Carla Accardi was born in Trapani on October 9th, 1924.
She attended the Accademia di Belle Arti of Palermo where, in 1944, she met Antonio Sanfilippo.
In 1946, after attending the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence for a few months, she moved with Antonio Sanfilippo to Rome, where she met Pietro Consagra and Giulio Turcato. Late that same year she made a formative study trip to Paris together with Sanfilippo, Attardi, Consagra, Maugeri, Turcato.
Accardi completed her first Abstract painting, Scomposizione, in 1947. In March that same year she co-founded Gruppo Forma (“Forma 1” was the title of the first and only issue of the group’s manifesto-periodical, which came out on April 15th) with Attardi, Consagra, Dorazio, Guerrini, Perilli, Sanfilippo, Turcato. In 1948 she made her debut at the 24th edition of the Venice Biennale and participated in the exhibition Arte astratta in Italia at Galleria di Roma. The following year she married Antonio Sanfilippo (with whom she had already exhibited in a trio show with Attardi, organised by Art Club).
Her first solo shows were held in 1950, at the Galleria Numero in Florence and, in November, at the Libreria l’Age d’Or in Rome, where she was presented by Turcato. From the late-1940s into the early-1950s Accardi participated in the major reviews devoted to young Abstract artists in Italy, organised by Art Club. These included Arte d’Oggi at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (particularly noteworthy thanks to a strong representation of Neo-Concrete French artists) and Arte astratta e concreta in Italia at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, which benefited from a catalogue that was unusually important for the period.
Up until 1952 her work developed within a Concretist vein that she had discovered and assimilated mostly in Paris. Accardi’s works dating from 1953 display a change in her artistic research around the poetic of the sign, still often in pursuit of the notion of ‘figure’ and conceived largely in earthy shades (as in, for example, her Animali immaginari, which she described as “adhering to what I term the anthropological aspect of my work) but which in the following years developed into articulated blocks of starkly alternating blacks and whites, with the frequent introduction also of red.
In 1954 she met Michel Tapié, whose knowledge and support ushered in a period of particular importance for Accardi. The French critic included her among the prominent figures in his Art Autre theories on a par with other international contexts, and alongside Burri, Capogrossi and Fontana in exhibitions such as Individualités d’aujourd’hui (1955) or Structures en devenir (1956), as well as in other projects he curated from 1954 to 1959. These included solo shows of Accardi’s work at the Stadler gallery in Paris in 1956 and at the Galleria Notizie of Turin run by Luciano Pistoi in 1959. In July 1957 Accardi participated in the exhibition organised on the Isola Tiberina by Frances McCann of the Rome-New York Art Foundation, which featured for the first time works by many of the leading figures of new American painting. In December 1959 a solo show of her work was organised at the Galleria La Salita, with an accompanying text by Pierre Restany. Other noteworthy solo shows over this decade were held once more at Rome’s Salita and at Turin’s Notizie, as well as at the Galleria dell’Ariete in Milan and at the L’Entracte gallery of Lausanne. These fully established Accardi as a mature artist and confirmed her prominence on the international sign painting scene.
The 1960s brought considerable stylistic changes, with the reappearance of a much livelier and more varied colour palette and an alteration in the structure of the sign. Accardi’s first strongly chromatic works were displayed at the Parma Gallery in New York and at the New Vision Centre Gallery in London in 1961, with a presentation by Lionello Venturi.
In 1964 Accardi was invited to participate with her own room at the 32nd edition of the Venice Biennale. At this time she began creating her first works on sicofoil, a transparent form of plastic material whose use in art she pioneered. Works such as Tenda (1965), Ambiente Arancio (from 1967, which was presented at the Rome Marlborough gallery in 1968) and Triplice tenda (1969-71) all date from this period.
Throughout the following decade Accardi pursued her experimentation with sicofoil. Colour became less intense, with a prevalent use of pastel shades (pale pinks, off-whites, greys). By the mid-1970s she was using completely transparent sicofoil, woven in a manner that displayed the support and transformed the canvas frame itself into the subject of the work (in an intentional “ostentation of the support and canvas”, as she would say, undeniably Conceptual in nature). In 1976 she was featured at the 37th edition of the Venice Biennale with Triplice tenda, in the Arte Ambiente section.
Accardi returned to the canvas in the 1980s, often leaving it unprepared and animated by coloured signs that were now very large and at times contained only a single colour.
Solo exhibitions now followed in quick succession. In 1983, for instance, Accardi exhibited at the Pinacoteca Comunale of Ravenna and at the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea of Milan, while in 1988 she was once more invited to the Venice Biennale – its 43rd edition – with an entire room devoted exclusively to her work, where she displayed large-scale pieces. The following year she was represented with two historic works at Italian Art in the 20th Century, held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
An extensive retrospective devoted to Accardi’s work opened in 1994 at the Castello di Rivoli, and in the same year she participated in The Italian Metamorphosis 1943-1968 at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Among the many solo shows and retrospectives, two major anthological exhibitions of her work opened at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2002) and at Rome’s MACRO (2004).
In 2006 works by Carla Accardi and Lucio Fontana were displayed together at an exhibition organised by the Sperone Westwater Gallery of New York. In 2011 the Fondazione Puglisi in Catania ran the exhibition Carla Accardi. Segno e trasparenza, where major historic pieces were displayed across the two spacious floors of Palazzo Valle. At the same time, the two volumes of the monumental catalogue raisonné devoted to her work, and edited by Germano Celant, were published respectively by Charta and Silvana.
“Rise to the challenge […]. Earlier we mentioned the coexistence of the anthropological and the abstract worlds. Something similar is true also of the support: certain paintings are not painted in their entirety while others are saturated with colour all over. Likewise, the sign is at times freer, less controlled, at others more clearly delineated in its form. Besides, my painting cannot come to a halt on a given problem, presenting it and defining it once and for all. I like to circle around the problem, observing the different and possible solutions to it; I like to be coherent but at the same time to be able to change.” This extract from a long conversation which Carla Accardi had with Walter Gudagnini in 1989 encompasses much of this artist’s spirit. She never tired of searching, of facing up to a setback, of acquainting herself with a new frontier of her practice, of winning yet another challenge.
Carla Accardi died in Rome on February 23rd, 2014.