Oltre la struttura

Carla Accardi

(Trapani, 1924 - Roma, 2014)
Tempera and casein on canvas-backed paper 44 x 49 cm (17.4 x 19.3 in.) 1959

All my experiments were important to me from a visual standpoint, because white on black had to create a feeling of brightness.

(Carla Accardi)

Born in 1924 in Trapani, Italy, Carla Accardi trained as a painter at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, before moving to Rome in 1946, where she was a regular visitor to Pietro Consagra’s studio and quickly became part of the Art Club, Italy’s first international art association.

As one of the most significant representatives of abstract art in Italy, Accardi managed to constantly refresh her artistic research, while remaining faithful to her unparalleled, radical painting style. For 60 years, her creative path has been characterised by a rigorous but also joyful expression of freedom. She painted exuberant canvases of abstract symbols, sometimes in brilliant two-color patterns, at other times in black and white, developing an iconic visual lexicon of calligraphic marks that, when combined with her minimalist colour palette and dynamic compositions, showcased the endless possibilities of abstraction. While paintings are reminiscent of enlarged Egyptian hieroglyphics and may appear to anticipate the work of Keith Haring, her dynamism and use of non-art materials and simple processes and structures bear a connection to the Arte Povera artists who succeeded her. Associated also with the Arte Informel movement, Accardi’s work was exhibited alongside eminent Italian artists including Burri, Capogrossi, Fontana and Moreni. Later she was to establish Rivolta Femminile in 1970, Italy’s first feminist group and publishing house.

Working at the forefront of the post-war Italian art scene, Accardi helped to revolutionise painting in the immediate wake of World War II. She rose to fame as a founding member of the 1947 Rome-based avant-garde movement Forma 1 embracing the principles of Futurism and Marxism. As one of the key figures of abstract art in Italy during the time, Accardi developed a lyrical style that shifted from monochromatic canvases to black and white paintings, into a period of vibrant and intense colours from the mid-1960s.

A contemporary of Piero Manzoni, whose ground-breaking Achromes were first executed in 1957, Accardi's reductive employment of black and white shortly pre-dates Manzoni's evacuation of chromatic value from the surface of the artwork. Although similarly achromatic, while Manzoni surrendered artistic intervention, Accardi's compositions intuitively balance artistic decision-making through the gestural nature of mark-making, sign and symbol inhabiting her painting practice.

In an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Accardi describes this method: "When I made these black and white paintings, I used to begin with a drawing. I would make temperas on paper from which, slowly, there would evolve a world of signs, structures, and integrations. The signs had a kind of "return", in the sense that they would come up again changed, transformed. I would repeat them in reference to past works but there would always be something new." (Hans Ulrich Obrist, 'Carla Accardi: To Dig Deep', Flash Art, no. 260, May - June 2008).

Emerging from a world ravaged by trauma and destruction, Accardi’s art shone as a beacon of hope, light and promise. Her new pictorial language sought to simultaneously express aesthetic beauty whilst revealing the artifice behind it. ‘For me, art and life run parallel to each other,’ she once declared. “On one hand, I made art mythical. On the other, I wanted to understand what lay behind it and I wanted for people not to feel stuck in front of a work. I found that to be too automatic a position. I wanted the audience to be shaken, to love art while discovering that life lies behind it” (C. Accardi quoted in H. U. Obrist, ‘To Dig Deep’, in Flash Art, No. 260, May - June 2008).

Oltre la Struttura, 1959, is an example of Accardi’s use of black and white palette, in which the artist created a three-dimensional space on the canvas through the hybridisation of geometric abstraction and gestural painting. She used brushstrokes of varying thickness, bolder in the center of the canvas and lighter, more linear on the outer parts on the top and bottom of the painting. The piece triumphs in achieving an ensemble of meditated contrasts, in which the relationship between black and white imparts an evocation of limitless fusion. The playful interweaving of binary black/white tonal values bestows an outstanding equilibrium and dualism akin to the Taoist concept of yin yang. A vibrant work of calligraphic dynamism, Accardi’s piece speaks a new pictorial language freed from the constraints of tradition. This painting stands out for its prescient insight and sensitive application of diverse cultural and aesthetic associations.

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"Italian modern and post-war contemporary art"

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