Entering LYNCH THAM gallery and looking at the show of Guglielmo Achille Cavellini, I could not help it but imagining the tall, thin, slightly bent but all the same elegant old man I met in 1989. It was the year before his death and his son Piero, a dealer, had put together a wonderful, small retrospective of his work in his gallery in Brescia. This was not far from Milan where he had another gallery, at that time presenting a newly released book by his father.
At the time I had seen Cavellini’s work in books and magazines but this was the first time I was going to see his actual artworks. Among the artists of my generation, I probably was more aware of his work than other people because I had been invited a couple of times by Piero to participate in group shows both in his Milan gallery and in Brescia.
I was excited, expecting to see Cavellini wearing one of his famous suits for the occasion. Instead, he was wearing a sweater and pants and behaving in a rather casual way. During the opening I could not help but overhear him talking with Piero in a rather determined tone, asking him to keep two of the pieces in the show (his own solo show) because he was going to buy them. On that occasion he also gave me a signed copy of his book Vita di un Genio (Life of a Genius), referring to himself, published by Centro Studi Cavelliniani (a.k.a., himself). On the title page Cavellini explains: “It is of extreme importance for me to tell the story of my life, how my artistic adventure started and how it unfolded. This is also because my biographers would be then forced to reconstruct my life with long, laborious, and certainly imperfect and incomplete researches.”
It is a 155-page, very densely printed book starting from the life of Cavellini’s illiterate parents in a small provincial city. It goes on to tell his story in minute detail: how he was able to meet artists, became an artist himself, and put together an impressive collection of contemporary art at a time when almost everybody around him thought he was a fool.
The brilliantly installed and intelligently conceived show at Lynch Tham concentrates on works from the sixties and seventies, including pieces from different series: the Crates containing parts of his own destroyed, burned works; the Stamps, the Writings, the Heirlooms; writings on clothes, and a beautiful Homage to Lichtenstein (1968).
Every time I have the chance to see Cavellini’s work, I am amazed by his text pieces. The writing covers the entire surface of the object or the support and the words are impossible to decipher even if you read Italian, but all the same they have another meaning than themselves. This is especially apparent in a 18 ¾-by-18 ¾-inch piece Writing in Black and Red Marker on Paper (1975), where the writing, while minute and dense, defines itself as pure space.
It was hard at that time and probably still is now to be a famous collector and also believable as artist. Perhaps now, more than 20 years from his death, it is time to reconsider Cavellini’s achievement.
By Elena Berriolo