Pencil on paper

Material is a set of three drawings depicting paintings owned by the Brescian collector Guglielmo Achille Cavellini (1914-1990). Cavellini had trained as a painter, but in 1947 – following visits to museums and artists’ studios in Paris – he became disheartened by his own efforts and decided to start his own collection instead. He took over his father’s grocery shop and developed it into a department store, making enough money to begin buying art. He initially purchased work by emerging Italian painters, then their more established peers, before heading back to Paris to buy from artists he’d visited on his previous trip. Soon he was buying continent-wide and in 1957, Rome’s Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna exhibited 180 works from his collection, the museum stating that this was the first time a post-Fascist Italy was able to see such a range of European abstraction.

His experience as a collector convinced him that art history is simply a ‘malleable fiction’, and in 1959 he began selling his collection to fund a new art practice that would explore this idea. Initially, he made wooden versions of works by Picasso, Braque and de Chirico, and used torn up versions of his older paintings to make collages, but in 1970 he began repurposing works he owned by Capogrossi and Burri to make sculptural objects, and cut up paintings apparently by Klee and Miró, representing them in fragmented form. Such treatment of objects in his care destroyed his credibility as a collector, and led to him being informally frozen out of the wider artworld.

I made drawings of Green and Blue (1952) by Renato Birolli, Mediterranean Landscape (1953) by Antonio Corpora and Invasion (1952) by Emilio Vedova that Cavellini bought and displayed in his gallery in Brescia, which was in the basement of his house. Birolli, Corpora and Vedova were members of the Group of Eight, a loose faction of young abstract artists, and Cavellini lent all three paintings to the first Documenta in 1955 as examples of the best work being produced in Italy at the time.

I have written more on Cavellini in an essay called From Art Objects to Art Things, which appeared in the exhibition and publication, Thingness, and in my book, One Drop of Water Contains as Much Electricity as Would Make a Thunderstorm.

Exhibited in:


The Tetley, Leeds (24 Sept 2019 → 19 Jan 2020)