Associazione per Mario Negri – per la Scultura

Mario Negri

Artist | Porta Venezia – Loreto | From the 1960s to the end of the millennium


Mario Negri was born in Tirano, Valtellina, on 25 June 1916. After schooling in Genoa, he moved to Milan, where he graduated from classical high school and the Brera Fine Arts Academy. From 1935 to 1940 he became acquainted with artists and intellectuals in Milan, particularly those connected with the Corrente group. After studying architecture and a long hiatus caused by the war and imprisonment (called to arms from 1940 until 1945, held in Polish and German work camps during the last two years for having refused to serve in the army of the Reich), he had his first solo show in 1957, at Galleria del Milione. These were years of intense and formative human and cultural ties: Alberto Giacometti, Franco Russoli, Luigi Carluccio, Lamberto Vitali, Cesare Gnudi, Marco Valsecchi, Dante Isella, Vittorio Sereni, Rudi Wach, and the photographers Arno Hammacher and Paolo Monti. Starting at the end of the 1950s, he regularly showed work in exhibitions in Italy and abroad. He passed away suddenly in Milan on 5 April 1987, on the eve of a retrospective held in Mantua at Palazzo Te.

For you, there were always a before and an after, Mario. Nothing in between, no compromises, no blurry zones. A clean cut: before, after.

Arno Hammacher

There’s your life as a young man, a student at the Manzoni high school, shaping clay on the sly, as a game, an unconscious apprenticeship, a yearning. And there’s the death of your father and your mother, in the span of just a couple of years, in the middle of your adolescence. The youngest of four children, you took the advice of your brother Bruno. No more clay. You signed up for architecture. “I had to show my brother I was making a choice, something that would lead to a future, a job,” you said. Concrete, ready to make a sacrifice. You were a valley dweller, born on the Swiss border, inflexible, ethical, though not moralist. Three years at the Polytechnic, participation in the «Corrente di vita giovanile» and time spent with Giacomo Manzù. Then the war. On 8 September 1943 you had no doubts and sought no compromise. You pledge all for King and Country, not for Mussolini, not for Hitler. Locked in a cattle car they took you to a concentration camp. Two years of suffering and hunger. Luigi Carluccio was with you there, he did your portrait, in a drawing. Emaciated face, dull gaze. When you got back home five years later you weighed less than 44 kilos. You had problem with food for the rest of your life, you ate little, only mild stuff, and the smell of turnips reminded you of prison. What kept you alive, in those desperate days – in the German and Polish camps – was will power. To become what you had to become, without compromising. A sculptor.

You were from Tirano, Mario, from a mountainous region. “I don’t deny my valley dweller roots,” you said. “You can’t take a fir tree and put it in the desert. Your roots stay with you, till the very end.” Art was learnt from artisans, you thought. The craft, first of all. You learned how to use your hands, to understand the material, the clay, the bronze, in workshops. You got to know Giuseppe “Pinella” De Andreis, smelter of the MAF, on Via Soperga, and became such friends that you followed him when he opened his art foundry with his sons, years later. You gave your word and you kept it.

You worked on commission, you sculpted like an artisan, not like an artist, because you still didn’t think yourself worthy of the latter name. At Lambrugo you did the tomb of Giancarlo Puecher, the partisan treacherously executed when he had just turned twenty, during your prison camp years. And there you are, all of you, already. You still don’t know it, it is still not clear to you, you’re still lugging around the history of art, Renaissance sculpture, classical architecture. But you are there. You only have to find your voice, to make it resound in your works. Years later you would say, surprised, that you had been seeking simplicity throughout your life. “But I didn’t think simplicity was so complicated.”