Shout Magazine

Mark Kostabi on Carla Accardi

Many people agree that Carla Accardi is one of the nicest people in the art world. At 76 years old, she has more energy and curiosity than most artists in their twenties. She’s friendly and welcoming to everyone, regardless of age or status. She’s also the world’s most famous, living, female Italian artist. Her success is quite a feat, considering she’s an abstract painter, working in the Italian art world, which is male-dominated and prefers figuration.

Although Carla Accardi has shown in New York before, at the Salvatore Ala Gallery (now in Milan), her opening at P.S.1 marks the beginning of her first solo New York museum show. With hot, young New York painters like Jonathan Lasker among Carla Accardi’s passionate fans, it won’t be long before critics like Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith latch on to her as one of the art world’s hidden treasures suddenly unveiled. It’s already beginning: Guggenheim curator Cermano Celant just wrote a huge book on Carla.

Carla lives in Rome. As do I, though I also live in New York. Being something beyond a brash, young upstart but not quite a mid-career artist, I am thrilled and honored to have Carla as a good friend. I’m always inspired when visiting her smartly organized, Via Babuino studio with its gorgeous terrace overlooking the world’s most beautiful city. We frequently dine together at Augustea, an art-world hangout, especially on Sunday nights, along with other friends – the artists Luigi Ontani and Emillio Prini, and the art critic Laura Cherubini.

Carla has been part of the Italian art scene for over 50 years. She was born in Trapani, Silcily in 1924 and moved to Rome in 1945. In 1947, she co-founded the Forma 1 movement in order to promote an abstract Marxist art that was different from Socialist Realism. In the late fifties, she exhibited in Paris and Turin, to great acclaim. She has been omnipresent in the Italian art scene ever since.

Her joyful painting – sometimes starkly black and white, sometimes resoundingly colorful, frequently resembling exotic, sinuous calligraphy – is always unmistakably original with its very personal, organically growing, cursive stokes, their spontaneity being traces of existential experience.

At P.S.1 we can see Triplice Tenda, from 1969, a full-size circular tent of clear plastic marked in her characteristic patterns of elegant and tasteful pale-pink paint. This breathtakingly beautiful and sophisticated work, one of her first tents, simultaneously evokes the contradictory images of both nomadism and domesticity. Am I starting to sound like one of those critics who’s in love with his own words?

About a year ago, when I brought some of my Zegna-wearing, twenty-something, chic New York friends to see Achille Bonito Oliva’s epic P.S.1 Minilalia show, which chronicled Italian art from Giacomo Balla to the present, all gravitated to Carla’s cursive calligraphy on clear plastic stretched over humble wooden stretchers, like moths to a Dan Flaven, or like Chelsea artists to Prada. She was their favorite. And mine, too.

I love Carla Accardi. And she’s beautiful. And the last time I wrote about her she gave me a drawing. Do you think this time I might get a small painting?

July 2001