Marking an elegant fusion of sculpture, painting and architecture into a new, futuristic and minimalist-looking, black form aimed at articulating the intrinsic, elemental and deeply mysterious relationship between light, space and matter, Metallo nero opaco uniforme (Metal, black, opaque, uniform) is one of the culminatory expressions of Francesco lo Savio’s short-lived but highly influential body of work.
One of the artist’s series of Metalli (metal-works) made in 1960, this monochrome, black, planar work is one of Lo Savio’s most refined and subtle expressions of the elemental building blocks of perceptual reality - space, light, material - here seamlessly forged into a mysterious, monolithic unity. A powerful expression of the work of art as what Donald Judd would soon after come to define as a ‘specific object’, Metallo nero opaco uniforme is a work that not only informed and anticipated much of 1960s American Minimalism but also, and perhaps more significantly, marks a response to and a development upon the ‘spatialist’ and material practices of his contemporaries Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni.
Like Manzoni, almost the entirety of Lo Savio’s pioneering aesthetic research was packed into the short space of five or six years between 1958 and his tragic death in 1963. For Lo Savio, who had trained as an architect and then through the influence of Bauhaus aesthetics and the example of Piet Mondrian had moved towards the creation of an art of synthesis, the mysterious, all penetrating, all defining entity of light was a kind of utopia, that he sought to articulate and reveal in a subtly developing series of works: his ‘Dipinti, or paintings, the ‘Mason au Soleil’ architectonic models, the ‘Filters’, the ‘Metals’, his Total Articulations’ and, his ‘Blueprints’. Each of these unique and clearly-defined series of works was intended, he said, to make empty space perceptible’. (Francesco Lo Savio, quoted in Francesco Lo Savio exh. cat. PEER, London, 2001, p. 29)
Light, was the key to this for Lo Savio. ‘The sensitivity of empty space,’ he said, ‘which is light’s moment of dynamism, is the initial action in an enquiry giving substance to a presence, which is extremely consistent with the urgency of restoring a qualitative supremacy to aesthetic activity. This presence is an object-idea, where the object is the most minute contact of the idea with external reality.’ (Francesco Lo Savio, quoted in Francesco Lo Savio exh. cat. PEER, London, 2001, p. 29)
Exploring the interrelated nature of light, space and material in this way, Lo Savio sought to create the simplest expression of this ‘object-idea’ by making works that appeared to hover on the borderlines between space and light. In the Metalli, the light-absorbing black surface of the work is augmented and articulated solely by another black planar form angling out into the space in front of the work’s traditional picture-plane backgorund. This subtle move generates what Lo Savio called a biunivocal experience in which his ‘object-idea’ becomes a singular, synthetic and simultaneous expression of two separate entities apparently becoming one.
‘The idea of using a three-dimensional space to produce a biunivocal experience, internally as a problem of formal expression, externally as a problem of social relation, conditions the development of my work in terms of its visual discontinuity,’ he said, ‘both in the choice of media and in the resulting form.’ (Francesco Lo Savio, Space-Light: Evolution of an Idea’, Francesco Lo Savio exh. cat. PEER, London, 2001, p. 37) The idea of ‘having a greater freedom in the formal structuring of these objects directed me towards the necessity of defining a space of action integrated with the object itself, and which makes use of an environmental situation of greater limpidity in its formal reading, while limiting the interference of the external environment which diminished the total rendering of the object. In these latter experiences, the ‘Metals’ and the ‘Total Articulations’, I believe that I achieved my goal of direct participation in issues concerning the evolving progress of industrial design and architecture, decoding a potential social attitude in the work, which remains an artwork, but gives substance to that contact which is needed, especially at the present time, between the artist and society.’ (ibid, p. 37)
In addition to pointing towards a social function for his work, an expression of the future possibility of an industrial art is also articulated in the Metalli. Produced in the factory, these ‘black, opaque, uniform’ works with ‘articulated surfaces’ exhibit through what Lo Savio described as their ‘chromatic property’ a ‘potential for observing environmental light’. Minimalist and monochrome black in form they were intended to establish an ‘equivalence between object-metal and architecture-space’ wherein object, colour/light and material form each function within a delicate equilibrium that awakens in the viewer an understanding of form as being an integrated synthesis of space, light and matter. As Stella Santacattarina has written of these works, the Metalli ‘present a machine-made surface with various articulations sprayed a uniform opaque black, which stores light but does not absorb it from the environment, so that the object establishes a rapport of reflexive negativity with the wall on which it is hung, creating its own vibrant architectural space. In these works a movement of the surface takes place through an inter-penetration of light and space that collapses completely into subtle oscillations of a depthless light.’ (Stella Santacatterina, Francesco Lo Savio exh. cat. PEER, London, 2001, p. 33)