Mimmo Rotella (1918-2006)
Esplorazioni (Explorations)
signed and dated 'Rotella/58' (lower right); signed, titled and dated 'Rotella "ESPLORAZIONI" 1958' (on the reverse)
décollage on canvas
49.5 x 49.5cm.
Executed in 1958
Galerie Tarica, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1973.
G. Celant, Mimmo Rotella. Catalogo Ragionato volume primo 1944-1961, Milan 2016, vol. II, no. 1958 058 (illustrated, p. 621).
Ulm, Ulmer Museum, Plakatabrisse, 1975.
Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Mimmo Rotella, 1998, p. 132 (illustrated, p. 29). This exhibition later travelled to Braunschweig, Kunstverein Braunschweig.
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Lot Essay

‘With Nouveau Réalisme, we shift from the realm of painting to that of truth’ – Raymond Hains

The present group of works—many of them included in the exhibition Plakatabrisse at the Ulmer Museum, Ulm, in 1975—showcases the groundbreaking vision of the Affichistes. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, in Paris, Rome and Germany, these artists variouslylifted and reworked torn, layered palimpsests of advertisement posters and billboards from the streets, restaging their found surfaces as variegated abstract compositions that often contain fragmented text and imagery. If collage had been a way for artists to incorporate reality into paintings without imitating it, the Affichistes’ wholesale appropriations went further, making a powerful statement about urban material culture as readymade art, and embedding layers of societal consciousness in their works.

In 1954, the German artist Wolf Vostell, who was studying in Paris in the mid-1950s, was the first to apply the term collage (which he styled as -coll/age) to his torn-poster works. He had seen the word in a French newspaper, where it was used to describe the simultaneous take-off and crash of an aeroplane: for him, the word became a working concept for his use of fragments of reality, and a force that could break down visual media in order to allow the rethinking of the outworn values it contained.

It was also in 1954 that François Dufrêne—a member of the Lettrist movement and a pioneer of sound-poetry—first met the Affichistes Jacques de la Villeglé and Raymond Hains in Paris. Like him, they were fascinated by issues of language and semiotics. Dufrêne went on to adopt their method of removing old, worn street posters from public walls, mounting them onto canvas and presenting them as art. Where his colleagues tended to mount their posters as they found them, however, Dufrêne, like Vostell, took to collage: he unglued, peeled back and tore at the layers to reveal the strata of material buried below. Mimmo Rotella undertook a similar process in Rome, creating complex, fragmented palimpsests in his studio from the billboards and posters that were proliferating in the rapidly modernising Eternal City.

With their disruptive reconfiguring of consumerist surfaces, their interest in the shifting textures of modern life, and their blurring of boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’, the Affichistes in many ways created an emergent form of Pop art. The process of stripping away at layers of historical and social text, in particular, was in line with the ethos of the proto-Pop Nouveaux Réalistes. This group, inaugurated at Yves Klein’s Paris apartment in 1960 by Dufrêne, Hains, and de la Villeglé alongside Klein, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely and Arman, declared an existential quest to find what they called ‘new ways of perceiving the real’. (Rotella, too, was associated with the group: Vostell attempted to join before coming to blows with critic Pierre Restany over the term collage, and later became a member of Joseph Beuys’ Fluxus movement).

The Affichistesphysical engagement with their lived environment had a profound humanist edge in a cultural landscape devastated by the Second World War. Disregarding the theoretical debates about abstraction that were current in the field of painting, they made art afresh through a process of simultaneous creation and destruction, finding new meaning in the city surfaces around them. They transformed graphic lettering and printed colour into fields of vivid, marbled and ruptured beauty that were no less spectacular than the ‘all-over’ surfaces of Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists. Today, the Affichiste approach to ‘social abstraction’ has been taken up by artists such as Mark Bradford, who explores African-American experience in compositions of monumental grandeur. Like the Affichistes, his works are critical, poetic and richly inventive, building new ways of seeing from the traces of an ever-changing world.

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