LONDON.- Matera Town Council and Circolo La Scaletta cultural association have been organizing, since 1978, The Great Exhibition in the Sassi of Matera, which present contemporary sculpture in two unique rock-hewn churches: Madonna delle Virtù and San Nicola dei Greci. The exhibitions have been curated by Professor Giuseppe Appella in collaboration with several Italian and foreign art historians and have presented the work of important artists, such as Consagra, Melotti, Martini, Cambellotti, A. Cascella, Fazzini, Matta, Milani, Andreotti, Kolibal, Negri, Leoncillo, Raphael, Mascherini, Hare, Viani, Mirko. Moreover, group shows have been organized: Sculpture in Italy, Sculpture in America, Sculpture in France and Vanni Scheiwiller Collection. This extensive experience was the starting point for the creation of a permanent museum: MUSMA Museum of Contemporary Sculpture, opened in Matera on 14 October 2006 in the presence of the Italian Minister of Culture, Francesco Rutelli. The museums collection comprises numerous sculptures that were donated by artists, artists families and many friends of Matera, to express gratitude towards the towns commitment to promoting contemporary art. The Great Exhibition in the Sassi 2008 will present the sculpture and works on paper of Ibram Lassaw, one of the most important American artists of the "New York School".
The exhibition will run from June 14 to October 18 and will include 85 sculptures, 56 drawings and 26 jewels, from 1929 to 1996, on loan from the Ibram Lassaw Foundation in East Hampton, important private American collections and various American museums: Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art - New York; Heckscher Museum of Art - Huntington; Guild Hall Museum - East Hampton; New Jersey State Museum - Trenton; Neuberger Museum - Purchase; Peggy Guggenheim Museum - Venice.
The works, selected by the exhibition's co-curators Giuseppe Appella and Ellen Russotto, illustrate in depth Lassaw's artistic life. At the age of thirteen he joined a sculpture class at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, taught by Dorothea Denslow. From 1927 to 1932 he worked at the Clay Club (later The Sculpture Center) and at the City College of New York from 1931 to 1932. In 1933 he executed his first abstract "space sculpture" and in 1936 he began using forge-welded metal and created Concrete Abstraction, exhibited in the Sculpture Biennal of the Whitney Museum of Modern Art. In the same year, he founded, together with other artists, the association American Abstract Artists, of which he was president from 1946 to 1949. From 1947 to 1949 he studied painting with Amedeo Ozenfant. In 1949 he was founding member of The Club.
After his works were exhibited in Abstract Painting and Sculpture organized by MOMA in 1950, he was represented by the Kootz Gallery until 1966 and there he had his first solo show in 1951. In the same year he was among the artists of the memorable exhibition "Sculpture of the Twentieth Century" at the Museum of Modern Art of New York. From that moment on, his sculptures were acquired by museums from all over the world and he was commissioned numerous works by several architects, among whom Percival Goodman and Philip Johnson, for important venues such as Beth El Temple in Providence, Knese Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Port Chester, House of Theology of the Franciscan Fathers in Centerville, Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Washington University in St. Louis, Rockerfeller Center in New York. The sculpture for the Rockfeller Center, Pantheon, was donated to the MUSMA of Matera and will be displayed outdoors.
Lassaw had several solo exhibitions at Venice Biennal in 1954, Sao Paulo Biennal in 1957 and at the Exposition Universale in Brussells in 1958. His works were also shown in: "Twelve Americans", London 1957; Documenta II, Kassel 1959; Pittsburgh International Exhibition, 1961; "United States Sculpture of the Twentieth Century", Paris 1965; "Show of Painting and Sculpture at the White House", Washington 1965; "Exposition Internationale de Sculpture Contemporaine", Expo Montreal 1967; "American Art of the 30's", New York 1968; "200 Years of American Sculture", New York 1976; "American Art of the 20th Century", New York 1979-1980; "The Third Dimension", New York 1984; "The Impact of Surrealism in American Art, Convulsive Reality", New York 1989; "Scultura in America", Matera 1990.
Although Ibram Lassaw received an academic education, he became suddenly aware of the modern artist's responsibility in developing new research paths. Therefore, divided between Mirò and Mondrian, he articulated his work by expressing spaces that penetrate each other simultaneously. Spaces developed on different levels and among free shapes which materialize the drawing by creating an uninterrupted line made of welded and twisted iron wires, studded by bronze knots and other metals such as steel, nickel, copper treated with acid. The deriving labyrinth is three-dimensional and varies in structure and color while seeking for a subconscious freedom and an immediate inspiration, not far from the abstract expressionism of the New York School.
Ibram Lassaw wrote: The deep desire to comprehend the nature of reality has long been a primary force in my development. We may intellectualize about reality and we may measure and analyze it. These ways have led me to valuable discoveries and insights. Nevertheless, intuition and instinct, the direct, firsthand prehension of experience, has proved to be the more fruitful way for my work. When I am in the realm of concepts, my eyes no longer see, my ears no longer hear. Reality is hidden in a fog.
All day long, I observe Nature; people walking in the street, the movement of branches in the wind, the patterns made by neon signs and auto headlights on a wet night; marvelous cracks in the pavements; and equally, the range of ones own feelings; the whole complex of both outer and inner reality. Man is a part of Natures organic whole.
While I am welding a sculpture, no conscious ideas intrude themselves into the work. I have eyes only for the reality of what happens before me.
Ibram Lassaw was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1913 and moved to New York in 1921, after living for a period of time in Marseille, Naples, Tunis, Malta and Constantinople. He died in East Hampton in 2003.
The exhibition designer is Architect Alberto Zanmatti. The big sculptures will be displayed at the rock-hewn churches of Madonna delle Virtù and San Nicola dei Greci and the small sculptures, jewels and drawings at MUSMA in the temporary exhibitions space. The show is promoted by Circolo La Scaletta association, Matera Town Council and MUSMA. Ibram Lassaw Exhibition is supported by Basilicata Region and the regional tourism authority - APT Basilicata, by Province of Matera and Matera Chamber of Commerce, by Zétema Foundation - Matera, by CARICAL Bank Foundation, Banco di Napoli Foundation, Total Italia S.p.A., Italcementi S.p.A. - Matera and by Resolvis S.r.l. - Matera.