Alberto Biasi: Dinamica Ecologica – Cardi Gallery – Alex Leith

Alberto Biasi

Alberto Biasi is fond of telling a story to characterise the nature of his work. It’s 1988 and a group of schoolkids is visiting the Eremitani Museum in his hometown of Padua, where there’s an exhibition of his latest creations. Unrecognised as the artist, he’s eavesdropping on their conversation. One of them exclaims: “This stuff is amazing! It moves, but it also knows how to stand still!”

Biasi, a pioneer of optical-kinetic art in the 60s, is currently enjoying a solo show at Cardi Gallery in Mayfair. The exhibition is arranged over two floors of the elegant Georgian townhouse, and as soon as you enter the ground floor space, you can see what the kid meant. On the far wall is a black frame, with a shimmering gold diamond in the middle, which immediately catches your eye. When you walk towards the piece, the diamond changes shape. Approach it from a different angle, and there’s another transformation. It’s like a conjuring trick: the work, formed of fanned out strips of black PVC with a painted canvas behind them, and illuminated by an overhead spotlight, has no moving parts, but it shapeshifts every time you move.

Alberto Biasi
Alberto Biasi

Biasi has been experimenting with this sort of work since 1959, when he formed the Gruppo N, one of several similar movements in Italy, and beyond. You can see pictures of him at the time, with black-rimmed specs, thick black hair and a minimalist beard, looking every bit the radical young artist. He announced, in GN’s manifesto: ‘We are confident that rationalism and lyrical abstraction are dead! That Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism are useless subjectivisms!” The group, inspired by recent developments in psychological and political theory, and propelled by Italy’s economic boom (Olivetti were early patrons) wanted to merge art, architecture and industrial design, in order to create ‘democratic’ art, which anyone could understand.

The Gruppo N folded shortly after being exhibited at the 1964 Venice Biennale; the following year a Biasi work was included in the seminal The Responsive Eye exhibition at the MoMA in New York, curated by art critic William C Seitz, alongside other op-art stars such as Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely and Richard Anuszkiewicz. It was an enormous success with the public, though dismissed by most critics as being mere trompe l’oeil trickery. Seitz wrote in the show’s catalogue: ‘Like the apparatus of a stage magician, these objects do not exist for their true physical form but for their impact on perception. The intent of The Responsive Eye is to dramatize the power of static forms and colors to stimulate dynamic psychological response. Is this new modus operandi a means only, or is it an end as well?’

It certainly wasn’t an end for Alberto Biasi, who continues to make optical-kinetic art into his ninth decade: the works in the Cardi show were all created post 2000. He uses various formulae involving raw and synthetic materials such as slashed canvas, PVC strips, and wooden frames. All his works are constructed with meticulous geometric precision, lit by overhead spots, and demand a viewing from multiple angles. There are fifteen or so works on show in the Cardi: one white-on-white piece radiates mother-of-pearl opalescence; another red-on-gold one recalls the divine palette of medieval iconography; a third, black on electric blue, brings to mind (unintentionally, presumably) the opening sequence from Dr Who.

‘Democratic’ it certainly is: this show would even delight children who had no interest in what part such work has played in the history of modern art. For the record, I’d say, Biasi’s optical-kinetic art sprang from Futurism’s dynamic energy and learnt some lessons, perhaps, from Naum Gabo’s Constructivist sculptures; its influence is now being seen in cutting-edge kinetic NFT pieces, examples of which you can see round the corner at the NFT Gallery on Dover Street.

Don’t leave Cardi, however, without popping down to the basement, where they are also showing items from their permanent collection. The gallery, opened in London in 2015, is an offshoot of Milan’s Galleria Cardi, and specialises in post-war Italian art from movements such as Minimalism, Arte Povera and Zero Movement. There’s a more international feel, however, about this selection, with a light installation by Dan Flavin, a wrapped painting by Cristo, a series of defaced prints by Giulio Paolini and a canvas filled with bent nails by Günther Uecker.

Words Alex Leith Photos Courtesy Cardi Gallery, London

Alberto Biasi – Dinamica Ecologica – February 17 to May 20, 2023 – Cardi Gallery, London

Read More



, ,