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.

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 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 of the Louvre, Paris (1964) and Strutturazione cinevisuale ambientale at Nova tendencija in Zagreb (1965). From the same period, he also experimented with games of light from rapidly moving structures and images created by rhythmic flashes.

Among his innovative environments is Spazio elastico, presented for the first time in 1967 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 and international exhibitions in Italy and abroad. Starting in the mid-1970s, Colombo’s research was to concentrate increasingly on analysis of architectural language as he created environments in which the public would play a more and more essential part, modifying and manipulating arches, pillars and sloping surfaces. Artist and designer, in the 1980s he placed attention on the structural notes of the exhibition space and the primary architectural elements, conceiving environmental site-specific installations.

The artist passed away prematurely in 1993.

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