Tano Festa: An Originary Artist

From January 17 to March 18, 2023 in Milan at M77, the exhibition Tano Festa: An Originary Artist will be open to the public, curated by Francesca Alfano Miglietti, with the collaboration of the Archivio Tano Festa directed by Anita Festa for technical-scientific reference.

In 1993, on the occasion of the Venice Biennale, Francesca Alfano Miglietti curated a major exhibition on Tano Festa in the Fratelli section. Organizing an exhibition of the artist’s work in Milan with the same curator exactly thirty years later therefore represents a fascinating and challenging project.

The show features major loans from the Olnick Spanu Collection – Magazzino Italian Art in New York, the Jacorossi Foundation in Rome, Galleria Il Ponte in Florence, and Galleria Marchetti in Rome, and brings together around 100 works by the artist, created between 1960 and 1987.

Paintings and drawings from various periods are on display—along with superimpositions, photographic collages, doors, windows, shutters, wardrobes, mirrors, pianos, and obelisks—underlining the potency of Tano Festa, the artist behind a sophisticated and estranging artistic operation, and highlighting his overt admiration for the atmospheres and painting of De Chirico, his love of Rome as the eternal city as well as his attention to the masters of color and to confetti.

Capable of dialoguing with various epochs and styles, making explicit reference to a range of imagery and codified iconographic elements, in a sort of visual tale in which painting can only be generated by painting itself, Tano Festa chooses to be an artist of the origins and not simply original.

As Francesca Alfano Miglietti writes in the catalogue: “One of Tano Festa’s salient characteristics is his attraction to the sky: a blue sky furrowed by white clouds that distinguishes many of his works. The sky is a kind of poetic manifesto for Tano Festa because, like his painting, it is constantly changing and forces the eye upwards. As far back as 1965, the year of his first trip to New York, he produced a series of skies. Festa’s sky would become ever more dynamic, divided into squares, crossed by stripes and balls. Many of his titles reference the sky (cielo) too: Le dimensioni del cielo, Tricromia del cielo, Bicromia del cielo, Grande nuvola, Cielo meccanico, Cielo Newyorkese, and then Armadio con cielo, Un cielo solo per anime, Il Cielo (Monumento celeste per la morte di un poeta – dedicato a Francesco Lo Savio, and Un cielo solo per Anna… Blue backgrounds and sunrays, a hymn to serenity, which he sought throughout his life.”

“Art is plagiarism,” the artist provocatively stated, creating his own uniqueness by drawing on the very works of art that preceded him. Tano Festa created his own highly personal form of figuration, in an unprecedented reappraisal of the classic—not only of painting, but also of poetry and literature—always choosing visionary and dreamlike images. His interest in the written word and poetry authors, such as Sandro Penna, was ongoing: it is said that in 1955 Festa would hand out poems to passers-by on the Spanish Steps in Rome.

As early as 1960, Festa abandoned his informal gestural style and produced his first monochrome paintings, often choosing the color red furrowed by strips of paper imbibed in the same color: a red that recalls an organic material such as blood, but also the light used in the dark room during the photographic impression phase.

Very much aware of the greatness of the Italian artistic tradition, from the mid-1960s Tano Festa began to produce works in which photographic excerpts of the Sistine Chapel or the Medici Tombs appear, made with enamel paint on emulsified canvases, suggesting how for an Italian artist the image of a commodity cannot constitute an interesting Pop icon, but it is Italian art itself that is “popular,” by virtue of those same images having been reproduced hundreds of times on millions of t-shirts, bags, umbrellas, postcards, and calendars.

New York, 1967: in a studio at the Chelsea Hotel, Festa painted images taken exclusively from Michelangelo, especially from the Dawn of the Medici Tombs, entitling all the works Michelangelo according to Tano Festa.

At the beginning of the 1970s, figures of art of the past were re-projected onto the canvas, but proposed here in a more fragmentary manner, to the point of sometimes almost completely losing their connection to the original work. Through these canvases, Festa developed a type of composition in which the name of a nineteenth-century painter stands out, sometimes complete with date of birth and death, as if it were a tombstone: William Turner (1971), or the cycle of works entitled Omaggio al colore, in which the words “Manet” and “Cezanne” stand out.

After the Piazze d’Italia series, inspired by De Chirico, in the 1980s he produced his Coriandoli series, in which he threw little pieces of paper onto a canvas impregnated with paint matter, and the series of works in which he chose a form of figuration to reinterpret Munch, Bacon, and Matisse.

The exhibition also features works on paper, which trace the complexity of his vision of art: never banal and repetitive but full of mystery and intimate annotations.

A catalogue of the works on show will be produced for the exhibition, with a critical text by Francesca Alfano Miglietti and various testimonies of the day, with the collaboration of the Archivio Tano Festa, directed by Anita Festa for technical-scientific reference.


Francesca Alfano Miglietti


17/01/2023 -