ACCARDI AND MORAL: REBEL WOMEN IN ITALIAN ART

by Daniel Rothbart

From painting to performance, Italian avant-gardism has been characterized by a spirit of innovation. Carla Accardi, whose work is currently paired with works by Lucio Fontana at Sperone Westwater Gallery, is a magnificent case in point. While Fontana pierced the picture plane, Accardi’s subtler intervention of woven patterning (akin to the substance of canvas upon which a painting is painted) carried the discourse of painting to a new place. Sukran Moral is a Turkish born sculptor and performance artist, living in Rome, explores issues of nomadism, cultural and sexual identity through poignant and at times humorous interventions. While belonging to different generations and working with different issues, Accardi and Moral embody a certain independence and will to transgress that unite them in the pursuit of art.

Third Person – Carla Accardi

Sicilian by birth, Carla Accardi crossed mainland Italy to study painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. After moving to Rome in 1946, she joined an artist’s group called Forma 1, whose members included Pietro Consagra, Piero Dorazio and Antonio Sanfilippo (her future husband) among others. Accardi was already experimenting with abstract, interconnected geometric forms which were the subject of paintings exhibited in her first gallery exhibition at the Galleria Age d’Or in Rome. During the early fifties, American Abstract Expression began to influence many European practitioners of Modern Art. In Italy this new art came to be known as "Arte concreta" or an art of fundamental forms."

Accardi's work reached maturity in the 1950's when she participated in a major exhibition of Arte concreta at the National Gallery in Rome. Toward the end of this decade, she forswore the use of color, focusing on black and white compositions that came to be know as "Labirinti e settori" (labyrinths and fields). Change came once again in 1961 when Accardi joined the "Continuità" group and began to address color issues, painting on transparent Sicofoil plastic sheeting rather than canvas. By mid-decade she was using the Sicofoil to create woven, three-dimensional constructions, which covered painted figuration to create highly intriguing studies of pictorial depth and transparency. Her new technique, involving found material, heralded the development of "Arte Povera" in the late sixties and seventies.

In the 1982, Italian critic Achille Bonito Oliva included Accardi's work in his major exhibition Avanguardia e Transavanguardia (Avant-Garde and Trans-Avant-Garde) at the Mura Aureliana in Rome. In this decade Accardi returned to easel painting and through the present day her work has acquired international prominence through major gallery and museum exhibitions. On view at the Sperone Westwater Gallery, in an exhibition aptly titled "Infinite Space" are works from diverse periods of the Accardi’s life, juxtaposed with pieces by the Argentinean maestro Lucio Fontana. Viewed together they convey a sense of Accardi’s vision in evolution, ever expanding the notion of what painting could be.

Accardi's "Doppio labirinto" of 1956 is a tempera painting with white figuration on a black ground. The marks are like some arkane writing, defined and articulated yet lacking any readily ascertainable meaning. They are clustered into two bodies that seem to detach from one another, either forming a labyrinth or complex network of lines. The work is like a metaphor for art making and the need to create new linguistic systems, the artist finding her way through the myriad possibilities to arrive at a specific resolution.

Another particularly intriguing work from the current exhibition is "Bianco" from 1976. The piece consists of a bare rectangular wooden stretcher, divided vertically at the center with a brace. To either side of the center brace, crescent shaped canvas pieces, like the sails on a clipper ship, have been affixed, overlapping one another and leading the eye in opposing directions. Covering each canvas element is a shiny strip of transparent Sicofoil. Like an anatomical model, this work lays bare the inner substance of a painting. But through a geometrical artifice it also creates a new dynamic from these familiar materials, guiding us into an architectural space of windows upon windows. Bianco means white in Italian, and refers to the whiteness of the canvas but also the wall on which this construction hangs, which is visible behind the crescent elements. In this piece she unites the space of painting with the architecture in which it resides, bridging pure geometry of her canvas crescents with imperfections of the wall beyond.

First Person - Sükran Moral

I was living in Rome in 1993. My Fulbright money had dried up two years ago but I was not ready to leave Italy, so I taught English as a second language and took on any odd job that I could find to survive in Naples. Finally, after knocking on many doors, I landed an adjunct position teaching sculpture for Temple University’s study abroad program in Rome. With the help of a mover’s shaky "Ape" buggy, I transported my belongings and myself into an apartment on northernmost fringe of the Italian capital. The job agreed with me and, to the extent possible, I frequented the Italian art scene. Some six months after my arrival I received an invitation to attend the opening festivities of the Flash Art Museum in Trevi, so I boarded on a train to Umbria. At a reception in the main piazza I noticed a very elegant woman seated on the steps of a church who appeared distinctly un-Italian.

I introduced myself and thereby made the acquaintance of Sükran Moral, one of the most interesting artists I have had the good fortune to meet in my life. Moral was born in Terme, Turkey in the 1960’s and took a degree from the University of Ankara. At eighteen years of age she left home for good, moving to Istanbul with a suitcase and determination. Unsatisfied with Turkish cultural milieu, Moral packed up again, arriving in Rome by herself, friendless with eight hundred dollars and the will to develop her artistic vision in this cosmopolitan city. She obtained a student visa by enrolling in the Accademia di Belle Arti where Moral studied painting and ultimately took a degree in 1994.

She invited me to her studio in Rome and I accepted with pleasure. At the time, Moral lived and worked in a cavernous studio in the neighborhood of San Lorenzo, behind the Termini Station near the University of Rome La Sapienza. Her personal exhibition "L’Ultimo verde" or "The Last Green" had recently concluded in a private gallery and the works were back in the studio. A body of work dealing with issues of the environment, and personal versus private space, I was impressed with its scale and ambition. The artist is a practicing Buddhist and one piece consisted of a black t-frame dwelling in which she had herself photographed. For the resulting photomontage she associated text from Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, "the way is free but not for all" with the photograph. Indeed much of her work critiques mainstream thought, offering more complex and nuanced alternatives to the viewer.

In 1994 the Italian government decided to crack down on immigrants, forcing them all to document their status or face deportation. Moral's student visa had expired long ago, and now the artist was facing expulsion. Her only option it seemed was to marry an Italian citizen. What did Sükran do? She turned the problem into a work of art. In Turkey, the pashas of old could marry numerous wives and keep them cloistered in his palace, attended by eunuch guards. Moral turned this Orientalist stereotype on its head, marrying not one but three Italian men. "Matrimonio con tre" took place in the artist's Rome studio to the great diversion of numerous artists, critics and neighborhood passer's by. Ultimately Moral obtained letters from so many prominent European art world figures that the government conceded her a visa on cultural grounds.


Since that time the artist has produced many new works. In 1995, for an exhibition curated by Enrico Pedrini at Studio Oggetto in Milan, Sükran produced a work titled "Mistrust the History of Art," for which she appropriated schematic diagrams by patriarchal European art historians. For "Speculum," produced two years later, the artist posed for a photographer in a gynecological chair, legs apart. Where the vulva would be on this black and white photograph, the artist superimposed a video monitor with China Red snow on its screen. For the 1997 Istanbul Biennial she produced a work called "Haman" for which she secretly entered the male section of a Turkish bath, disguised as an attendant. In the same year she infiltrated a Turkish brothel in the guise of a prostitute and later produced a performance called "Bordello." In recent years the artist has addressed issues of immigration and the role of women in our post 9.11 world. For "Despair," a work of 2003, she composed a black and white photograph of refugees in a boat with brightly colored birds, which perch on their arms and shoulders. In a daring performance called "Zina" at the Roman Baruchello Foundation in 2003, the artist, clad in a shroud, invited participants from the audience to bury her alive. This work takes its theme from Islamic fundamentalism and the practice of stoning adulteress women to death as punishment for their transgression.

Sükran Moral is an outsider artist who has never lost her wit or her edge and promises great work to come. In the new monograph by Simonetta Lux and Patrizia Mania, one finds throughout Moral's work a humanistic critique of society and its institutions that devalue the individual and debase the quality of everyday life. Defying all odds, she has held her own and preserved her integrity in Rome, working at the fringes and interstices of the art world and reorienting it to a more interesting place.

Carla Accardi's work may be viewed at Sperone Westwater Gallery, 415 West 13th Street, New York, NY Tel. 212-999-7337

"Sükran Moral: Apocalypse," a 2006 monograph by Simonetta Lux and Patrizia Mania is available through www.luxflux.net

© 2006 Daniel Rothbart. All rights reserved.