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Takako Saito - 1936 Giovanni , Luigi's Father, starts producing hats... - 1972 Luigi starts his business - 1997
The history and evolution of the Luigi Bonotto Collection
In the beginning…
Luigi Bonotto was born into a family living in the Veneto countryside where, from time immemorial art, politics and business all merged together. Both his father and grandfather were entrepreneurs, owners of an artisan factory in Marostica where they made straw hats and other articles of straw. His father Giovanni often took young Luigi to visit the most important museums in the Veneto, which led him to discovering Antonio Canova, Jacopo Dal Ponte, Titian and all those other artists who, over the centuries, have worked in this extraordinary region. Shortly thereafter he and his father began to visit the major Italian museums: the Uffizzi, the Vatican Museums, etc. At the same time, every time he returned from his various business trips, Giovanni told his son Luigi about the artists he had encountered or the works that he had seen during his trips around Europe. Thus, Luigi heard about Expressionists, Impressionists, Van Gogh, Picasso, etc.
After finishing Middle School Luigi moved to Valdagno where he attended the industrial school in what was, at that time, one of the most important textile centres of the world. In addition, during that period, Valdagno was also one of the international centres for contemporary art, thanks to the historic prize established by Marzotto. And it was here that the young Luigi Bonotto first encountered the works of Burri, Fontana, Christo, Arman and many other artists well known on the international art scene.
After finishing Secondary School, Luigi attended the Fine Arts Academy of Venice and there he came into contact with the historical abstraction of Tancredi, Vedova, and Santomaso with whom he established a friendship. At the same time he began his teaching career at the Industrial Institute of Valdagno where he held the chair in Textile Design.
In 1972 he began his entrepreneurial and style consulting activities for some of the most important furniture and clothing signature labels. This was an activity that experienced a rapid growth, including internationally, and which quickly led him to abandon his teaching in order to devote himself entirely to this work.
During those same years he began to study the works of Duchamp, whom he would later have the opportunity to meet at the Milan chess club. This study marked the beginning of his understanding of the concept of object. He also came into contact with the teachings of John Cage and later, with the help of Francesco Conz, Rosanna Chiessi, Henry Ruhé and Emily Haevey he came into contact with many of the artists in the Fluxus group. Among these artists was Emmet Williams, who introduced him to Concrete Poetry and other Italian and international visual-verbal research. And this is how he discovered the lively world of Experimental Poetry and became interested in Concrete Poetry, Visual Poetry, Sound Poetry, and their Performance.
He immediately realised that many of the artists that aroused his interest were difficult to place within a precise movement and came to the conclusion that the barriers between Poetry and Fluxus were very ephemeral. Therefore he intensified his contacts and visits with several of the leading exponents of these movements, with the result that he created some very solid friendships.
Bonotto’s company in Molvena and his home (first in Molvena, and later in Bassano) thus became coveted places for vacationing and gathering, where the artists, sometimes several at the same time and without much attention to which “group” they belonged to, could discuss and argue, work and study. They left extensive documentation, including photographic documents, of the projects and works that were realised with the support of the entrepreneur. The artists came to Molvena from all over the world and all were fascinated by its extraordinary territory, from the rolling hills to its traditional products. Memorable dinners at the “Il Mago” (the Magician) Trattoria consolidated the friendly relationships and allowed Bonotto’s guests to discover Grappa, to which many of them dedicated tributes. Indeed, many custom bottles were created by artists like: Philip Corner, Dick Higgins, Milan Knížák, Nam June Paik, Ben Patterson, Ben Vautier, etc. The extraordinary artisan fabric that characterises the axis Molvena-Bassano also allowed the artists to create any project in a short time and with great technical sophistication. In this way the interplay between art and business, artistic creativity and business innovation was reinforced and which still represent the pulsing heart of the industrial activity, which is today run by his sons Giovanni and Lorenzo, and which would already be recognised as an added value in 1998 when Luigi Bonotto was awarded the Guggenheim Enterprise and Culture Prize. And thus, over the years, Luigi has built up an impressive collection of those artistic experiences that have eliminated the barriers between the various artistic disciplines with the intention of merging them into a single total practice.
The collection not only preserves the works of the artists, but it also preserves important documents which are useful for reconstructing the history of these movements, full of connections, exchanges, influences, controversies and struggles. In some cases this material is commented on by the artists or accompanied by letters of historical critical commentary.
Extraordinary examples in this respect are the works realised by Ugo Carrega for Luigi Bonotto as “exemplary models” of the evolution of his explicit research in the various chapters of his “Commentary” or the books self-published by Arrigo Lora Totino to comment on and exemplify his sound and performance research. And the famous “Intermedia Chart” that Dick Higgins realised in Molvena in 1995 just to explain the concept of Inermedia should also be mentioned.
The friendships that were established over the years of association with almost all the artists he collected has allowed Luigi Bonotto, in fact, to become the trusted repository of much of the material coming directly from the personal archives of the artists: drafts for published and unpublished books and catalogues, exhibition brochures, invitations, posters and all that “spurious” and difficult to find material that makes the Bonotto Collection an inexhaustible source of surprises.
Amidst these materials audio and video documents also find ample space and include performances realised by Philip Corner and Alison Knowles inside the Molvena factory. In this case as well, the material often comes directly from the artists and not only testifies to the historic performances, but often also refers to minor incidents, sometimes even of a private nature, which allow a detailed reconstruction of the important events in the historical evolution of the movements and the relationships existing between the various artists.
Finally, a considerable part of the Collection is made up of the artists’ direct correspondence with Luigi Bonotto: letters, postcards, and e-mails, that render palpable the close friendship that binds the collector to his artists. Not to mention the substantial number of portraits that range from performances dedicated to him such as: “Bread and Butter for Luigi” by Ben Vautier and “Gentle Proposals for Luigi” by Eric Andersen; to the works: “Portrait of Luigi Bonotto” by Dick Higgins, “The Hundred Images of the Collector Luigi Bonotto” by Igo Carrega, “Luigi Bonotto, A Portrait in the Making” by Sergio Cena, “Bonotto’s History in Mimicry” by Milan Knížák, “ A Man that Counts” by Rudolf Vitone, “Bono(tto) Concilio” (Bono [play on words between GOOD and the beginning of Bonotto’s name] (tto) Reconciliation) by Emmet Williams, “Fragment of the World: Portrait of Luigi” by Philip Corner, “1936, Giovanni, Luigi’s father starts producing hat. 1972 Luigi starts his business” (sic) by Takako Saito, “Portrait in Glass of Luigi Bonotto” by Luciano Caruso and the extraordinary book-object designed by Luigi Tola and last, but only in chronological order, the “Portrait of the Artist and the Customer” by Geoff Hendricks made in the summer of 2013.
Among the documents preserved in the Collection are historical Italian magazines from “Geiger” to “Lotta Poetica” (Poetical Conflict), from “Téchne” to “Ana Eccetera” (Ana Etcetera), from “Linea Sud” (Southline) to “TauMa”, from “Tam Tam” to “Da A/U Delà” (From to/U Beyond), From “Bit” to the sound magazine, “Baobab”, and coming to the most recent “Antologia ad Hoc” (Ad Hoc Anthology), “Bricolage” (Do-It-Yourself), and “BAU”. There are also numerous international magazines, including European titles, such as: “Approches” (Approaches), “Doc(k)s”, “Ou Cinquième saison” (Or Fifth Season), “De Tafelronde” (The Round Table), and “Stereo Headphones”; South American titles such as: “Diagonal Cero” (Diagonal Zero), “Noigandres”; Japanese ones such as “Vou”; and obviously American titles such as “Fluxus Magazine CCVTre”, and “Film Culture” through which it is possible to reconstruct the intense relationships that exist between the various groups operating at the international level.
The rich library contains numerous catalogues of personal and collective shows, accompanied by invitations, brochures and posters, often printed by the artists themselves, such as the “Florentine Artistic Expressions” catalogue from 1971. Several items are veritable artefacts, such as the poster from the first edition of “Parole sui Muri” (Words on the Walls) from 1967 in Fiumalbo, or the invitation to the first show by George Maciunas at his A&G Gallery in New York in 1961, the complete collection of Festival Fluxus posters, among which the poster for “Gesto e Segno” (Gesture and Sign), the first Fluxus Festival held in Italy in 1964 stands out. And also talking about posters, the extraordinary collection of almost all the posters from Beuys’ actions and exhibitions starting in 1961 cannot be ignored.
Beyond the “traditional” library, there are also many art and object books, sometimes realised expressly in homage to Luigi Bonotto. A collection that starts with Mallarmé and his “Un Coup de Des” (A Crapshoot) in the publication of the Nouvelle Revue Française (the New French Review) of 1914, passes through “Poemobiles” by Augusto De Campos and Julio Plaza, and includes over 350 art books by Eric Andersen, Julien Blaine, Mirella Bentivoglio, George Brecht, Luciano Caruso, Giuseppe Chiari, Henri Chopin, Mario Diacono, Robert Filliou, Ken Friedman, Pierre Garnier, Juan Hidalgo, Dick Higgins, Allan Kaprow, Milan Knížák, Alison Knowles, Emilio Isgrò, Arrigo Lora Totino, Walter Marchetti, Gerorge Maciunas (the historic “Fluxyearboxes” and the “Flux Paper Event”), Jackson MacLow, Yoko Ono, Ben Patterson, Takako Saito, Mieko Shiomi, Gianni Emilio Simonetti, Ben Vautier, Emilio Villa, Robert Watts, etcetera, etcetera, in a continually expanding series that adds to the vertiginous list that Umberto Eco dedicated a recent book to.
Finally, the works. As far as Fluxus is concerned, the Collection contains several real gems, such as: “The Baseball Player”, the robot created by Nam June Paik in 1989, perhaps one of his most striking and famous works; “New River Watercolour, Series III” by John Cage, an essential reference for Fluxus; numerous publications and several unique pieces by George Maciunas like “Spice Chess” from 1966 and the “FluxKits” realised in collaboration with the other Fluxus artists; the “Chair Event” installation by George Brecht; “Intervalli. Do per Pianoforte” (Intervals. C for Piano), one of Giuseppe Chiari’s first attempts at writing music dating back to 1950; an “Untitled” work by Robert Filliou from 1964; the triptych entitled “Natural Distances” by Allan Kaprow from 1976; the works that Gustav Metzger realised in Molvena in 1990 from projects dating from 1968; “Sette Quartetti. L’oubli De Métamorphoses” (Seven Quartets. The Oblivion of Metamorphoses) by Gianni Emilio Simonetti which were realised on seven large canvases, one of the examples of the union between art and industry pursued by Luigo Bonotto; the extraordinary “Le Bon Pasteur” (the Good Shepherd) from the “Les Trésor Des Pauvres" (The Poor People’s Treasure”) realised by Daniel Spoerri in 1988; “Herz Und Ohr Berlin” (the Heart and Ear of Berlin) by Wolf Vostell from 1992; “Kunst=Kapital” by Joseph Beyus from 1980; the site-specific installation “Magic Room” realised by Ben Patterson in Luigi Bonotto’s home in Molvena in 1994; “High Contrast” by Philip Corner from 1962; “Art: Flipper en bois”(Art: Wooden Pinball) by Ben Vautier from 1974; “Opus 16. The Private Secretary” by Eric Andersen from 1966; “Symphony No. 245” by Dick Higgins from 1980; two precious collages by Ray Johnson from 1972; “Skak-May Hvornar? Ches-Mate When?” by Arthur Koepcke from 1963; Miniature Soft Drumset” by Claes Oldenburg from 1967.
On the subject of the Experimental Poetry Collection, it contains several historical pieces from the most important Italian artists, from Eugenio Miccini and his collage “Tutto il mondo guarda” (the Whole World is Watching) from 1963 to Lamberto Pignotti and his “La libertà ritorna” (Freedom Returns) and Stelio Maria Martini with “Fatte quattro passi in più” (Take Four More Steps) both from the same year, 1963, the year conventionally referred to as the birth year of Visual Poetry.
Of extraordinary historical importance is “La forma sempre più difficile” (the form is more and more difficult), a collage realised by Luigi Tola in 1959, that, in fact, constitutes one of the first examples of Visual Poetry in Italy and that forces us to backdate the beginning of this aesthetic experience by four, if not five years.
Another rarity consists of of two “Heads” by Arrigo Lora Totino, paintings realised by the artist in 1959 before beginning his work as a concrete poet widely documented in the Collection.
As rare are the works of Emilio Villa, of which the collector has managed to acquire a few. Among these are “Ananimêtre” from 1966 and “Silent Disco: Choir from the Choir School from 1967.
Really and truly unique, on the other hand is the “sculpture” realised by Adriano Spatola as a plastic elaboration of his hieroglyphics.
Ample space is also reserved for the major international Concrete, Visual, and Sound poets like Joan Brossa, Henri Chopin, Carlfriedrich Claus, Augusto and Haroldo De Campos, Guillermo Deisler, Bernard Heidsieck, Emilio Isgrò, Heinz Gappmayr, Ilse and Pierre Garnier, Eugen Gomringer, Bohumila Grögerová, Öviynd Fahlström, Ferdinand Kriwet, Franz Mon, Clemente Padin, Decio Pignatari, Thom Phillips, Gerhard Rühm, Edgardo Antonio Vigo, ranging from South America to Eastern Europe to Japan. In this case as well there are surprises and rarities such as the works of Dom Sylvester Houedard (remember his typewriting “In memoriam Konrad Bayer” (In memory of Konrad Bayer from 1964), the “Plastic Poem” from 1967 by Kitasono Katué or the two works from 1963 by Seiichi Niikuni: “Prisoner” and “Early Summer Rain”.
A separate discussion is required for the Publications, both Fluxus and Poetry, in that they form the largest part of the entire Collection. The idea of the serial multiplication of artwork, implicit in the realisation of the publications, in fact, accents the idea of art and industry which has always supported the aesthetic search pursued by Luigi Bonotto. Not only do the publications actualise the combination of industry, craftwork, and art so dear to the collector, but they also fully express the poetry of a movement like Fluxus, which has always been placed outside the traditional art market, proposing instead a form of democratic of art itself through the production of small objects in series, advertised and sold through the magazine catalogues designed by George Maciunas. Therefore, it is no accident that the Collection also contains practically all the publications of Maciunas, Brecht, and Filliou besides numerous other Fluxus and Experimental Poetry publications.
Towards the future…
The first public action of the Bonotto Foundation was held in June 2013 at the University IUAV of Venice, a lecture by Yoko Ono and the installation “I’ll be back” dedicated by the artist to future artists. The publication entitled “DREAM”, published by Flaneur&Dust, was presented on this occasion. The project, organised by Cristiano Seganfreddo and Luigi Bonotto, brings together a selection of photographs from the action of the same name organised in 2009 (the same year that Yoko Ono was invited to the Venice Biennale to receive the Leone d’Oro for Lifetime Achievement) with the creation of huge white posters with the word “DREAM” written on them and placed around many Italian cities.
The numerous collaborations, realised even before the establishment of the Foundation, with important museums around the world (from the Pompidou Centre in Paris to the Houston Museum of Modern Art) and with the most prestigious events in the field, (from the Venice Biennale to the São Paulo Biennale), were personally paid for by Luigi Bonotto through loans, grants and collaborations that have brought to Bassano and Molvena some of the most important international curators: Bernard Blisténe, Nicoletta Ossanna Cavadini, Antonio D’Avossa, Lucrezia De Domizio Durini, Jon Hendricks, Henry Martin, Solange Oliveira Farkas, Enrico Pedrini, Olga Sviblova and Harald Szeemann. Here below we will only cite the main events starting with those realised in 2012, the year that celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the Fluxus movement and in which Luigi Bonotto promoted the organisation of four events:
“Fluxus. A creative revolution 1962 – 2012” at the M.A.X. in Chiasso, organised by Antonio D’Avossa and Nicoletta Ossanna Cavadini, and “Benjamin Patterson: Born in The State of Flux/Us”, the show entirely dedicated to the works of the American artist/musician which was part of the broader framework of the “Fluxus at 50” exhibition in Wiesbaden, Germany. The latter recalled the atmosphere of the first Fluxus Festival that took place in the German city, through the numerous shows and a rich program of events that took place throughout the whole year;
“Women in Fluxus & Other Experimental Tales” in Reggio Emilia: a monograph of over 250 works collected, besides those from the Bonotto Collection, from the Rosanna Chiessi Collection (founder in 1971 of the Pari&Dispari Publications), from the Francesco Conz Archives (another historical Italian Fluxus publisher) and other private collections, with an ad hoc focus on the women who have animated the movement: Yoko Ono, Charlotte Moorman, Alison Knowles, Shigeko Kubota, Takako Saito, Mieko (Chieko) Shiomi, that intertwine with figures that have crossed paths with Flluxus in the course of their artistic and individual theoretical journey, such as the feminist and activist Kate Millet, and Simone Forti and Carolee Schneemann, active in the New York’s Judson Dance Theater in the early Sixties;
And finally, “Joseph Beuys: ogni uomo è un artista” (Joseph Beuys: every man is an artist) in Chiasso, Switzerland who presented the most comprehensive exhibition of multiple autographed posters, and videos of the important German artist with a special selection of works and material that delineated the artist’s communication system. This show repeated the previous one, “Joseph Beuys: La rivoluzione siamo noi!” (Joseph Beuys: We are the Revolution!) curated by Solange Oliveira Farkas and Antonio D'Avossa proposed at the São Paulo International Biennale in 2010 (later arriving at the Museum of Modern Art in Bahia and at the Museo Nacional de la Estampa [National Print Museum] in Mexico City). The exhibition’s catalogue was recognised by the prestigious jury of the “Jabuti Award” as the Best Art Book in Brazil for 2011.
Previously, in 2009, on the occasion of the Lifetime Achievement Award conferred on Yoko Ono at the Venice Biennale, Luigi Bonotto, in collaboration with the Fuoribiennale, organised the above mentioned action “DREAM”. For several days in June, the main advertising spaces in the big cities, on the walls of the streets on the outskirts of the cities, on the buildings in the historic city centres, on bridges and bus stops in cities like Milan, Rome, Venice, Bologna, Mestre, Padua, and Verona were covered with hundreds of huge posters by Yoko Ono with the word DREAM printed on them.
In this brief overview we cannot fail to recall “Sentieri interrotti. Crisi della rappresentazione e iconoclastia nelle arti dagli anni Cinquanta alla fine del secolo” (Broken Paths. Crises of representation and iconoclasm in the arts from the Fifties to the end of the century). This historic event which took place in Bassano del Grappa in 2000 was organised by Luigi Bonotto, Roberto Melchiori, Tiziano Santi e Gianni Emilio Simonetti. It was one of the most interesting meditations on the major avant-garde movements of the Twentieth Century, from Cobra to Fluxus, ever organised in Italy, and was enriched by an extraordinary program of events and performances. The entrepreneur from the Veneto has never lost his love for his homeland and over the years has realised a number of initiatives there, such as: “Fluxus nel Veneto” (Fluxus in the Veneto) in Bassano in 1995 and in Castelfranco, in the same year, the personal shows of Geoff Hendricks and Luciano Caruso.
But Luigi Bonotto did not just dedicate himself to organising exhibitions. His main objective, in fact, is not that of celebrating himself, but spreading the knowledge and spirit of Fluxus and Experimental Poetry. To give an idea of this spirit, it is sufficient to recall the collaboration with the Nuova Accademia de Belle Arti (the New Fine Arts Academy) of Milan, NABA, in the realisation of a full cycle of Fluxus “educational celebrations” that characterised the 2010/2011 academic year at the school. The digitalising of the entire collection (works and documents) enters into the same educational spirit and is made freely available to scholars, curators, museum directors, as well as the curious through the Bonotto Foundation website. A huge project that has occupied Luigi Bonotto and his collaborators since 2005 or so and that will continue until everything is finished, thanks to the Foundation.
Luigi Bonotto’s declaration of intent is to keep the work of these artists alive and to promote their poetry and their work. The Foundation, therefore, does not intend to act simply as an organisation for cataloguing and preservation, but intends to become a lively and productive space for simulating the activities of research and study as much as possible. Among his statutory purposes, in fact, are the organising of exhibitions, events, seminars and conferences with artists, curators and institutions, that from time to time enter into dialogue with the material in the Collection; the organising of workshops on the theme of the how Collection relates to the worlds of art, business and fashion; supporting studies relative to the history and criticism of contemporary art with masters of contemporary art and artistic techniques, partnerships with universities, residence programs for young artists and curators; and finally the developing relationships between the worlds of artisan and industrial production and the art system, both central in the life of Luigi Bonotto.
The space chosen to host the headquarters of the Bonotto Foundation, and which will become a “Multifunctional Cultural Centre”, is the historical industrial building, “Ex Macello”, the former slaughterhouse of Bassano del Grappa. It will house the exhibition spaces, a library dedicated to the collected movements and a small living unit available to artists, curators and scholars with an adjacent workshop where they can work on their creative projects. To support cultural activities there will also be a bookshop, a café-restaurant and a multimedia room for events open to the collaboration with other cultural realities in the region and in the world.
A veritable thought factory.