Un artista singolare, Elio Marchegiani. Per l’articolo della copertina a lui dedicata, ha voluto ripubblicare un testo scritto trent’anni fa dal nostro direttore, Lorella Pagnucco Salvemini. Qui di seguito, ci spiega perché.


My first Meeting with Lorella

The gallerist, art dealer and publisher Giancarlo Calcagni – a model friend of mine – once asked me to do an interview intended for publication on a special issue of his art magazine – “Gazzetta delle Arti” – called “Personaggi difficili” (“complex characters”). He came to my studio in Trastevere together with Lorella, a beautiful young woman, and Silvio, the woman’s ten-year-old son. After exchanging courtesies with them and Carola, I hazarded a comment: “What a beautiful woman you’re with!” “Not just that, she’s also clever, enthusiastic and writes wonderfully!”, he said. Meanwhile, Silvio was roaming around my studio attentively. I left my adult guests with Carola and joined Silvio, who looked at my works with great curiosity. At that moment, an idea came to my mind, and I shouted out at Giancarlo from where I was standing in the studio: “So why don’t we let Lorella carry out the interview with the complex character, this time?” This is what happened, and thirty years after that “Gazzetta delle arti” magazine issue, ARTEiN World proposes the whole piece written by Lorella Pagnucco Salvemini, the extraordinary partner and wife of an extraordinary friend of mine, whom I lost during our long adventure in the world of art. Let us remember him with someone who succeeded in reading such a complex character so soon.

Elio Marchegiani

P.S. Meanwhile Silvio, who is now forty years old, still remembers my willingness to satisfy his curiosity.

Predominanza del verticale oro k24, supporto rosso pergamena, 1977 Ph. Gabriele Fiolo
Predominanza del verticale oro k24, supporto rosso pergamena, 1977 Ph. Gabriele Fiolo

Ed ecco l’articolo scritto trent’anni fa

30º anniversario di uno scritto
Acuto, ironico, divertente, comunque arduo da decifrare




I want to write about Elio Marchegiani, although I know this is no easy task. He is one who baffles you. And his art baffles you even more. I want people to talk about him again, but in a different way. I want critics to finally confess they feel embarrassed and vulnerable, when they approach his work, because there is something different and elusive about him, which can be sensed but not grasped. You can study Marchegiani, you can retrace his artistic development, sometimes you can even talk with him (pardon! I mean listen to his torrential monologues), but, in the end, you are going to feel as if you could not understand him correctly. A smart, ironic man who, at first, intrigues and amuses you. But then, be careful, you can end up being unwittingly afraid of him. And this is good: his unexpected, prolonged,deliberate and stubborn silence makes you feel uneasy. It upsets you. Because you guess it prefigures one of his amazing, umpteenth “devilish ideas”, as it has already happened in the past.

Elio Marchegiani
Elio Marchegiani

The truth is that we do not know how to frame him. He has devoted to all kinds of art, and, “worse still”, he has done it his own way. Art informel, Pop Art, Optical Art, Neo-Dadaism, Conceptual Art, Performance Art – sometimes at his own risk – and even Figurativism. And here he is, still at ease with ready-made objects, blackboards, plaster, natural rubber, and artifacts. If you believe he is just a mocking, desecrating artist, who is prone to easy and sterile j’accuse, in that case, you are certainly wrong. You can mess around with his contraptions and smile bashfully. And his latest good idea can even make you laugh, perhaps heartly.

But then, you are suddenly thrown into gnawing doubt, as if you went into spasm, and you start wondering if all this divertissement concealed something deeper. While you study, swallow and reason, he immediately understands he has scored a direct hit. And so, with ill-concealed satisfaction, but very politely, as it is appropriate, he moves to something else. And leaves you there – lonely and incredulous – to observe his strange works and meditate on them.

“Why did you give us deep insights?” Goethe’s words come to your mind, and you would like to tell him. Just to let him know you are playing any longer. Because now you are serious, attentive, and intellectually irreproachable. You get even more serious, and try to make an impression. You take a look around slowly. You even squeeze your eyes to sharpen your sight. You have been suffering from shortsightedness throughout your life, so this should be quite easy. Or, at least, you hope so. You focus on his early important works: Muri d’oro (“walls of gold”, 1962); Deus ex machina (1965); and – with some reticence, due to rooted superstition – that unbelievable Gufo (“owl”, 1964). And while you ask yourself, “Why owls?”, you tardily realize that the avoidance of the article “the” is even too much in tune with the subconscious of a magician who might have come from Benevento. Fortunately, you are unexpectedly helped by fragmentary memories of those esoteric readings that captivated you so much ten years ago.

You have a go. With a solemn countenance, you recall the symbolic meanings attached to gold: the sun, manliness, active thought. Analogously, you associate silver with the moon, womanliness, goddesses such as Demeter or Kore, essence and, last, fluctuation and intuition. You go on. You associate the triangle in Deus ex machina with the coercive power of the God of the Bible; you grasp hints to Masonry and initiation, also keeping in mind the statements of Euclidean geometry. As to the owl, (which you stubbornly continue to consider quite sinister) you manage it by saying Egyptians considered it the symbol of knowledge.


If now you think you did just fine, stop and look at him. He, Marchegiani. What is he doing? Nothing. He is just listening to you. Your face flushes and you get nervous, as you discover you have been trapped in wondering what he thinks, about you, of course. And you lose time. You chomp at the bit. You are not going to get anywhere.

Grammature d’oro k24 supporto pelle, 1979 Ph. Gabriele Fiolo
Grammature d’oro k24 supporto pelle, 1979 Ph. Gabriele Fiolo

Did you ever imagine such a demanding sight? And yet, you knew it. You had been told about it. For him, works of art are worth the name when they make you reflect. What else? Oh, yes, communication. You know he likes the equivalence between art and communication. Actually, you would like to ask him what message he aspires to convey, what it is that he would like to tell people most. But you give up soon. Because you are sure he would answer like Fontana answered to him in 1961, “I did the cut, now you young people have to understand what stands behind it”, or like Kafka, when he talked about secrets: “You won’t share them with someone you have known for half an hour, will you?”

Almost lost in thought, you move close to Body Milk and Lapide luminosa a James Bond (“luminous headstone to James Bond”), both dating from 1964. They look understandable to you. The former is clearly a condemnation of the exploitation of the female body by advertisers. The woman is reduced to a body, from thinking subject to erotic object. As if the advertised product had to be desired with the intensity of sex drive. Avant tous la séduction is the main mystery. And many women are conned.

The latter represents the fall of a myth of our age. The good-looking, fascinating, and apparently invincible James Bond is dead. Never mind, it happened even to Marx and Nietzsche. Meanwhile, the large breasts of a woman light up and show revealing luminous scripts from 007: he will survive in our hearts, so to speak.


This time, it is Marchegiani who is having fun. So you persuade yourself he agrees with what you are saying. You believe he is pleased and convinced. (Be sincere, has any trace of approval appeared on his face?). You think so, and you are right. From a certain viewpoint, isn’t faith stronger than being? And here it is, philosophy; you are resorting to it once again. Oh, and have you noticed the La Cultura è energia series (“the Culture is energy”, 1969-71)? The portraits of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes, Archytas, etc., are made more dynamic by a Van Der Graaf generator. Static culture, technological culture. Apart from the fact that you need to review what you know about it and admitting it annoys you, everything is quite unclear. You watch them again. What did Marchegiani create? High energy, revolution and a synthesis of knowledge. Isn’t it simple?

Even too much, mon cher, and you would rather change the tune. Il concerto per gomma solista (“concert for solo rubber”) gives you a good chance to do it. What is the sound of natural rubber (a fiber that lasts for a short time)? Only yours. The sound that participating hands can produce. These works live with you and of you. They stretch when you touch them, they react. They get thinner, larger, and screech. They bear your fingerprints, in short, they are your skin. A surface element that mirrors and reunites with something deeper (a caress is enough to notice it).

This conversation fills you with fervour, and, moved by emotion, you end up tripping over a blackboard. Like Carola did last week, and she almost cut her foot.

Marchegiani created many works using blackboards and plastered walls. This is the wall, this is freedom. The spontaneous gesture of a child who writes and scribbles on it, in blessed and most pure, primeval innocence. And you stand there, agreeing with it. (But don’t you remember the troubles that yelling toddler – your son – caused you, when he did his best to represent the sun his mother loves so much on his bedroom walls with a red marker? To clean those walls was a colossal deed).

The other, the blackboard, represents education, science, principle, method. Coercion and duty.

So the artist created Grammature di colore (“densities of colour”), in which the support – plaster and blackboard – is marked with neat, vertical lines.

The indefinitely varying, and yet obsessively ripetitive, shafts become poetry, abstraction, alchemy, rite, pure imagination. They are the trait d’union in/between different works; they act like a primordial symbol, vertical writing, hieroglyphic (Hieroglyphikà-Grammata), a remain of memory, embryos of a thought that is waiting to be expressed and to develop fully, the becoming (his words) that has always accompanied him, together with matter.

Time is marked slowly, like when you are remembering or waiting for something.

When space is entrusted to memory, it cannot create images. Iconic structures appear on plaster: they are as essential in perspective as renaissance images, and have a relationship of coexistence – in both space and discourse – with the grammature.

These works are called Sinopie; they are shafts and figures at once. They recall a past rescued from oblivion and provide it with meaning. They are something that stands behind, behind a torn, scratched and thrown surface. This is not the front side, the painting, the effect, the phenomenon. This is something that already existed and is now becoming visible again, like a memory, like a phantom. It should be admitted that these works delve and cut.

In other words: history becomes in the present. And Marchegiani becomes in history. Before finally leaving, you turn and look at him in the only possible way, as if he were impossible. But it is very likely, actually, it is certain that we will see more of his works soon. And we will talk about him again.

Lorella Pagnucco Salvemini, “La Gazzetta della Arti”, Venezia, summer 1989, in “Personaggi difficili”


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