Dora Bassi (1921-2007)


Born in Feltre in 1921, B. was a "personality who crossed with enthusiasm and intelligence, thematic areas and different formal solutions" (Del Guercio, 1993), moving between metal and ceramic sculpture, painting, engraving, working also in the field of design, installations, criticism and literature. In sixty years of career he participated in the main movements of contemporary art. 

Always attentive to writing as a method of knowledge and in-depth study of painting, in 1998 she published the book L'amore quotidiano, while a synthesis of her artistic thought can be deduced from the long interview with Gianfranco Ellero that flowed into the book Conversazioni sulle arti visive published in 1989, to which can be added numerous personal interventions published in the various exhibition catalogues. He trained in Brazzano and Gorizia, absorbing the culture of Central Europe and Nordic expressionism. Graduated in 1939 at the Liceo Classico of Gorizia, in 1940 she obtained the artistic high school diploma in Florence, where she attended the Libera scuola del nudo. Noticed by Raoul Cenisi from Gorizia who exhibited her drawings in the pre-war period, between 1941 and 1943 she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice with Guido Tavagnacco and had Cesetti as a painting teacher. She married, moving to Udine, and resumed her artistic activity only in 1950, at the invitation of Fred Pittino; the success of the paintings bought by Pittino himself and Giorgio Celiberti, pushed her to attend the circles of Friulian neorealism, the painters Toffolo Anzil, Giuseppe Zigaina, Ugo Canci Magnano, to visit the exhibitions of Picasso, Matisse, Braque. In 1954 he set up his first personal exhibition at the Girasole gallery curated by the Circolo Artistico Friulano and was positively reviewed by the critic Arturo Manzano. Interested in the representation of the peasant world without political intentions, she exhibited at the Bevilacqua la Masa gallery in Venice (1956) and at the La Scaletta gallery in Bologna, and was nominated for the Suzzara and Marzotto awards. Neorealism convinced her to move from "beautiful colour" to "expressive colour" by treating a thick and material pictorial material, inspired by the works of Pollock and Dubuffet. The paintings painted from 1952 to 1956 were the premise of the transition to the informal "naturalistic" together with her painter friends Nando Toso and Ernesto Mitri, with whom she founded the Friulian Plastic Arts Centre in 1961, exhibiting in the Intart exhibitions of 1972, 1978, 1986, 1989, 1996 which guaranteed her European openings. The "long and fruitful" informal period occupied most of the sixties. In painting she abandoned the representation of the human figure, between 1954 and 1958 she opened a pottery workshop making sculptures and decorative reliefs for private individuals and churches: Via Crucis for the church of the Seminary of Castellerio, the church of S. Andrea in Gorizia and S. Paolo in Udine. He took part in numerous provincial competitions for the decoration of school buildings, such as the Liceo scientifico Marinelli in Udine, the middle schools of Palmanova and Feletto. In 1962, he taught the craft of pottery to the youngsters accepted into the Institute of don Emilio De Roia and in 1967 he held a regional course of ceramic decoration, collaborating with ESA (Ente sviluppo artigianato) and carrying out monumental works for the INPS headquarters in Rome (1971). Following his innate instinct for research, he enrolled in 1968 at the Faculty of Letters in Padua. He took part in numerous competitions and collective exhibitions and joined the "Numero" group in Florence; he set up a personal exhibition organized by the Friulian Plastic Arts Centre at Palazzo Caiselli in Udine (1962); he exhibited at the Cancello gallery in Bologna (1962), at the Circolo della Stampa in Milan (1970), at the gallery of the municipality of Campione d'Italia (1970), at the Il Ventaglio gallery in Udine (1971). In 1971 the sculptor Dino Basaldella called her as assistant professor of sculpture at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, where B. moved until 1992, living first in Bollate then in Sesto San Giovanni. She dedicated herself to sculpture, at first with assemblages in Dino's footsteps, then she took over techniques such as forming, welding, stirrup casting, in works of abstract minimalist style.

He had solo exhibitions in Milan (1974, 1975, 1976), at the Cartesius Gallery in Trieste (1973) and at the 9 Columns Gallery in Trento; he worked in working groups with the students of the Academy to insert minimalist sculptures in urban environments and created a monument to the work for Sesto San Giovanni. At the end of the Seventies he moved from modelled or assembled sculpture to minimalist works, consisting of mirrored metal surfaces of conceptual taste, from which the "mirror boxes" (1979-1984) were born. After Dino's death, he continued to research monumental sculpture with Giancarlo Marchese, professor of Brera, and Davide Boriani, head of the T Group. He organized groups in Brera on the reconstruction of Venzone (1977-1978) and the reuse of the fortress of Gradisca (1979-1980). He made friends with the sculptor Stelio Sole and approached feminism. In 1984 she founded the association DARS (Woman, art, research, experimentation) with Maria Teresa De Zorzi and Roberta Corbellini; together they organized the exhibitions Il tempo rubato (1985) at the Ente Fiera di Udine and Matrimonio nella torre - rites symbols, iconographies in Udine. He combined sculpture with the revival of Ingres, his favourite painter, Canova, Bronzino, approaching citationism in the early 1980s in a series of installations in which he made use of various expressive techniques, exhibiting for three years at the Grands et Jeunes exhibitions at the Grand Palais in Paris. He discovered Charlotte Salomon who, before her death in the death camps, painted her life with images and words. He composed narrative cycles of images until he abandoned sculpture in the mid-1980s, "loosening the threads that bound me to current events". In 1997 the town of Gorizia organized an anthological exhibition in his honour, curated by Giancarlo Pauletto. After dedicating herself to writing for a year, she returned to painting elaborating "the symbolic figures of my mind with the colours of my affections", as in the exhibition held in Udine, on the occasion of her eightieth birthday, La luce nell'ipotesi estetica by Dora Bassi, or the one at the gallery in Gradisca in 2003. Great narrative cycles that rethought art history and personal history followed: Altair, the stele from the dûl, on the poems written in Casarsa by Pier Paolo Pasolini, at the gallery il Girasole (2002), Santa Orsola. La Leggenda d'oro in Cividale, church of S. Maria dei Battuti (2005) and, the last one, La mia infanzia a Brazzano still at the Girasole gallery in Udine in 2006. B. died in Udine in 2007.

Dora Bassi e Alba Gurtner

Ina Gorizia that looks at that falling navel, that swallows greedy the tragedies of the war and devours the controversies between ideologists of different confessions, but each one rigidly assigned to a single cult, devoted to a single faith and therefore endowed with strong blinkers, we are happy to remember two exceptional women and above all with a free mind, virtues that our city is losing, exceptional women, among the many that Gorizia has given birth to. The combination as you will see is not accidental: Alba Gurtner, of whom I was a friend, called me in a day in June 2007 to tell me about Dora Bassi, a great painter from Gorizia, who had fallen ill and wanted to see me. Dora Bassi had been a great friend of my father Cesare's - they shared a love for art and painting - and of his first wife Maria Miagostovich. We went to his beautiful house in Gradisca d'Isonzo. His very kind and dear daughter welcomed us and in her studio, cluttered with canvases and easels, we found her sitting on an armchair, a little tired - it was a very hot June day - but very lucid, smart and ironic as she would have been until the end. She told me the reason for the call, which had just been mentioned to me by Alba during the car journey: feeling close to death, in memory of her friendship with my family and the immense love she bore for Gorizia, she wanted to leave a series of her paintings in the city.

At that time the writer was a councillor for culture in Gorizia. The great Dora also gave us the choice of the pictorial cycles: they were all of great beauty, but one, "innocent youth" composed of thirteen paintings, particularly struck me, for the delicacy of the theme and for the fact that it was inspired by the first Pasolini of "Poesie a Casarsa". Dora Bassi, a woman who was light years away from any politically correct form and who looked with infinite pity at the ideologizing conformism of today's Italian culture, and who was inspired rather by a metaphysical vision of existence and the world, explained to me how much she had always been struck by that moment in which, together with the terrible and unstoppable energy of puberty, that equally strong and guilty sense of evil arose in man and woman. An unresolved knot, almost impossible to look beyond any morality or moralism linked to religious or secular ethics.

A woman of extraordinary intelligence, Dora had understood one of the enigmas of human existence that she had thought to represent in its absolute essentiality. Teenagers playing in the thickets on the banks of the Judrio (but they could be the Tagliamento, the Natisone, the Isonzo), have just passed from the "state of butterfly chrysalises" and feel the beauty of their body unfolding, which is reflected in those "lustral waters, which wash all sin". Thirteen exceptional paintings that I decided, together with my daughters, to put on permanent display in the rooms of the Verdi Theatre, where still today they make that place of culture more noble and beautiful: as always, this enrichment, this embellishment was the cause of open, underlying, secret polemics. We thought it appropriate to dedicate to Dora Bassi also the gallery of the Auditorium in Via Roma.

To Alba Gurtner we owe the Wall of the Five Languages at Piedimonte, her masterpiece, which today deserves a conservative restoration.

Antonio Devetag