Tancredi Parmeggiani in Venice, 1955-56.Venezia, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Istituto di Storia dell'Arte, Fondo Cardazzo
Alexander Parmeggiani (center)
with Curator Luca Massimo Barbero
and Peggy Guggenheim Collection Director Philip Rylands
Photo: Cat Bauer
The family moved to Bologna shortly thereafter; Tancredi's father died when he was 8-years-old; his mother suffered from ill-health; he and his brothers were sent back to Feltre in 1940 under the care of their grandmother and maternal aunt. Tancredi left high school when he was 16-years-old and came to Venice to study art, exchanging the sturdy mountains for the watery lagoon.
|Untitled by Tancredi (Self-portrait) 1948|
Edmondo Bacci, Tancredi Parmeggiani, and
Peggy Guggenheim in the garden of Palazzo
Venier dei Leoni, Venice, early 1950sPhoto courtesy Peggy Guggenheim Collection
|Primavera (Springtime) by Tancredi (1951/dated 1952)|
"In 1951 I completed a painting called Springtime," wrote Tancredi in 1962, "which has been at the Museum of Modern Art in New York since 1952. It is an 'abstract universal landscape' painted with three small dots and dabs of the brush in a manner that makes one think of flowery fields, sky and earth."
|Springtime (section) Photo: Cat Bauer|
Tancredi had solo exhibitions at the Galleria del Cavallino, Venice (1952, 1953, 1956, 1959), and at the Galleria del Naviglio, Milan (1953). He participated in Tendances actuelles (Contemporary trends, 1954) with Georges Mathieu, Jackson Pollock, Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze), and others at the Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland. His work was included in a 1955 group show at the Galerie Stadler, Paris, a city he visited that year. In 1958 further solo presentations of his work were exhibited at the Saidenberg Gallery, New York, and the Hanover Gallery, London, and he took part in the Pittsburgh International (now Carnegie International). In 1959 he settled in Milan, where he showed several times at the Galleria dell’Ariete. That same year Tancredi traveled again to Paris, and in 1960 he visited Norway. Also in 1960 the painter participated in Anti-Procès (Anti-process) at the Galleria del Canale, Venice; the gallery gave him solo shows that year and in 1962. He received the Marzotto Prize in Valdagno, Italy, in 1962 and exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1964.
|Alex in front of his father's A Propos of Venice (1958) Photo: Cat Bauer|
We spoke about how Jackson Pollock and Tancredi were the only two artists under contract to Peggy Guggenheim, and how intense it must have been. I asked Alex how his father had died. "Don't you know?" I shook my head. "He committed suicide." I paused. "I thought so... just by looking at his work..." Then I asked, "...How?" Alex became emotional. "I'm sorry. I can't talk about it. Please do that research on your own." Then I became emotional. "Please forgive me. That was incredibly insensitive of me."
|Untitled from the series 'Country Diaries' (1961)|
On March 21, 1945, the British bombed the Nazi ships in the Venice lagoon during "Operation Bowler." Some clever person named "Wimpy" has overlaid the bombing on a Google map:
|Operation Bowler by Wimpy|
On August 6, 1945, the US dropped the atomic bomb with the adorable name of "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, and then, to show they were not joking, they dropped "Fat Man" on Nagasaki on August 9th. On September 2, 1945, Japan signed the instrument of surrender, and World War II was over. More than 60 million people had died; the figure rises to more than 80 million if you include disease and famine caused by the war, 50-55 million of them civilians. That is a lot of death and destruction for any human being to assimilate, let alone a sensitive young artist.
|Hiroshima Atom Bomb|
|Untitled by Tancredi (1950-51)|
In 1947, Peggy Guggenheim closed her New York gallery, The Art of This Century, and moved to Venice, where Tancredi would meet her in 1951. Thanks to the influence of the American Peggy Guggenheim, the young Italian Tancredi Parmegianni got up-close and personal with Abstract Expressionism.
|A Propos of the Lagoon by Tancredi (1958)|
He also created three works dedicated to Hiroshima.
|Hiroshima 1 by Tancredi (1962)|
From the catalogue:
In the motifs of his last years, Tancredi anticipated the political protest movement: his participation in the militant exhibition Anti-Procès, organized by Jean-Jacques Lebel in 1959, for example, was a stand against hatred and violence. "I hate hatred," he wrote almost in desperation, incapable, with his sensitivity, his love of painting, of confronting a sterile, violent, corrupt, inhuman world.
Looking at his three works dedicated to Hiroshima in 1962, reflections in the early 1960s on violence and human race come to mind, reflections that took an increasingly lapidary form such as "I hate hatred." This is the context for his decision to paint a triptych dedicated to the atom bomb at a time when there was a genuine collective fear of nuclear holocaust.
One cannot fail to recall a short, devastating thought preserved in his notes: "My weapon against the atom bomb is a blade of grass."
On September 27, 1964, two days after his thirty-seventh birthday, Tancredi Parmeggiani threw himself into the Tiber River in Rome and drowned.
|Hiroshima 2 by Tancredi|
Here's a link to an article from The Independent way back in 1995: Modern Art was a CIA 'Weapon.' "Its agents were placed in the film industry, in publishing houses, even as travel writers for the celebrated Fodor guides. And, we now know, it promoted America's anarchic avant-garde movement, Abstract Expressionism."
In fact, due to the current Abstract Expression exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the issue has become a hot topic once again. Here's an October 4, 2016 piece from the BBC: "Was Modern Art a Weapon of the CIA?"
|Hiroshima 3 by Tancredi|
Even if the artists were not aware on a conscious level that they were being used, I wonder -- since they were artists, after all, and much more attuned to knowing better than most of humanity when things are askew -- I wonder if they were aware on a subconscious level of the CIA involvement in their work, and if it affected their art -- and even their very lives.
Tancredi got in the face of the bomb and yanked some atoms out from the clusters, capturing their beauty on paper for humanity to behold.
A blade of grass can be a very effective weapon against the atomic bomb, indeed.
My Weapon Against the Atomic Bomb is a Blade of Grass. Tancredi. A Retrospetive. at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, runs through March 13, 2017.
All images courtesy of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection unless otherwise noted.
Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog