Excerpts from essays about the artist

The Piero Cattaneo Association is grateful to Sandra Russoli and Anita Sanesi for authorizing publication of the writings and photographic portraits of the art historians and critics who followed Piero Cattaneo’s career. The Association can be contacted to cite any copyrights it was unable to trace.

“Among young Bergamo artists, Cattaneo has already acquired a pre-eminent place, conquered through his specific culture, exceptional technical ability and restrained taste . . . The fact that the formal elements on which he builds most of his production are readily controlled historically and aesthetically, with a prevalence of the drawings of primitive populations, and specifically those of Lascaux, is certainly not a discredit but a sign of emotional derivation.”
Tito Spini, Piero Cattaneo alla Galleria della Torre, L’Eco di Bergamo,  28 marzo 1956

“But what makes his research original and – even more importantly – profoundly vital is the fact that, in his results, he has abolished the erudite interplay of references and formalist allusions to focus instead on recovering a humanist constant within the organic and gestural flow of primary and emotional expression. Tormented matter bursting out and radiating in space, the cry and fracture of flamboyant lacerated forms (…). They are a confession and a poetical proposition deeply rooted in the Italian culture”.
Franco Russoli, Piero Cattaneo,  Galleria d’arte Cortina, Milano, 1969

Giuseppe Marchitori e Franco Russoli

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Dino Buzzati

“Intricate heaps of classical architectural elements – arches, columns, fillets, volutes, rosettes, mandorlas, festoons, paterae, pilaster strips, bosses, modillions, pendentives (…) Are they schizophrenic cathedrals fallen into ruin? Triumphal clocks for mad old castellans? Romantic dream machines? Set designs for unwrittenn tragedies? Theatres for titled specters? By association of ideas, a few names come to mind: Piranesi, Monsù Desiderio, Doré, Gaudì, De Chirico, Fabrizio Clerici, but they are collateral references. This is something new. The feeling of a sumptuous yet ailing tangle, the refined obsession of decaying palaces, an elegant way to announce impending catastrophe to Sire….”
Dino Buzzati, Mostre d’Arte, Corriere della Sera, 29 marzo 1969
© Eredi Dino Buzzati. Tutti i diritti riservati trattati da Agenzia Letteraria Internazionale, Milano.

“It is a rushing flow of ancient stylistic elements that vary in origin and come from different eras. And yet they merge effectively in works that have the fullness of particular presences. Indeed, I would say they have a uniqueness that echoes deep in the soul, each one with a particular musical motif of rich counterpoint. In reality, all these sculptures are the children of a single creative need. Cattaneo ultimately accepts all the iconoclastic fury of the contemporary avant-garde, which gives the artist a space in which to work, free and clear of all pre-established poetics. In this space, with the burden of his culture he strives to recover the ancient architectural and sculptural image (…)His sculptures are like sentinels, waiting in the night, who concert a new poetic atmosphere and a new humanism.”
Giorgio Kaisserlian, Piero Cattaneo, Viotti Galleria d’Arte Moderna, 1970

Piero Cattaneo con Giorgio Kaisserlian

Luigi Carluccio

“One could call them fragments of a scene, the structures of Neapolitan crèches put together with molding, cornices, rosettes and panels that are ready to welcome the figures but that, in the meantime, resound with a silence that is somewhat metaphysical. The void, and the sudden fractures of arches or perspectives, give us an even more piercing sensation of the work’s suspension between a condition of cultural revival – Bibbiena, Juvarra, Piranesi – and a situation projecting images of hodgepodge furnishings, which has seen other famous examples, from Nevelson to Del Pezzo’s works from a few years ago.”
Luigi Carluccio, La scultura di Piero Cattaneo: verso forme più intellettuali, Gazzetta del Popolo della Domenica, 27 settembre 1970

“What Piero Cattaneo of Bergamo creates is still sculpture, both as an idea and as material . . . yet it is also subject to the disquiet that has dominated the plastic arts since they abandoned anthropomorphic measure. Until only recently the human model seemed inevitable for sculpture. Instead Cattaneo replaces it with a curiously classicistic architectural fantasy: scenery captured in bronze but broken, bundled together by an agitation that betrays the urgency of current plastic problems and – I would say – even borders on surrealism.”
Marziano Bernardi, Mostre d’Arte torinesi, La Stampa, 30 settembre 1970

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Marco Lorandi con Piero Cattaneo

“His discourse takes up the world of the architectural stylistic elements of classicism, reproposing them in a modern, existential and troubling light . . . Cattaneo shows a humanism that nevertheless possesses all the taste of an ancient, archaic discovery, reproposed in the light of modern problems . . . The architectural stylistic elements of his bronzes certainly derive from the past, but they reveal the unease of modern man, his contradictions and resistance against the slavery of today’s automatic reactions.”
Marco Lorandi, Piero Cattaneo: dalla scultura la dimensione di un nuovo umanesimo in Piero Cattaneo, Galleria d’Arte Giovio, Como,  1971

“The sculptures on display are all in bronze, cast with the lost-wax technique, and they were cast by the artist in his studio, a circumstance that is something new and interesting for me. I don’t think the choice of ancient architectural components is important. He would have achieved the same results composing his works with vegetal or mechanical elements, or with elements that may or may not be abstract, more or less recognizable. In short, what’s important in these sculptures is only the way Cattaneo composes them. Only the splendour of the composition is important.”
Mario Radice, Lo scultore Cattaneo alla Galleria Giovio, La Provincia, 15 aprile 1971

Mario Radice, copyright Musei Civici di Como

“The work of the Bergamo sculptor Piero Cattaneo is situated at one of the typical crossroads of European art in the years just before the ‘hyperrealist’ wave and New Objectivity. His is a poetic, abstract and informal contamination, created through subtle dovetailing, the proliferating metaphor of architectural elements between the Renaissance and the Baroque . . . The realism of the architectural fragments Cattaneo uses introduces meanings of a dimension that goes beyond pure aestheticism and they acquire the significance of a painful, obsessive dream of harmonies that echoes in thousands of voices only to fade away into indistinctness.”
Vice (Giannetto Valzelli?), Mostre d’Arte, Giornale di Brescia, gennaio 1973

“The revival of ancient churches, Gothic arches, Art Nouveau Gothic, fragments left suspended in the void, like the wreckage of medieval abbeys struck by lightning and shaken by earthquakes, such as the one at San Galgano whose roof collapsed between the walls of the apse, the nave and the aisles centuries ago. There is magic in these ruins, which can be transformed into the backdrops of some tumbledown building by Horta or Gaudì. There’s a secret charm in the design of uncovered and precariously poised frameworks. There are so many motifs that can inspire an artist like Piero Cattaneo, struck by the oddest of suggestions, attentive to the incorporation of a time in different times, and ready to restore fantastic unity to these hypotheses of past and future that interpenetrate to generate singularly aggressive values.
The sculptor models and composes using wax moulds of architectural fragments and objects reduced to the stylistic unity of a whole, like bas-reliefs or crushed-relief plates. In them, the tale unfolds through allusions, through a bizarre means of communication that acquires highly unusual aspects, albeit with the great variety of expression characteristic of modern sculpture. Cattaneo manages to give hollowed or raised structures visionary power, which transforms them into images that evoke lost worlds, fantastic environments composed of… elements of all kinds that are associated in a sort of decorative inventory imprinted on various planes animated by the deft interplay of light and shadow…. For Cattaneo, reliefs are like grooves hollowed out in metal through perfect fusion, without burrs, marked by a kind of precision that could even be defined as symbolic. These archaeological “dream constructions” are imbued with magical power, like the pages of inscrutable writings for which we seek the key, for an interpretation that can open the door to the secret of symbols.… Cattaneo has found his own path, his own fantastic world, one that – in its vision – diverges from most of the aesthetic trends followed by modern sculpture. Cattaneo is ‘something’ apart….”
Giuseppe Marchiori, Le tavole arcane di Piero Cattaneo in Cattaneo, sculture in bronzo dal 1967 al 1975, Rino Fabbri Editore, Milano 1976

Giuseppe Marchiori

Roberto Sanesi

“Cattaneo proceeds in two parallel and separate directions: on the one hand, a concept of culture that is open, fragmentary and splintered, a sort of assemblage of discordant elements that seem to have been obtained randomly, a sign of collapses and ruins that are both architectural and psychological – with a bizarre and nocturnal air imbued with allusions to eras and styles. It is a blend that corroborates the sense of that “searching” displayed in various sculptural titles . . . And on the other (see the frequency of titles with the term “structure”) there is the desire to capture in a single body the jumble of images, the disorder of artefacts, and to lend geometric substance to the space – I would almost say the “theatre” – of those events of collapse and maceration that remain an obsession, to find an anchor for those floating pieces rich in historical allusions.”
Roberto Sanesi, Cattaneo: le cattedrali in sogno, Corriere dell’Informazione, 24 maggio 1977

“Conducting an analytical investigation of the work of Piero Cattaneo means venturing into a labyrinth-museum that can offer an ample perspective of aesthetic and poetic modulations, in a continuous and daring encounter between modern, contemporary and ancient culture. And here the only risk would be that of getting stuck in the multiform seductions of a misleading eclecticism . . . Pure whims or pure rhythms, pure and free forms, so that they might almost tempt us to think of abstract interests despite certain immediate references to the physical reality that certain elements can have.”
Carmelo Strano, I Capricci di Piero Cattaneo, Presenze, gennaio 1978

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Carmelo Strano

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Rossana Bossaglia

“A sculptor with a rich and sensitive temperament, Cattaneo has been developing a fantastic idea for years – with confident independence – in which dense and mysteriously interwoven reminiscences . . . encounter the taste and curiosity for gears, the machine, the great Meccano . . . He maintains a clear-cut distinctiveness, moving to evoke not so much of a hidden and secret organic world but of a deposit of visual memories that gather in his consciousness, the inalienable heritage of culture as an ‘inventory’ of the artist’s emotions, and the witness of an intellectual voracity that is always transfused into creative stimulus.”
Rossana Bossaglia, Piero Cattaneo. Sculture recenti 1978-1980, Galleria Lorenzelli, Bergamo, 1980

“Elements of great tradition are united with other more typical elements of the contemporary world, distinguished by the presence of devices and gears, metal parts of complex machines that man has constructed to build new cathedrals, those of technology, that augment his creative potential . . . And thus these constructions emerge in the gleam of metal, presenting themselves in part as tormented and almost suffering, with their surface that alternates powerful vertical and square lines, curved lines and legible architectural elements. But at the same time they bear troubling witness to the overwhelming presence of the pulsation of machines that disrupt and overturn the old order . . . . A world that seeks equilibrium but testifies to the hardship and fatigue of achieving it . . . a utopia that man is unable to forget.”
Eugenia De Giovannini, Nuove cattedrali, La Prealpina, 30 marzo 1989

Marco Lorandi

“Cattaneo’s graphic excursus gives us the chance to examine his artistic toil, . . . a sort of intimate diary of a writer that gives the most heterogeneous reader the secret ‘pages-sheets’ of his aesthetic work, which are then essential to further understand all the developments, second thoughts, tests and doubts of an artist on the path of an authentic vocation.
The essentiality of forms constitutes the primary game of the line also in the ‘dotted’ drawings with spots of black enamel (1957) that possess the incisiveness of rapid, geometricizing brushwork, oriented towards defining a sort of figural archetype without giving in to any ornamental pandering . . . .
Between 1957 and 1960 Cattaneo abandoned naturalism to move slowly but with rigorous determination towards a formal elaboration centred on the use of architectural stylistic elements and the morphemes of ancient architectural language, aggregating them freely in an uncommon and absolutely original assemblage.”
Marco Lorandi, Piero Cattaneo. La ricerca del segno, segni e disegni dal 1949 al 1989, Centro Culturale San Bartolomeo, Bergamo, 1989

“With the advent of the Sixties, Cattaneo emerged from his formative phase and turned his lively talent towards a powerfully characterized language. These were the years in which Picassian suggestion gradually waned among artists, who were surrounded by a wind of informalism imbued with poetic tension… Cattaneo was immediately a frontrunner in these changes, despite his reserved and somewhat solitary way of working. His mastery of this métier and his independence made him confident of his own autonomy, allowing him to unleash the profound and disquieting ‘tingle’ that was always uppermost in his mind…. From here, he undertook an uninterrupted series of inventions, all of which in bronze, which gradually evolved into new and incessant research.

Another predominant theme in Cattaneo is that of the displacement of images, meaning the multiplicity of directions not only in interpretation, but in the very execution of the work, which lives inasmuch as it offers itself up to different viewpoints and lives because there is always a divergence at the moment it comes forward as a decisive form. The theme… is taken up in his last set of works, which use bronze and stainless steel together. This time, the dialectics between the polished surface and the crowding and crumbling of the structures within it is part of yet other dialectics, between the sculptural object and the mirror-like surface of rustproof metal, which is shiny and clean by nature. It offers the work a chance for a richer acquisition than it would if this were a simple freestanding sculpture, because it is as if the sculpture in the round were offered to us in its different spatial dimensions simultaneously. It is three-dimensionality multiplied ad infinitum: a game, of course, in the most sublime sense of the word, a commodity through which the artist effectively embraces uncommon breadth of vision.”
Rossana Bossaglia, Cattaneo, Edizioni Bolis, Bergamo 1992

Rossana Bossaglia con Piero Cattaneo

“It is evident that it is not possible to get to these strong and vibrant results without being supported by a very experienced skill, which has always enabled Piero Cattaneo, especially in his later production, to confront, associate, mix and diverge images and substance; namely: archaic foundations and structures inspired by modern technology, surfaces which are clearly extended and suddenly perforated to reveal their complex and dynamic heart. The fundamental theme is the one of the encounter and exchange between nature and skill.”
Rossana Bossaglia, Piero Cattaneo. Metastorie – 50 anni di scultura, Bolis Edizioni, Bergamo 2002

Ricercari is in fact the title that accompanied the development of these premisses throughout the 1960s, a decade marked by the slow gathering of cultural fragments selected from the iconographic repertoire of tradition and transformed into new signs of humanist utopia, man being the measure of all the possible conjunctions between present and past. The term ‘humanist’ evokes the necessary return to the original being to draw on the lost authenticity of man. He has above all the task of exalting human sensibility, the only one still able to cultivate the dream of purity, the poetic astonishment of forms, the timeless wish to nourish the visible through the combination of its own fragments.
The artist’s gaze is itself a fragment in search of fragments on which to be able to build an expressive theory capable of communicating the value of the form as continuous existential elaboration.
Although Italian sculpture of the 1960s elsewhere focused on assemblies of practical objects and materials taken directly from reality, aimed at highlighting the communicative impact of the new social icons, Cattaneo thought that everything led to the categorical imperative of the historical fragment, to the dream of reawakening the architectural elements of the past to make them into the means of a different construction. It is certain that the recovery of historical signs has always been a source of disorientation for the contemporary view, nevertheless it is the only possible direction for someone like Cattaneo who is interested in visually qualifying a world of broken images, the epic nature of a cultural dimension opposed to oblivion, the still possible vitality of an alienating plastic representation, capable of building the form after having destroyed it, an operation centred on mythographic finds.
The sculptor sustains the identity of the sculpture with the silent fragments of his imagination, signs of meditation and infinite contemplation, an imaginary dimension that influences the processes of symbolic alienation that make up the sense of the work.”
Claudio Cerritelli, Piero Cattaneo. La costruzione della forma. Itinerari di ricerca tra disegno, pittura e scultura, Allemandi & C., Torino, 2013

Marcella Cattaneo con Claudio Cerritelli