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When Reviving a Forgotten Sculptor’s Repute Is a Household Affair

COLD SPRING, N.Y. — Adrian Nivola remembers the lengthy hours spent within the studio of his grandfather, Costantino Nivola, in the course of the Eighties, watching the artist seize the nice and cozy embrace of a mom in a wooden sculpture because the nation singer Tammy Wynette crooned over the stereo.

The music and the person got here speeding again into focus earlier this yr as he went to work on almost two dozen beforehand unseen sculptures from his grandfather’s studio that had been solid from moist sand into the shapes of animals, folks and summary pure varieties. Adrian cleaned them of mould and mildew for the exhibition presently on view at Magazzino Italian Artwork, a museum of postwar and modern work within the Hudson Valley.

“Nivola: Sandscapes,” on view by means of Jan. 10, represents a household’s effort to boost the profile of their patriarch, a forgotten proponent of modernism who was as comfy collaborating with the architect Le Corbusier as he was hobnobbing with celebrities like Marilyn Monroe. The exhibition celebrates the artist’s pioneering sand-casting approach, which required Nivola to carve into moist sand and fill its cavity with cement or plaster. It was an inexpensive, environment friendly technique for producing massive sculptural reliefs, which he put in on buildings throughout the nation.

“That is the story of an Italian refugee who made America his house, discovering kindred spirits amongst a group of artists and designers,” stated Teresa Kittler, the exhibition’s curator, who recounted how the Sardinian artist fled fascism in 1939, arriving in New York and embedding himself within the metropolis’s cultural scene.

From his house in Lengthy Island, Nivola would steadily host events that included shut pals just like the artists Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. Whereas his friends explored the parameters of Summary Expressionism, Nivola elaborated on the traditions of Mediterranean sculpture with cuboid cutouts in cement, humanoid figures paying homage to his Sardinian neighbors and a constellation of prehistoric symbols.

Nivola turned an outlier of the artwork historic narrative du jour — neither a strict Modernist nor an Summary Expressionist like de Kooning, Pollock or “second-generation” New York College painters — pushing his popularity into obscurity after his demise in 1988. And though he by no means obtained a significant retrospective in the US, proof of his skills exists in dozens of public artwork installations in faculties, authorities buildings and public housing developments throughout the nation. An exhibition at Cooper Union final yr mentioned lots of these initiatives, however a few of these works have develop into endangered. In March, the New York Metropolis Housing Authority eliminated a few of his horse sculptures from a property throughout building, elevating the significance of the Magazzino exhibition.

“It was laborious to course of as a result of I grew up with maquettes of these horse sculptures,” stated Adrian Nivola, a painter and sculptor. “To see them hacked off on the legs was simply terrible, however the silver lining is that the controversy has drawn extra consideration to my grandfather’s work.”

For greater than 30 years, preservationists have criticized the town for what they see as neglect of Nivola’s public artworks. (Carl Stein, an architect consulting on the broken horse sculptures, stated there’s a plan to revive the statues to their unique positions on the Nycha property.) Different sculptures, which the artist donated to pals and establishments, have been misplaced.

Whereas researching for his or her exhibition, the curators at Magazzino unearthed one such sculpture, a 1953 maquette for the Olivetti Showroom on Fifth Avenue. The design, which contains a procession of hieroglyphic gods and ornamental patterns, was discovered within the storage amenities of the Addison Gallery of American Artwork at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., the place it had been since its donation in 1974.

“It’s a wonderful instance of Nivola’s model,” stated Kittler, who added that the maquette was only one instance of how the artist frequently adjusted his designs, discovering a stability between futuristic Cubist figures and historical Sardinian modes of abstraction. “He had a really democratic thought of what artwork must be and was not likely treasured about his work.”

For the artist’s daughter, Claire Nivola, touring the Magazzino exhibition was a long-awaited reunion with the artwork of her father, whose classes within the studio helped encourage her profession as a kids’s e book illustrator and writer.

“He by no means let me use an eraser once I was a child drawing, as a result of he didn’t need me to develop into a perfectionist,” she recalled. “He had a childlike pleasure in life; every thing we did collectively felt like a mixture of work and play.”

Nivola: Sandscapes

By means of Jan. 10, 2022 at Magazzino Italian Artwork, 2700 U.S. 9, Chilly Spring, N.Y. 845- 666-7202; magazzino.artwork.

Further sandstone sculptures by Nivola

By means of June 30 at Eric Firestone Gallery, 4 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, N.Y. 631-604-2386;

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