The ►Boris Lurie Art Foundation is pleased to announce a major retrospective exhibition of paintings, sculpture, lumagrams, videograms, film, video, and television work (1960-1990) by the American avant-garde artist, Aldo Tambellini, entitled Black Zero.
Born in Syracuse NY in 1930, Tambellini was brought to Lucca, Italy at the age of eighteen months by his soon to be separated parents and would live there through the Second World War, the experience of which — his town was mercilessly bombed by the Allies, and he saw death and destruction at intimate range — would mark his soul and his art indelibly. Demonstrating a precocious talent and a passion for art, he was enrolled in a full-time art academy at the age of ten. After his return to the United States in 1945 he entered a public vocational school, upon graduation from which he was awarded a full scholarship to study art at Syracuse University whence he would go on to take a masters degree at Notre Dame University under the tutelage of the renowned sculptor Ivan Mestrovic.
Tambellini came to NY in 1959, living in a storefront in the East Village, from which he would mount site installations, exhibit large-scale sculpture and project proto-new media events onto the walls of neighborhood buildings. He worked closely with a number of African American writers and artists, particularly the writers associated with the politically charged literary journal, UMBRA, and with whom he felt a special affinity, being that it had been an American Buffalo Regiment that liberated the town of Lucca at the end of the war.
His work, even at its most abstract, has always been informed by a powerful political awareness and resistance against injustice. With the early underground art collective, Group Center, of which he was a founder, he mounted art actions that would prefigure both the social activism of the later sixties and the guerilla art actions of subsequent avant-gardes. Group Center’s vision of a new art of global creative communities prefigures the integrative social concepts that animate much of the most advanced and radical art of our own time. Like Boris Lurie’s No!Art Movement, Group Center actively resisted the cynical, commercialist, self-serving, and, ultimately, vapid corporate art that would captivate the masses, including the art-collecting masses and museums, for decades. Group Center’s The Event of the Screw (1962) was a direct confrontation with the art hierarchy of the day akin to the famous open letter to the Metropolitan Museum from The Irascibles in 1950
Although Tambellini’s reputation as a new media pioneer has grown impressively in recent years throughout the performance and avant-garde film communities in America and abroad, with widespread acknowledgement of his early and important contributions to modes of art that had no name when he was creating paths among them, much of even his new media work is infused with a profound sense of the painterly that developed during a lifetime of collateral work in two-dimensions. The present exhibition includes a broad sampling of his painting and related work over a period of more than three decades, covering the essential course of his long-standing and obsessive engagement with Black, which for him is, simply, the source and destination of everything; it is a spiritual and cosmic — and cosmogonic — principle akin to fire for Heraclitus. Over the decades of his work in black, Tambellini has evolved from the distressed, even pessimistic, observer of the destruction of the human and natural worlds to a philosopher looking to distant, and inner, space with equanimity, and even hope. His Destruction Series of the early sixties places him alongside the early Yves Klein and the mature Alberto Burri, and certainly in a conceptual and tactical lineage with Lucio Fontana. His penetration of the pictorial plane and virtual attack upon it with gouges, drill-bits and flame bespeak the fury of this witness of humanity at its worst against the habits and limits that cast it back ceaselessly into its brutal past. Astonishingly, in his later body of distressed-surface works (1988-1989), he creates a sense of boundless possibility and hope using more or less the same tactics, materials, and iconography as he had in the earlier series, testimony to a long life devoted to the struggle of understanding.
To some extent, Tambellini’s majestic paintings might actually be viewed as preparatory studies for the time-based media and conceptual works he had already begun creating in the early sixties. His film, performance, and new media work have inspired several generations of the new breed of artist, the “primitives of a new era,” as Tambellini has called them, including, early on, Timothy Leary, whose notion of a neurological art (and eventually, the “light show” that became so widespread throughout the psychedelic era) can be traced back to Tambellini’s light projections of the early/mid sixties, and Andy Warhol, whose own Exploding Plastic Inevitable is more and more widely acknowledged to owe a significant debt to Tambellini’s Black Zero. As the founder and proprietor of the Gate Theater at Tenth Street and 2nd Avenue (1966-1969), the only cinema in NY (and possibly anywhere else) showing continuous avant-garde film every day of the week, Tambellini was among the guiding spirits of the most advanced garde in the American art of its day. And when he and colleague Otto Piene (of the Zero Group) opened the Black Gate performance, installation, and experimental space for artists in 1967 on the floor above the cinema, Tambellini’s position within and his gift to the art world of his day took on revolutionary proportions.
Tambellini’s own films, including the landmark Black Film Series, which was among the first works to treat film as the venue for a total sensory experience, are justly regarded as masterworks of the experimental or underground genre. He is generally credited with having, along with Otto Piene, created the first work of art for television (Black Gate Cologne, which aired in Germany in 1968). Tambellini was also part of WGBH’s The Medium is the Medium, which aired in Boston in 1969 and marked the first time in history that American artists took over the airwaves of television and broadcast art. When Piene became director of the renowned Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT, he invited Tambellini to become a fellow, and from 1977-1984, Tambellini would create works and events that seem, in retrospect, to have prefigured not only the orientation of the new media art of the last decades, but larger social trends, such as social networking and communications-based mass actions as well.
More recently, Tambellini’s attentions have been devoted to poetry and to explicitly political art, though he has also continued to sketch larger-scale projects in various media, most of which have remained unrealized due to health considerations.
In his long career, he has worked alongside of and given a forum to artists such as Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, Yoko Ono, Hans Haacke, Ad Reinhardt, Julian Beck and Judith Malina, Yayoi Kusama, Boris Lurie, Otto Piene, Carolee Schneemann, Jonas Mekas, Louise Bourgoise, Irene Rice Periera, Stan Brakhage, Jack Smith, Cecil McBee (and other radical jazz artists), Ishmael Reed, Bob Downey, and Brian De Palma, but until recently he had not shown his two-dimensional work in almost 40 years. The present exhibition represents the first truly large-scale, and the first ever museum show of his work in all its aspects, though exhibitions of portions of his opus have already been tentatively scheduled by the Pompidou and the Tate Modern for 2012. The Herter Gallery of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst will present a significant show in November 2011.
Like Boris Lurie, Tambellini’s dear friend for almost fifty years and under the aegis of whose Art Foundation the present exhibition has been mounted, Aldo Tambellini was among the revolutionary artists of the long-submerged American avant-garde of the fifties and sixties who struggled against the complacency and oblivion that characterized the nascent international superpower and the false values that its art market and the manipulators of that market foisted upon an unwitting public.
The ►Boris Lurie Art Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to art education, the encouragement and support of politically and socially engaged art, especially work that has been neglected by the art mainstream on account of its radical content, and to the propagation of knowledge of the art of Boris Lurie himself. It was with a generous gift from the Lurie Foundation that much of the art in the present exhibition has been salvaged from a storage facility where it had lain forgotten for three decades and restored to its present condition.
fully-illustrated catalogue, including essays by Paolo Emilio Antognoli Viti, Marek Bartelek, Lisa Paul Streitfeld and Joseph Ketner will be available during the run of the show.
The performance of Black Zero, curated by Chistoph Draeger, has been subsidized by a generous grant from the Swiss Arts Council.