A Review of Giorgio Griffa: Fragments 1968-2012


Fragments 1968-2012 at the Casey Kaplan gallery is prominent Italian artist, Giorgio Griffa’s, first New York solo show since 1970. The exhibition, an exploration of the quiet act of painting, presents a selection of large-scale, un-stretched canvas and linen works as a return to painting’s more elemental form. For the past forty years, Griffa has painted on raw canvas of different textures and then neatly folded each piece to file away. The folds in the canvas are clearly visible in each of his works, physically emphasizing the span of the lives they spent tucked away, categorically catalogued.

Griffa sees this act of folding and documenting each work as an expression of continuity; the paint demonstrates this sentiment as well. Pretty pastel lines end randomly, as if interrupted by life’s events, and semi-circles end as quarter-circles. Despite the unfinished nature and discernible brushstrokes of Griffa’s works, his pieces never feel sloppy. Each suspended canvas or linen feels purposeful and intentional – particularly in Linee orizzontali, 1973, a 15-foot long acrylic on canvas piece that hangs in the center of the main gallery room. Its thin lines at the uppermost sixteenth of the canvas leave the rest of the piece mostly blank, but closer inspection reveals the lines unsteadily painted, but carefully delineated, each pale line separated painstakingly from the one above and below it. This is Griffa at his most skillful – an organic, basic, and meticulous artist.

As a retrospective of Griffa’s development of craft and theories, Fragments 1968-2012 is particularly revealing. His foray into the use of sponges, finger-painting, and other tools, begins after he experiences moderate and critical success in Italy. As a participant in the exhibition, Abstract, held in the respectable, Galleria D’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea Palazzo Forti, as well as a headliner of an extensive retrospective at the Pinacoteca Comunale di Ravenna, Griffa was heralded as a skilled abstract painter capable of marrying concept and artistry. It is a bit after his Italian success in the late 1980s-early 1990s, however, that there is a clear shift “from ordered marks towards a broad range of gestures.” His “practice evolved to include expressive forms and brighter tones,” an evolution that, ultimately, feels both hollow and shallow.

Though his line paintings exemplify Griffa’s idea that he “doesn’t portray anything, [he] paints”[1], the conviction is not so evident in Griffa’s more geometrically experimental pieces. Polittico con tredici colori, 1998, for example, a six-canvas installation with swirls, shapes, and randomly implanted numbers, is amateur in its self-discovery. Its myriad of colors and curving lines feels excessively calculated for Griffa’s more natural style – trying too hard to emphasize the continuous nature of painting, and thereby of life, it falls comparatively flat amidst other pieces that are more inherently eternal. His 2010 piece SEZIONE AUREA – SEGNI VERTICALI – FINALE 482, for example, lacks depth and substance. Though impressively large, it loses the quiet contemplation and care that characterized Griffa’s earlier pieces. It no longer feels naturally unfinished – instead, its sharp lines and brighter colors exude an air of mockery and challenge, as if the viewer is forced to question its deliberate interruptions in a purely mechanical way.

It is intentional, then, that the Casey Kaplan gallery closes the exhibition with Quasi dipinto, 1968, the last canvas you see as you exit the space. With simple off-white acrylic on a dark beige canvas, it reminds its viewer of Griffa’s less obstinate works. Splatters of paint and thick lines that again, barely touch, refresh the memory of Griffa’s insistence to engage with the “concrete act of mark-making”[2] and explore painting for painting’s sake. Without this simplistic and beautiful principle, Griffa’s works lose the consistency, structure, and essence of his nurtured earlier works. With it, Griffa accomplishes what he’s set out to accomplish all along: to portray the constant and never finished nature of pure painting.



[1] As cited in “Giogio Griffa, Fragments 1968-2012.” 25 October 2012. Casey Kaplan Gallery. Press Release.

[2] Heinrich, Will. “‘Giorgio Griffa: Fragments 1968-2012’ at Casey Kaplan Gallery.” GalleristNY.com, 12 February, 2013. Web. 23 February 2013.