Afro Basaldella, born in Udine in 1912, is one of the best-known abstract Italian painters, He began exhibiting in Milan during the ‘30s in the same period that his brother, Mirko, came to be known as a sculptor. In 1934 he moved to Rome, coming into contact with the city’s artists. He took part in national and international exhibitions including the Venice Biennale in 1936.
After the second world war his interest in abstraction became more evident. In 1949 he met Catherine Viviano who invited him to exhibit in her gallery in New York. In this period his relationship with the American scene became closer. In the same year the Director of the Department of Painting and Sculpture of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Andrew Ritchie, wrote to him about Patrick Kelleher’s presentation of his works at the museum. In 1950 he lived in the United States for eight months while preparing an exhibition at the Catherine Viviano Gallery in New York, where he returned to exhibit several times in the following years (the show in 1955 was particularly appreciated).
For the American critics Afro interpreted the Italian tradition in a contemporary abstract way, a result of his painterly researches into colour-harmony. In 1955 he was member of the awards jury for the “International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting” in Pittsburgh (the cover of the catalogue reproduced an Afro painting), and in the 1958 edition he won the second prize. Having returned to Italy, where he continued to exhibit at the Venice Biennale together with the so-called “Gruppo degli Otto” (Group of Eight Painters), he held a solo show in 1956, with a catalogue introduction by Andrew C. Ritchie.
In this period he established a close friendship with Alberto Burri, an artist with whom for a long period he shared a dialectical interest in art experimentation. Il giardino della speranza is the title of a large-scale wall painting undertaken in the UNESCO building in Paris in 1958, a work which introduced Afro to the French scene; this interest in him was confirmed by his solo show in the Galerie de France in 1961. Again in 1961, James Johnson Sweeney devoted a monograph to his work since 1950. In 1966 Syd Solomon invited him to teach at the New College Fine Arts Institute of Sarasota (Florida), and then to take part in an exhibition together with six artists, including Philip Guston, Solomon, and Marca-Relli. His painting during the ‘70s was concerned with abstract compositions with a more geometrical linear structure and clear, sharp, coloured backgrounds. After the death of his brother Mirko in 1969, Afro had various health problems.
The 1970s were characterized by an increased output of graphics and by his waning interest in politics and participating in exhibitions. He died in Zurich in 1976.
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