Franco Grignani: an exhibition that makes your head spin

The m.a.x. museum in Chiasso is exhibiting the visual, experimental and emotional work of Franco Grignani, with unexpected effects.

Franco Grignani was active throughout the twentieth century, from the period of the Second Futurism right to the end of the century, working alone on a successful and all-encompassing art, despite never “taking part”, his many and distinguished companions notwithstanding. Perfect is the definition which Grignani applied to himself as a “self-taught amateur”, in the sense of an avant-garde artist discovering new forms of perception and simultaneous pleasure in recombining his discoveries. 

Grignani left us with a unique visual experience. However, deciding to examine the work of Grignani means preparing oneself for an active journey for the eye and for the mind, in which the probability of getting away trauma-free is practically impossible. Grignani pulls no punches, he hits hard. He does not carry out naive experiments nor does he work in vitro. He attracts attention and wins it over. Undoubtedly, the artist fed on an underlying current of geometry and applied mathematics, but the gaze of the viewer intercepted by the work survives above all on an emotional force which is, at times, “unbearable”.

Franco Grignani produced a vast range of experimental visual works, in which the classic principles (visual communication, art, photography) are intricately mixed. Any attempt to reduce his work to a single discipline (which is not his own, very powerful, form) would be in vain. He himself decided what it should be, in the applicative variations of his work. Even today, it is still impossible to subdue the fantastical power, to try and separate the fields.

Franco Grignani
Franco Grignani (1908-1999), advertising page for Alfieri & Lacroix, 1969. Offset print Archivio AIAP

Photography, applied with great artisan skill, above all his manipulation with the use of the camera obscura (frames, sensitive paper), was a fundamental instrument, chosen by Grignani to examine the invisible: alternations, distortions, blurring, and vibrations are all re-writings of reality, modifications of vision. The later discovery of these elaborations elsewhere, in graphics and in art, was nothing more than a change in scale and instrument. It is almost as if the adaptation (a large painting, a small cover) can only result in the invariance of the represented subject.

In the catalogue, Mario Piazza describes the procedure when he speaks of the “absolute”, of an art which does not ask questions but rather provides answers and defines it as exclusive consent for those who decide to see. The gaze of the viewer is stimulated by ribbons and spirals which absorb, by oily surfaces that confuse, by interrupted shapes which provide no hold, and by exasperated three-dimensionality which is completed out of view. This is not only in black and white, in the visual dualism for which Grignani is famous, but also in bright, psychedelic colours.

Franco Grignani, Domus Cover, issue 346, September 1958. Domus Archive
Franco Grignani, Domus Cover, issue 346, September 1958. Domus Archive

Nowadays, when drawing with method and precision is aided by software tools which, in just a few moves, simulate effects that vaguely recall Grignani’s work, this exhibition can become a form of research as well as an experience. Discovering how the artist invented, photographed, painted or printed his works allows a leap back in time to an era in which the mind, the eye and the hand were the only instruments available.

Franco Grignani, Multi-sensoriality between art, graphics and photography
Curated by:
Mario Piazza and Nicoletta Ossanna Cavadini
m.a.x. museum Chiasso
Opening dates:
17 February – 15 September 2019
via Dante Alighieri 6, Chiasso, Switzerland
edizioni Skira Milano-Ginevra It/En, pp.384

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