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Thaddaeus Ropac London exhibits five major paintings made for documenta 7 by Emilio Vedova
Installation view of Emilio Vedova: documenta 7, 10 February—26 March 2022, at Thaddaeus Ropac, London. © Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Venice. Photo: Eva Herzog. Courtesy Thaddaeus Ropac gallery, London · Paris · Salzburg · Seoul.

LONDON.- Emilio Vedova’s (1919–2006) first solo exhibition in the UK reunites his five monumental canvases from the landmark documenta 7 exhibition in 1982, curated by Rudi Fuchs. These paintings are being shown alongside a selection of important works from the 1980s, a period considered the pinnacle of the artist’s career. Presented in association with the Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, this exhibition marks the fourth decade since his participation in documenta 7 in Kassel and the 40th Venice Biennale, held in the same year.

By the 1980s, Vedova was widely regarded as one of the most influential abstract Italian artists of his time, having exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1947 and the legendary documenta exhibitions I, II and III (1955, 1959 and 1964) in Kassel. His invitation to exhibit once more in documenta 7 demonstrated his significance for the up-and-coming generation of Neo-expressive artists. It preceded a number of publications and solo exhibitions as the decade progressed, including a retrospective with 280 works, curated by Germano Celant, at the Museo Correr in Venice, and a subsequent show at the Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst in Munich.

Vedova’s paintings attest to documenta curator Rudi Fuchs’ desire in 1982 that the invited artists would ‘do justice to the dignity of art’, freeing it from the ‘various constraints and social parodies it is caught up in’ by presenting a selection of works with the power to show themselves ‘unrestrainedly’ – works whose reception would outlive the situations of their production.

Vedova navigated between tradition and the avant-garde throughout the course of his career and played a central role in forging a new path for Italian art in the modern era. Revered as one of the most notable painters to emerge from post-war Europe, Vedova was hailed by Peggy Guggenheim as a rising star of the European avant-garde. He had a firm and enduring friendship with Georg Baselitz, who once described his work as ‘all the heart could desire’. Baselitz dedicated a series of paintings to his recently deceased friend at the 2007 Venice Biennale, shown alongside three-dimensional works by Vedova himself.

The exhibition sheds light on a striking and radical artist, whose reluctance to be associated with any definitive movements, and to participate in capitalist art market structures, prevented his work from entering into mainstream art historical discourse to the same extent as that of his peers. A revolutionary of his time, Vedova gained notoriety in the 20th-century art world by spearheading movements including the anti-Fascist artist’s union, Corrente, and the Nuova Secessione Artistica Italiana; he also co-wrote the Beyond Guernica Manifesto in 1946. Although he was reluctant to be associated with any definitive movements, in the 1950s Vedova became a leading exponent of Italian and European Art Informel, together with Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana, alongside Abstract Expressionist painters from the United States such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline.

Deeply rooted in the Second World War he experienced, Vedova approached his painting with dynamic force, galvanised by the desire for political change, and engaged with the exploration of existential questions borne from human experience. His entrenched belief that revolutionary art must be forged through abstraction led him to a rejection of the expressionistic approach of painting about painting itself. His process involved a direct confrontation between himself and the canvas, a confrontation that permeates the viewer’s experience.

Vedova’s entire oeuvre is anchored in Venice, where he was born and spent most of his life – the light of the city, the water, the sand, and the architecture are constantly present in his paintings. He also looked back to his Venetian predecessors from the Renaissance, in particular Tintoretto – he was impressed by his bold brushstrokes, accentuated gestures, dramatic use of light and by his persona. As art historian Carlo Bertelli writes: ‘[Vedova] assaulted Tintoretto with the fury of a Kokoschka’.

Deeply influenced by his surroundings, the works from the 1980s were largely inspired by a three-month trip to Mexico at the turn of the decade, where he found inspiration in the vast landscapes and richly coloured, monumental murals. In subsequent paintings, Vedova introduced an explosion of colour into his palette and refined the abstract painterly style that had defined his practice throughout his career.

Despite this shift in focus, the works on display continue to push painting into new territories with an expressive ferocity, rejecting any totalitarian regime in favour of conveying the complexities of lived human experience.

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