Gianni Colombo

Milan, 1937 – Melzo, 1993

Gianni Colombo was born in Milan in 1937. He attended the painting courses given by Achille Funi at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera. His debut dates from the 1950s, starting with his works of pottery for the Faenza National Competition and the Gubbio National Exhibition (presented from 1955 to 1961). Receptive to the work of the arte nucleare movement, to the research of Lucio Fontana and the Spatialist movement, in 1959 he founded Gruppo T – with Giovanni Anceschi, Gabriele De Vecchi and later Grazia Varisco – which designed a kinetic, programmed, optical art form, where the spectator becomes the work’s new protagonist.
In 1959 he exhibited multi-material works and monochrome felt reliefs at Galleria Azimut in Milan – at the core of a Europe-wide spate of artistic fervour. His first electromechanically operated kinetic works: Superfici in variazione, Rilievi intermutabili and Strutturazioni pulsanti, were exhibited in 1960 in his solo show Miriorama 4 at Galleria Pater.
The idea of ‘open’ works that the spectator comes into direct contact with was to become his constant theme. Practicable environments and works which interfere with the user’s psycho-physical state were the protagonists of important public displays, amongst which Strutturazione cinevisuale abitabile at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs del Louvre, Paris (1964) and Strutturazione cinevisuale ambientale for Nova tendencija in Zagreb (1965). From the same period, After-Structures, Roto-Optic and After-Points experiment with games of light from rapidly moving structures and images created by rhythmic flashes. Among his innovative environments is Spazio elastico from 1967, presented on occasion of Trigon 67 in Graz, with a moving volumetric net and elastic cords operated by motors and made phosphorescent by Wood’s lamps, which gives each spectator a different perception of the space.
During the 1960s he was a leading light with appearances at biennials (São Paulo, Brazil; Venice XXXIV, 1968 – where he won the painting prize) and international exhibitions (Documenta 4, Kassel), which joined together to form a constant string of solo and group exhibitions in Italy and abroad. In his new practicable environments, he created a dialogue between space, balance and movement: Campo praticabile was presented with Vincenzo Agnetti at Studio Marconi in Milan in 1970. Starting in the mid-1970s, Colombo’s research was to concentrate increasingly on analysis of architectural language as he created environments in which the transitional would play a more and more essential part, modifying and manipulating arches, pillars and sloping surfaces
(Topoestesie; Bariestesie, first displayed by Marconi in ’75).
Artist and designer, Colombo took the Structuring Space chair at the New Academy of Fine Art in Milan, a role which he covered until 1985. Starting in the 1980s he worked on his Architetture cacogoniometriche in which he placed attention on the structural notes of the exhibition space and the primary architectural elements. Dating from 1984 is the Architettura cacogoniometrica-Colonne at the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea in Milan and the Venice Biennial. At the end of the decade and during the next he developed settings focussing on the concept of ‘curved space’: Spazio diagoniometrico (1992, Galerie Hoffmann, Friedberg). The artist passed away prematurely the following year, but attention to his work has continued to grow through exhibitions in public and private spaces in Italy and abroad.

Selected works




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