Born in Trapani, Sicily, but Rome-based for most of her life, Carla Accardi (1924 - 2014) is today acknowledged among Italy's most important post-war artists. Over the course of a rigorous, poetic and conceptually informed career lasting nearly seven decades, Accardi developed a radical and sophisticated painterly syntax in which the formal and conceptual elements of style were made to embrace rather than conflict. Her paintings and extraordinary environments made using sicofoil, a flexible, translucent plastic developed during Italy's post-war industrial renaissance, were begun in 1965 and have since become the artist's most iconic works.
Following a brief period at the Accademia in Florence, where she met her future husband, painter Antonio Sanfilippo, Carla Accardi moved to Rome in1946, immersing herself in the young and ambitious art scene of the war-scarred capital. Accardi was a Marxist, a feminist, and a cultural nomad who in the 1970s spent extended periods in Morocco, incorporating the rhythm and sensuality of northern Africa in her work.
Alert to the neo avant-garde tendencies of Art Informel, Abstract Expressionism, Arte Povera and Conceptual Art, Carla Accardi maintained a meaningful dialogue with her leading contemporaries in Italy and abroad. In the 1950s she visited Hans Hartung and Jean Fautrier in Paris, and later met Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston in Rome.
Through her association with Carla Lonzi, the influential author and critic, she campaigned for the visibility of women artists. In 1976 she organized a significant exhibition on Artemisia Gentileschi in Rome, three years before Yvon Lambert's Mot pour Mot: Artemisia exhibition in Paris in 1979.
In 1986 she was invited by Jan Hoet to participate in the seminal exhibition Chambres d'amis in Gent, where she showed a large sicofoil installation across from a Dan Graham outdoor pavilion and alongside some of the most important European and American conceptual and minimalist artists.
Yet, Accardi is one of those rare practitioners who resist classification, whose work glides through movements and decades without conflict, and with an irresistible clarity and intensity of vision. As contemporary Italian artist Paola Pivi states in Laura Cherubini's contribution to the exhibition catalogue: "Carla does nothing to persuade you that her art is interesting. And her work is further enriched by this immeasurable freedom."
Enraptured by the industrial plastic sheets of sicofoil being delivered to her studio by a fashion house in the 1960s, Carla seized the opportunity to integrate this found medium in her practice, claiming: "I wanted to make transparent what was around us." Forever reaching beyond the confines of the picture plane, Accardi also fashioned the painted sicofoil sheets into free-standing cylinders, cones, and extraordinary tents: metaphors for the body and symbols of the cultural nomadism at play in advanced conceptual practice.
The earliest painting on view, Arancio-arancio, belongs to a group of works made between 1965 and 1966, in which Accardi laid down sicofoil sheets onto a primed canvas and completed the painted image with uniform, graphic brushstrokes, made using the same shade of household varnish.
Beginning in 1967, Accardi pushed the disappearance of the conventional picture plane further, towards an expanse of pure colour and light, by fastening the sicofoil sheets directly onto the stretcher. In Segni oro (1967), Due ori (1968), and Oro (1972), sicofoil is at once sign and signifier, pertaining simultaneously to the plane of content and to the plane of expression.
In Segni grigi (1972), the negotiation of grey signs with the translucency of sicofoil on the pictorial surface exposes not only the artist’s sophisticated investigations of colour but also an exacerbation of the ontological tension between painting’s condition as visible object and metaphysical plane. This emerges most compellingly in Accardi’s interwoven sicofoil sheets, culminating in the 1974 and 1975 transparent works on view, onto which she does not interfere pictorially at all. With the bare layering of surface, Accardi refers directly to the brightness of the wall and of the entire space, while the painting itself, at the furthest point of sublimation, disappears and is transmuted into pure light.
Until her sudden death at age eighty-nine, in 2014, Carla Accardi continued to push the boundaries of the artistic territories she inhabited. Whether reconfiguring her own works, as in the case of Rosaverdenero, (2008, originally made 1968), or variously alternating between opaque and translucent surfaces, in two and three-dimensions, Accardi’s practice continued to shape painting “in the manner of Ariadne’s thread, which is bound up with changing one’s awareness of oneself.”
The exhibition Carla Accardi: Sicofoil is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with newly commissioned texts by Laura Cherubini and Flavia Frigeri, and an interview with the artist by Hans Ulrich Obrist.