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Rome and the Studio Soligo  
Laura Turco Liveri (Translation by Sheila Karimi)
ISSN 1127-4883     BTA - Telematic Bulletin of Art, July 11th 2000, n. 174 (April 16th 1999)

Up to very recent times, the private art galleries in Rome have been among the most revealing and interesting catalysts to discover and take the pulse of what kind of position Art holds in this city. In this sense, galleries have long been privileged, as have museums and other exhibition centres, for the interpersonal relationships they create by offering a cosier setting and the chance of hosting regular meetings.

And so, last August we approached the owner of one of the busiest galleries of contemporary art in Rome, Francesco Soligo, who for nearly thirty years had represented, between 1971 to 1998, numerous artists who have contributed to the building of recent art history. Our interview is both rare and precious because this Roman gallery owner is no longer with us; he passed away this year at the age of only fifty-two. However, his much-loved work remains with us. The work to which he was dedicated, with the making of careful choices often difficult and against the stream, gave life to the Soligo Gallery, in the Seventies. Up to a short time ago, the Soligo — a microcosm that was quickly to become part of the most important galleries in the city - was situated half way down Via del Babuino and has contributed greatly to Italian art and culture.

The Soligo Gallery opened officially in 1971 with an exhibition of Giulio Turcato followed immediately by the show of Mario Schifano, then one of the most representative of the "Scuola di Piazza del Popolo". Soligo opted for experimental trends from the start, like many others who declared that all the new tendencies, being proposed by the contemporary artists, not only did not destroy every expressive form of art, but, on the contrary, contained the seed of an artistic regeneration and a new way of exploring life. Cultural life in Rome in those years favoured meetings and exchange of artistic experience among the intellectuals. We can look back on the endless parties and dinners often put together at the last minute and held in the artists´ studios in Via Margutta and in the villas of Roman princesses, from Romana Adami to Marta Marzotto and Giorgio Franchetti. Real gatherings of all the arts. There, you could meet poets, painters, writers and film directors. Some taverns like Naride and Cesare Menghi´s were regular meeting points for Mafai, Consagra, Omiccioli, Scarpitta, Leoncillo, Turcato, and Carla Accardi with her husband Totò Sanfilippo. At the same time "Da Cesaretto" was a popular place for Sandro Penna, Achille Perilli, Gabriele Baldini and others to have discussions over a plate of spaghetti and a glass of wine.

Soligo had lived in this atmosphere since he was a boy, when he would frequently call on Afro in his studio. Afro was a family friend, and there Soligo would find parties and unexpected guests. Sometimes, on going to Turcato´s studio, he would mingle with film directors, actors, and even artists like Dorazio or Corpora. And in his own way, with many others, he tried to absorb all the new ideas of that period, channelling them into his gallery and creating a gathering of intellectuals which has nourished four generations of artists bound to him by reciprocal friendship and respect. In fact, it was Corpora at the beginning who introduced him to Dorazio, and through Afro he met the Genoese painter Scanavino. Both gave him helpful advice in his first steps as a gallery owner. Once he had met Schifano, who then introduced Festa and Angeli to him, Soligo chose to follow the young artists, his contemporaries, to discover with them alternative ways in art. He preferred working with his own people, as inter-gallery collaboration is not usual in Rome, because each gallery follows its own line of thought and judgement. Personal relationships with the artists were a fixed parameter of discussion and dialogue for him, so much so that the Gallery had no particular line but moved lithely according to the latest art trends. His criteria in choosing who to work with was always based on how the art work reflected the inward motivations of the painter himself. His meeting with Turcato is an example. That man "of continuous intellect" involved him in the ‘painting game´, always coming up with new, significant ideas. Soligo´s numerous business trips with the Mantuan painter were precious sources of comparison for both of them, and deepened their cultural and human knowledge.

As regards the relationships between artists, on the other hand, there are many famous anecdotes told about actual happenings which recall the artistic atmosphere of twenty years ago. Turcato, for instance, was convinced that Emilio Vedova, a fellow-student in his Academy days and afterwards his deadly rival, had once paid two henchmen, in Venice, to dump him, Turcato, in a canal. In all probability, it was Turcato himself who (being very drunk) had accidentally fallen in. In the same way, there is one well-known story about Afro, who had left his studio to the two Venetian painters and came back to find it like a battle field, with a Frau armchair completely ruined, because the leather had been used to mend their shoes, and a toilet had been filled with empty paint tubes. These seem to be stories of petty jealousies and rivalry, told for fun, rather than a real professional hostility. Another anecdote is about Aldo Mondino who, during his first show at Liverani´s art gallery "La Salita", found, to his horror, that his paintings had been shifted out into the street by the other Gallery artists who considered them ‘intruders´. At that time, in fact, the rival battles were mainly cultural and technical, and were born from long arguments and discussions in the studios, and from a conscious desire to renew artistic language even if it conflicted with the realistic lines laid down by Togliatti. But, nowadays, there is tougher competition between colleagues which leads to voluntary isolation due to radical changes in the system, such as the crisis of more and more gallery closures and the development of television marketing.

Enriched in the course of time by the presence of Renato Mambor and Cesare Tacchi, the period of the "Scuola di Piazza del Popolo" was followed up by a second generation of painters, with whom Soligo had already been proposing various new tendencies in research, since 1976. Costantino Marino and Nicola Maria Martino, presented by Montanarini, former Director of Rome Fine Arts Academy, were part of his circle. Martino, with his particular visual poetry, was nearer in character to the Roman Gallery owner, and introduced to him some of his protégés, among whom was Alberto Parres. Parres, who was one of the painters followed by Soligo during the evolution of his research, based his personal type of gestural art on the recollection of post-informal trends.

Another artist who is still working today in the Gallery is Cesare Berlingieri, who was introduced to Soligo in 1978 by Ciccio Alliata, a Sicilian nobleman whose guest he was in the cultural evenings in Monreale. At the time, Berlingieri was painting in the style of Tàpies, but one could already catch a glimpse of his future work in his small projects with their transparent play of canvas on canvas, which was consolidated in the famous, Conceptual "Piegature" (Folds). Afterwards, Esteban Villalta Marsi, whose expressive research was permeated by a very sharp chromatism, joined the Gallery artists. His research uses the stylised language of Cartoons in a kind of all-Italian Pop Art, to photograph contemporary reality.

During the Eighties, the new group found in the Soligo Gallery a meeting point that was gradually disappearing from the Roman parlours. In the meantime, Schifano, Angeli, Festa and the other masters of the previous generation continued with their exhibitions at Studio Soligo. In fact, the Soligo still keeps the historic archives of Tano Festa. In this decade, the public was still curious and a vernissage was still a cultural event, attracting artists, well-known personalities, photographers, critics and specialised journalists. However, it is in the Nineties that we begin to feel a decline in gallery-culture as such. Yet, in this difficult atmosphere of transition, Soligo added another painter to his group, Fabrizio Campanella. This Roman artist offers us an ulterior conception of form on canvas structurally and chromatically measured in a vigorous, musical rush of visual rhythms.

The Studio Soligo has now entered a new stage. This will be inaugurated in Milan by Raffaele and Giulio Soligo – Francesco´s sons – where a branch gallery has opened in Via Pontaccio 19, and in Rome, where the Soligo Gallery has moved into the historic Via Margutta 49. This area, in fact, has been chosen by various qualified operators among whom we also can mention Galleria Banchi Nuovi. In the city of Milan, on the other hand, the art market is very much alive and growing, together with collaboration among galleries. This really does indicate a closer contact with the art collectors who have always been behind the continual renewal of the art game.

Alberto 	Parres, Sahara ill. 1
Alberto Parres, Sahara, cm. 130 x 160
Fabrizio 	Campanella, Studio ill. 2
Fabrizio Campanella, Studio, acrilico su tela, cm. 18 x 24
Tano 	Festa, Don Chisciotte ill. 3
Tano Festa, Don Chisciotte, cm. 130 x 160, 1987
Esteban 	Villalta Marzi, Este toro enamorado de la luna ill. 4
Esteban Villalta Marzi, Este toro enamorado de la luna, acrilico, 200 x 200

Photo courtesy of Alberto Parres (ill. 1), Fabrizio Campanella (ill. 2), Raffaella Soligo (Tano Festa, ill. 3) and Esteban Villalta Marzi (ill. 4).


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