Goodbye to Ettore Spalletti, Master of the emptiness designer of light

Francesco Bonami, La Repubblica, October 12, 2019

If the director Ermanno Olmi, assuming he knew what the deal was, thought of making a movie about a minimal artist, its subject could not have been anyone else than Ettore Spalletti, who passed away yesterday at the age of 79.

In an era of wild globalization Spalletti was one of the last proponent of the genius loci, having always stayed, although known by the greatest international curators, to live and work where he was born in 1940, Capelle sul Tavo in Abruzzo.

Perhaps from there he didn't conquer the world, if he was ever interested in doing so, but he had certainly brought upon himself the attention of a sophisticated and silent world of art which had gone over there to look for him. The Italian artists invited to the highly prestigious Documenta, held in Kassel in Germany every five years, can be counted on the fingers of both hands and Spalletti is one of them.

In 1982 he was invited by the Dutch curator Rudi Fuchs and in 1992 by Jan Hoet, the Belgian curator. His art was a cocktail of Piero della Francesca and Donald Judd. His minimalism was Mediterranean, where perfection and precision left room for some wonderful and desired formal incident gently emphasized by the gold.

Master of a precious Zen, Spalletti has suffered from the wild roar that has invaded the world and the art market in the last twenty years. His works were at the same time paintings, sculptures, objects, fragments of nothingness endowed with spaceas Saint Augustine used to describe the void. Even though he lived one hundred and forty kilometres from Recanati, Spalletti's art seemed a mute version of Leopardi's poetry.Inside the delicate colors he used, the spectator's gaze was lost or wrecked in an infinity of tranquility.

In 1993 Germano Celant invited Spaletti to an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum together with the American artist Haim Steinbach. A seemingly bizarre combination. The objects found resting on shelves of brutal industrial ant by Steinbach together with the colored surfaces of Spalletti created a unique dialogue between the two souls of art, that of the materialism of images and objects and that of sublime purity limited exclusively by the boundaries of the painting or of sculpture. 

But the Spalletti that I remember most is the one I saw a few years ago in Bologna at the Galleria Maggiore where his works were placed next to those of Morandi, another local genius who had found an universe in the simplicity of things. Morandi's bottles and Spalletti's spaces were like the voices in a duet between two sopranos. Lightness and power. Two qualities that only a few great Masters have been able to create and control in the history of art.

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