to the first Multiples (Plurimi, 1961–65): freestanding, hinged, and painted sculpture-paintings made of wood and metal.
Vedova was awarded the Grand Prize for painting at the 1960 Venice Biennale, the year in which he created moving light sets and costumes for Luigi Nono’s opera Intolleranza ’60. Vedova worked at the Deutsche Akademischer Austausch Dienst, Berlin (1963–65); Internationale Sommerakademie, Salzburg, Austria (1965–69, 1988); and Accademia di belle arti, Venice (1975–86). In 1965 and 1983 he traveled in the United States, where he lectured extensively. For the Italian Pavilion at Expo 67, Montreal, he created a light collage using glass plates to project mobile images across a large asymmetric space. After the late 1970s, he experimented with a variety of techniques and formats such as the mobile works on steel rails (Binary-Multiples [Plurimi-Binari]), monotypes, double-sided circular panels (Disks [Dischi]), and large-scale glass engraving. In 1995 he began a new series of multifaceted and manipulable painted objects called Disk-Multiple (Disco-Plurimo). In 2005 he created a new group of monotypes, Spaces/Opposite (Spazi/Opposti), which was exhibited at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, the following year. In the last ten years of his life, Vedova’s contributions to art were recognized with numerous solo exhibitions as well as distinguished prizes, including the title of Cavaliere di Gran Croce della Repubblica Italiana (1996) and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale (1997). Vedova continued to actively experiment in painting and printmaking until he died on October 25, 2006, in Venice.
Emilio Vedova – a politically engaged Venetian artist who believed that revolutionary art had to be abstract – is regarded as one of the most influential Italian artists of the second half of the 20th century. He joined the Milanese anti-fascist group Corrente in 1942 and co-signed the Oltre Guernica manifesto in Milan in 1946, which urged artists to engage with reality while moving beyond figuration. His expressive strokes and smears of paint convey a raw and violent reaction to the political reality of the post-war period. He pushed painting into new territories with his visceral and gestural works that engage the viewer and redefine the space they inhabit.
In the late 1950s, Vedova was associated with French Informel and later with Action painting and the resurgence of expressionism, yet he has always defied categorisation. Largely self-taught, he learned to draw and paint by sketching Venetian churches and frescoes, particularly those of Tintoretto who was a key inspiration to the artist throughout his career. Although Vedova split his time between Venice and Berlin for many years, his work remained anchored in the city of his birth and its painting traditions. His paintings from the 1950s and 1960s were sensitive to contemporary political developments, such as Franco's nationalist regime in Spain and the revolutionary protests across Europe in 1968.
Inspired by a three-month trip to Mexico at the beginning of the decade, Vedova's works from the 1980s reveal the influence of the country's vast landscapes and monumental, richly coloured murals. The artist introduced an explosion of colour into his palette that enlivened the graphic contrasts between black and white. He engaged increasingly with the exploration of existential questions, using gestural abstraction as a vehicle for expressing the complexity of lived human experience. In later years, he experimented with diverse media on a large scale, incorporating light, glass and metal into complex works that activate the surrounding space, such as his hinged sculpture-paintings.
Vedova made his debut at the Venice Biennale in 1948 and, from that point onwards, would become a regular exhibitor: in 1952 he had a room devoted to his work, in 1960 he won the prize for Italian painting and, in 1997, the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement. He was the Italian representative at the first documenta in Kassel in 1955, and his work was exhibited there again in 1959, 1964 and 1982. He was also a dedicated arts educator, teaching at the Deutsche Akademischer Austausch Dienst, Berlin (1963–65); Internationale Sommerakademie, Salzburg (1965–69, 1988); and Accademia di Belle Arti, Venice (1975–86), as well as lecturing in the USA in 1965 and 1983. His work has been exhibited at major institutions, including the Arnulf Rainer Museum, Baden (2020); Palazzo Reale, Milan (2019); Centre Pompidou-Metz (2019); Museo Novecento, Florence (2018); and Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg (2016). The Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, created by the artist and his wife, continues to promote his life and legacy, highlighting Vedova's importance in the history of 20th-century art.