Nivola: Sandscapes Part 2

This exhibition focuses on the work of artist Costantino Nivola and his pioneering process of sandcast sculpting. Containing pictorial, sculptural, and architectural elements as well as echoes of Sardinian iconography, these works on view bear witness to the artist's prominence as a cultural figure and his lasting artistic influence.

Untitled [Study for the Olivetti Showroom, New York City, NY] (1953) by Costantino NivolaMagazzino Italian Art

The work is richly textured with patterns made from repeated marks or geometric forms. The vibrant use of color was eliminated entirely from the full-scale work so as not to disrupt the overall balance of the space designed by the architect studio BBPR.

However, Nivola retained much from the overall composition when it was translated to the Olivetti showroom on 5th Avenue, NY, for example, the suggestion of patterning evoked by the decorative dotted line. Whilst the work is a positive relief, aspects of it were inverted in the full-scale work.

Installation view of Nivola: SandscapesMagazzino Italian Art

Untitled [Maquette for the Olivetti Showroom, New York City, NY] (1953) by Costantino NivolaMagazzino Italian Art

Nivola started experimenting with various designs for the final Olivetti Showroom bas-relief in 1953. There are four known compositions; Untitled [Maquette for the Olivetti Showroom, NY] was one of the later designs realized by Nivola. The relief is animated by a series of abstracted figures that span the height of the cast relief.

Whilst none of the compositions that the artist experimented with correspond precisely to the full-scale work, there are key elements that appear in modified form—for example, the breasted figure; the rectangular shape surrounded by a pointed collar painted in black; and the decorative patterning, although these elements were left unpainted in the full-scale version.

The figures are interspersed with geometric shapes and organic forms in an interplay of texture and shape that unify the composition. Nivola experimented with the relation between positive and negative space, and this is accented in a more muted way than the earlier version of the composition on display.

Untitled [Study for the Olivetti Showroom, New York City, NY] (1950) by Costantino NivolaMagazzino Italian Art

Alongside the four known examples, referred to as maquettes, that envisage the entire composition of the wall, Nivola also realized several studies throughout 1953. Untitled [Study for the Olivetti Showroom, New York City, NY] comprises an abstracted breasted figure, that is richly decorated.

Texture and patten are achieved through the
sandcasting process and accented with color. Nivola constantly reinvented his work in a spontaneous and instinctive way.

However, there is much that remains of the overall composition of the figure in the full-scale work as well as some of the decorative elements such as the bands of patterning running along the top of the work.

Installation view of Nivola: SandscapesMagazzino Italian Art

Untitled [Maquette for the Olivetti Showroom, New York City, NY] (1953) by Costantino NivolaMagazzino Italian Art

Of the compositions developed for the entire wall, Untitled [Maquette for the Olivetti Showroom, New York City, NY] comes closest to the full-scale version that was installed in the Olivetti Showroom, NY, in 1954.

The design takes into account the architecture of the space, indicating that Nivola was thinking about the work in situ: on the right-hand side of the panel, the artist includes the outline of an area corresponding to the position of the doorframe and the mezzanine platform that met the wall.

The design and arrangement of figures, as well as the large decorative central section corresponds to the full-scale version of the work. Nivola was experimenting with a more muted palette: color is applied more sparsely compared to the earlier designs and used only to highlight elements of the composition, such as the decorative panel.

When the full-scale work was realized, the sandcast was left unpainted to maintain a sense of balance in the space. The work was given to Dino Olivetti, described as Olivetti’s ‘most American son,’ who oversaw the launch of Olivetti in America.

The work remained in Dino Olivetti’s collection until 1974, when it was donated to the Addison Collection of American Art by Dino’s wife Posy Olivetti (neé Rosamond Castle). Posy attended Abbot Academy, an independent all-girl’s boarding school, which merged with the Phillips Academy in 1973.

Untitled Untitled (1952) by Costantino NivolaMagazzino Italian Art

Untitled is one of the earliest and most distinctive examples of Nivola’s playful and imaginative visual iconography.

Comprising hybrid figures, such as what appear to be animals’ heads on abstracted human bodies in the three characters starting from the left-hand side of the work, and a color palette consisting primarily of pastel green, orange, yellow, and cream, this sandcast plaster is full of narrative potential. There is a clear interest in scale, as the artist included a range of differently proportioned
figures in this landscape.

There are also several instances in which the artist incorporates iconography specific to his native Sardinia, such as the goat-like figure that stands on top of the light-yellow base in the center of the panel, suckling her kid.

The strong graphic outline of the design recalls the artist’s plaster sgraffito works, made by scratching into plaster before it dried. This lively work serves as a reminder of what characterized this early moment in Nivola’s artistic career: experimentation, exploration, and whimsical fun.

Installation view of Nivola: SandscapesMagazzino Italian Art

Deus (1953) by Costantino NivolaMagazzino Italian Art

To create Deus (1953), Nivola first modeled the design of the bas relief in sand and then made a cast with a thin coat of “plaster of Paris,” a quick-setting gypsum plaster readily found in the areas surrounding the French capital

Executed as a detail study for a larger work, most likely the mural for the Olivetti showroom, Deus represents an abstracted human figure as well as what appears to be smaller breasted forms along the bottom half of the panel.

The outer layer is richly textured, with tiny pebbles interspersed throughout. This work was first exhibited in 1954 at Peridot Gallery in New York and was then purchased by the Whitney Museum of American Art a year later.

Installation view of Nivola: SandscapesMagazzino Italian Art

In this exhibition, Deus is displayed next to Imama, a visually and technically similar work, made the same year.

Imama (1953) by Costantino NivolaMagazzino Italian Art

Like Deus, Imama was created in 1953 and abstractly renders the form of a figure through large, geometric shapes.

On the bottom right corner of the panel, Nivola includes small depictions of a female figure, suggested by the breast-like forms.

Credits: Story

On view at Magazzino Italian Art from May 8, 2021, through January 10, 2022, Nivola: Sandscapes includes rarely seen work from the artist's family estate as well as major institutional and private loans. The exhibition is curated by Magazzino's 2020-21 Scholar-in-Residence, Teresa Kittler, with Chiara Mannarino, and is organized in collaboration with the Nivola Foundation and with the support of the Embassy of Italy in Washington D.C.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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