Giorgio Morandi (1890–1964, Bologna, Italy) is widely considered the greatest Italian painter and, more generally, one of the most influential artists of the last century. His painting is limited to a very reduced range of themes, such as landscapes of the village of Grizzana or his many celebrated still lifes of bottles and vases, painted with minimum variations over the decades. Morandi lived his whole life together with his three sisters in the small apartment of Bologna where he was born; he taught printmaking for nearly thirty years at the local Academy of Fine Arts; he spent all his summers, from 1913 to his death, in Grizzana. His predictable and methodical biography constitutes a fitting backstory for his paintings, in which the objects and motifs are repeated to the point of boredom, as his detractors would say, or until the objects themselves and what is reflected on them become tangible: the subtle shifts in the afternoon light, the dust that has settled on the objects, the passage of time made apparent in material changes in the bottles that sporadically reappear, painting after painting, year after year…
Morandi stands out in 20th-century visual arts history as one of the leading figures of a line of artists (but also writers, musicians and film directors) who developed their work, in an increasingly more strident and cacophonous world, by resorting to almost silent reiteration, parsimony and simplicity. The painting of Alfredo Volpi, the filmmaking of Yasujirō Ozu, or the poetry of João Cabral de Melo Neto are examples of productions akin to Morandi’s in which the things are presented for what they are, in apparent simplicity. After all, as the artist once said to his friend, the Italian writer Giuseppe Raimondi, the subjects of his paintings are “my usual things. You know them. They are always the same. Why should I change them? They work pretty well, don’t you think?”
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).