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By Letizia Airos (translated by Anna Salome)

Published in: Magazine OGGI 7, Westwood, New Jersey, February 2006 |

OGGI cover

She has been with him for only 4 years yet she speaks of him as if she had known him forever. Aldo is not well, he has to have heart surgery soon and we cannot interview him, but his special story must be told because a few know it. Anna was born in Sicily and immigrated to the United States when she was 8 years old. Aldo, was then, coming off the ship with his family. So much time has passed. After this strange coincidence life continued on its course till 4 years ago.

It was a mutual friend who made them meet, she knew both of them, she had a hunch that the two would like each other and after long insistence she made it possible for them to talk on the telephone. They talked about art, poetry, of Italy; this from 11 at nightuntil5 in the morning. Love was born: “when I saw him, I understood he was the man for me. And now I am immersed in his arte, in his works, in his story, even in his story be it very tragic.”

Aldo Tambellini is an important personality that, above all in the 60’ and 70’s in New York, he lived his artistic experience always on the edge of contradiction.

Anna tells us about the man: “Is a person full, alive, is 75 years old but he is still projecting into the future. Even when he was young he was a rebel, always searching for something different to experiment with.”

Anna tells us about the artist: “For him art needs to find a new expression. He feels his mission to interpret reality in an alternative way. For him art is also politics. Of his “Black TV”, which won the Oberhausen Film Festival in 1969, people have said that that it is the mirror held up to the America of the 60’s. While everyone was talking about this country in the positive, he was concentrating on the negative aspects.”

What we are trying to do with this article is a difficult puzzle. Aldo Tambellini is a very complex person to be able to condense in a few lines, especially at this moment when we know he is not well and he is worried about the open heart surgery which is imminent; He is worried not for his life (life on the edge) but for leaving work still unfinished, not having the chance to organize his large archive of his work.”

His is a life lived solely for his art, sacrificing everything. Born in Syracuse, NY and at 18 months he was brought to live in Lucca where at the age of 10, he started art school. After the war, his family came to the United States, and here Aldo continued studying art. In the 50’s he moved to New York in search of new ways of expression. His story is of one who with courage approached the artistic expression that are newer and alternative, to see to what point art would reach and if it would go beyond. For this method of working he was asked to go to MIT, in the last few years, as a Fellow for the Center of Advanced Visual Studies in Cambridge, MA.

But let us allow Anna Salamone, manager, archivist and as Anna defines herself “a companion in this journey into art,” to speak about him, What form of artistic expression does Aldo prefer? “He considers himself a painter and a sculptor. But writing gives him much comfort. This because he has had so many pieces of work destroyed in his life, works, sculptures which were hammered and destroyed, works he did not know where to leave that were thrown out. In writing he found a form which did not need excessive work in order to be saved, one that can be carried always with him.”

It was Gianni Cappelli, journalist for America Oggi who first brought Aldo’s story to our attention. They met on the ship crossing to come to the US, then they lost contact and reunited after so many years (see insert).

”Thanks to Gianni, Aldo began to write. I am working on his immense archive which begins in the 50’s. There is so much material. Letters and letters from known political figures, and famous artists, different works old and new, records of multi-media , film…In there is all of his anger, his energy which permeates with strength and vitality, his counter statements.”

And she relates some episodes from the life of this true avant-gardeArtist. “He organized a demonstration in 1967 against the 3 museums in New York. He used to publish a newspaper, The Screw which he used to sell for 10 cents. With this he was opposing the conventional artists, the museums and the relationship these two groups had with the dealers who sold art and determined its worth. He was against the supremacy of the market. But then it was only covered by the Spanish newspaper, EL Diario. Artist should not be bought according to Aldo. Because of their great mission they should not be speculated upon to make money.”

His rebel soul, was not solely dedicated to artistic themes, for example “He organized a very large demonstration against the Vietnam War. It left from his theater in the Lower East Side and gained the length of a half a mile. He was accompanied with drums by some members of the Living Theater while Aldo carried and enormous cross and there were people who were making believe they were dead.”

In the 70’s he even joined the battle for Italian American rights against discrimination. “When seeing 2 artists who were Italian-American they used to say “Mafia”. He video taped the work of the Italian American Civil Rights League. Fred Gardaphe, professor of Italian Studies at NY State University at Stony Brook, is trying to organize a conference with this material. But they are old films difficult to handle.

Aldo Tambellini counter-culture man and artist Anna tells us more:“He has always felt himself Italian. He was Italian even though he was not born in Italy. In the 70’s he decided to organize a Loft Show with other artists. He was the first to ever have one, it had never happened before in the history of art. On that occasion, he had an appointment with a journalist from the Village Voice who was going to write about this new experience. Before she arrived, he invited to his loft a group of Italian workers who were working on the street below. They were simple people, southern Italians, laborers. “we do not understand what you do, but we understand that it is a good thing, they said, they went away and returned with a fist full of dollars. “I do not want money” Aldo Tambellini said “ I want to show you what the Americans will see.” They insisted on giving him the money telling him that he was a young Italian artist and he needed help.

After that, the journalist who was supposed to interview him arrivedAnd found him moved. Tambellini related the episode: maybe for these people it may have been the first art exhibit and they had reacted this way.

She said to him:“Those animals? You invited those animals?” Aldo without hesitation took her purse to throw he out of the loft, then pushed the photographer out saying: “those Italians are better than you. I do not want anything form you!” This action made him loose his article and therefore no on ever know that he was the first to organize a loft show. From then on no one wrote any stories in The village voice about Aldo Tambellini. This is one of many episodes which describe him. This is a man who makes other uncomfortable.

Aldo then went to MIT: “He shed the oppression of the dominant art. In New York when Aldo’s name was mentioned everyone responded with a no. He found his space in Cambridge. He always says that the fault with all of his things is that he lacked the support of a community. This is true. How many writers do we have in America?How many artists are Italian American? At MIT he found refuge and was able to work as an avant-garde artist. All of this working in a group in the middle of young people, experimenting in new realities even virtual reality. Through this way of expressing himself he even began to write about technology, on machine that talk to machines, on the loss of humanity.

And she tries to answer for him one of our questions. What is culture for Aldo?

It is an obligation. It transcends everything. According to him we are obligated to keep it and support it (culture). It is a reflection of what we are. Even I ask myself how could this be so important to him. And does Aldo have a clear idea of the ideal world he would want for the artist? “ A world where he is helped. His works preserved. Where he would have no worry just that to produce his works.”

The conversation with Anna is interrupted at this point because we will want to go forward with Aldo when he is better. She says goodbye by saying, ”He has been the first in so many things. An innovator. Why is he not recognized as he ought to be?

Inside us we probably know the answer, after having met him only for a short time, after having read some of his poems, after having seen some of his work. What he paid is the price of a true avant-garde that which does not follow the trends.