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Emilio Isgrò

Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, Italy

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Works by Emilio Isgrò

Emilio Isgrò (born in Barcellona, Sicily, 1937) is considered, along with Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, to be one of the great trailblazers in Italian artistic language after the Second World War. 1956 Isgrò moved to Milan, where he still lives and works. Right from the start his artistic work has run parallel to his activities as writer, poet, playwright, director, performer and journalist. His first collection of poetry Fiere del Sud [Fairs of the South] (published by Arturo Schwarz) was issued. 1964 He executed his first “erasures/deletions” on encyclopedias and other books, thus giving dramatic birth to the visual poetry and conceptual art that he would subsequently develop and fine-tune. 1965 As part of the Gruppo 70 Festival he took part in the exhibition Poesie e no [Poems and not]. 1966 On the occasion of the exhibition dedicated to him at the Galleria Il Traghetto, Venice, he published Dichiarazione 1 [Declaration 1], in which he defines his conception of poetry as the “general art of the sign”. His poetry book L’età della ginnastica [The Age of Gymnastics] was published (Mondadori).
1969 He decided to apply his erasing techniques to the cinema too: he planned La jena più ne ha e più ne vuole [The hyena – the more it has, the more it wants], a film of almost complete darkness apart from a few seconds of flashing images, but the project failed to come off - “cancelled by nervous producers” laughs the artist. By way of compensation, the London Daily Mirror devoted a feature to him, with photo on the front page.


1972 He was invited to exhibit at the Venice Art Biennale, where he was also to return in 1978, 1986 and 1993.
1973 He was selected by Achille Bonito Oliva to exhibit along with other internationally renowned artists in the Contemporanea show, whose setting was the underground car park at the Villa Borghese in Rome.
1974 L’avventurosa vita di Emilio Isgrò nelle testimonianze di uomini di stato, scrittori, artisti, parlamentari, attori, parenti, familiari, amici, anonimi cittadini [The adventurous life of Emilio Isgrò as witnessed by statesmen, writers, artists, members of parliament, relatives, family, friends and anonymous citizens] (Il Formichiere) was published and was shortlisted for the prestigious Strega Prize.
1976 He held his first retrospective at the Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione, Parma.
1977 Feltrinelli published his novel Marta de Rogatiis Johnson, which was awarded the first prize at the XIV Art Biennale, Sao Paolo, Brazil.
1979 Blending his art with musical language, he presented his installation/musical score for 15 pianos, Chopin, at the Rotonda Besana, Milan.
1983 This year marked the beginning of a series of spectacular open air dramas held in the Bèlice Valley, Sicily, with Gibella del Martirio, to be followed by San Rocco legge la lista dei miracoli e degli orrori [St Rocco reads the list of miracles and horrors] and his re-imagining of Aeschylus' Oresteia, presented at Gibellina.
1985 European Year of Music: La Scala Theatre commissioned from Isgrò a multimedia installation La Veglia di Bach [Bach's Vigil], presented in the Milan church of San Carpoforo.
1986 The installation L’ora italiana [The Italian Hour], in honour of the victims of the railway station bombing, presented at the Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna.
1989 Publication of the novel Polifemo [Polyphemus] (Mondadori), acclaimed by critics and public as a monumental literary event.
1990 He devised a new Teoria della cancellatura [Theory of Erasure] (Fonte d’Abisso).
1992 He took part in the exhibition The Artist and the Book in 20th Century Italy, organized by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of New York.
1994 The Peggy Guggenheim Collection of Venice featured his work in the exhibition I libri d’artista italiani del Novecento [Italian artists' books of the 20th century]. The novel L’asta delle ceneri [Auction of ashes] (Camunia) was issued.
1996 After thirty years, a return to linear poetry with Oratorio dei ladri [Thieves' Oratory] (Mondadori).
1998 Isgrò created for his hometown the giant sculpture Seme d’arancia [Orange Pip], a symbol of the social and economic rebirth of the Mediterranean peoples.
2001 A retrospective, Emilio Isgrò 1964-2000, was held in the Santa Maria dello Spasimo Complex in Palermo. With Le api della Torah [The bees of the Torah], produced by Studio Guastalla for the reopening of the Salomone Belforte publishing house, Isgrò kicked off his “insect cycle”– ants, bees, butterflies – which, like philosophers, carry and intermingle the seeds of knowledge.
2002 He published volume of poetry Brindisi all’amico infame [A toast to an infamous friend](Aragno), finalist for Strega Prize and winner of San Pellegrino Prize.
2003 Studio Guastalla, Milan, presented the exhibition Insetti e filosofi [Insects and philosophers].
2007 La cancellatura e altre soluzioni [Erasures and other solutions], a collection of his writings published in newspapers and magazines, intended as a critical/theoretical companion to his creative activities (Skira), was published.
2008 The Contemporary Art Centre Luigi Pecci, in Prato, Tuscany, paid homage to Isgrò with the retrospective Dichiaro di essere Emilio Isgrò [I declare I am Emilio Isgrò].
2009 Palazzo delle Stelline, Milan, hosted his wide-ranging one-man-show Fratelli d’Italia [Brothers of Italy].
2010 In the presence of the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, the exhibition Disobbedisco. Sbarco a Marsala e altre Sicilie [I disobey. The landing in Marsala and other Sicilies] was inaugurated at Marsala. Virtually at the same time Var Ve Yok opened at the Sanat Galerisi inIstanbul (European Capital of Culture that year), while the fourteen Codici Ottomani [Ottoman codices] were shown at the Boghossian Foundation in Brussels. He presented La Costituzione Cancellata [The Constitution Cancelled] at the Boxart Gallery in Verona. The exhibition has a subtitle - Rappresentazione di un crimine [Representation of a crime] – chosen by the artist to stress how he wishes in his artistic effort to depict the potential crime of cancelling the Constitutional Charter. This extreme gesture, according to Isgrò, aims to act as a warning to an Italy on the brink of a precipice and of disintegration, fleeing in the face of the challenges posed by globalization.
2011 In May he was invited to exhibit the Constitution volumes and the huge installation L’Italia che dorme [The Italy that sleeps] (an aluminium sculpture portraying a slumbering Italy covered in cockroaches) at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna of Rome, for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy. The Bocconi University of Milan hosted the inauguration of his first “pedagogical work”, Cancellazione del debito pubblico [Cancellation of the national debt], a site-specific work created for the students of the university. In October he was awarded the Premio Teocle for theatre.
In 2011 he exhibits at Studio Guastalla Arte Moderna e Contemporanea with Erasure and other details (works 1966-1993) 
In 2013 at GNAM in Rome with Modello Italia 2013-1964.
2014 the exhibitions  "Maledetti toscani, benedetti italiani" in Prato and "L’oro della Mirandola. Cancellature per Giovanni Pico", at Palazzo Bondoni Pastorio in Castiglione delle Stiviere.
2015 the sculpture Seme dell’Altissimo exhibited at Expo Milano. 2016 three important solo exhibitions in Milan: Palazzo Reale, Gallerie d'Italia and Casa del Manzoni.