Interview with Giovanni Maria Accame, honorary President of  “Fondazione Lucio Saffaro”.

An interview by Gisella Vismara.


G.V.: First of all, I would like to start by asking you: how was the Lucio Saffaro Foundation founded and what are the goals that you, as Foundation, would like to achieve?

G. M. A.: Lucio Saffaro deposited his last will and testament with a notary and he wanted it to be fulfilled in case of his decease; with this aim in mind, he appointed Professor and Attorney Federico Carpi and me, as the executors of his final wishes, so as to make sure that we would form an archive or a foundation in the aim not to lose his significant collection of works. The artist had no inheritors, so he was legitimately worried about the destine of his life's works and inheritance, which were entirely devoted to his artistic and literary interests. By choosing us, his two friends, he also considered the usefulness of our two fields of expertise: one with a legal background and the other with a specific art preparation. And so it is that we agreed to become the executors of Saffaro's last will. As far as I'm concerned, I must confess that only when the time went by, did I realize that it was a huge deal, and that I was also actually morally involved with respect to such an artist and a friend who left me the responsibility for the cultural part of his life's vocation. To this matter, it is not to be forgotten that Saffaro was a painter, but also a writer and a mathematician. So, you can imagine what kind of difficulties can originate from this.

One year after his death in 1998, once we had fulfilled every legal prescription, the Fondazione Lucio Saffaro was officially instituted. Besides the two appointed executors, the selected members constituting the Board of Directors were: one representative of the University of Bologna, one representative of the Municipality of Bologna and the director of the Civico Revoltella Museum (Civico Museo Revoltella) of Trieste, the artist's hometown. The Board is now composed of: Professor Fabio Roversi Monaco, as the honorary President; Professor Attorney Federico Carpi; Mr Mauro Felicori; Ms Maria Masau Dan; and I, as the President; whereas Attorney Astrid Merlini is the secretary-general.

Obviously, in addition to the preservation and to the cataloguing of all Saffaro's artistic and literary works, the Foundation also intends to give more credit to the cultural value of his art, to organize or promote exhibitions and publish catalogues and books. Furthermore, not only does the institution organize monographic exhibitions: provided that the field remains in the world of arts or artists, it also tries to integrate the artist's figure in a wider context, even if not directly in relation with his figure. All this is always carried out with respect to the financial possibilities of the Foundation, which not always are such solid as people would think.

G. V.: What kind of artistic material does the Foundation have? Besides Saffaro's paintings and his graphic works, do you have possession of other types of documents such as personal correspondence, writings, photographs etc.?

G.M.A.: Our Foundation owns forty-five oil paintings: twenty-one paintings come from Saffaro's first artistic period, finished in 1962; the remaining twenty-four ones, which were conceived after 1963, are inspired by some rarefied spatiality of the polyhedrons, the geometrical figures representing one of the most significant themes of his artistic experience and of his original mathematical research. There are about seven hundred signed catalogued drawings and about one hundred original signed and numbered lithographs. There are several hundreds of printings of these lithographs on the whole and nineteen small etchings, mostly dating back to the 50s, some of which exist in more than one copy. We have also found non-signed and non-numbered drawings; conversely, the artist always used to sign and number them on the back: for this reason, we value the numbers as more important than the signature itself which sometimes is missing. There also are some uncharacteristic works, among which the most atypical one is represented by a series of identical small boxes, each of them containing a hundred of small expressly cut and ordered slips of paper on which there is a typed word. Saffaro's studies and notebooks are numerous and they include several drawings as well. Several are also the notebooks containing mathematical hypothesis and their connected graphical visualizations. Saffaro also left tens of polyhedral models made of board, useful for the artist to watch from life the realization of mathematical theories and calculations.

As regards the literary part, besides the more than fifties published texts, Saffaro left a number of unpublished manuscripts and typed texts that, after a first validation, were placed in fourteen large containers. Among these documents there are two almost completely finished books which are to be published in the upcoming future. Some unpublished writings are about to come out on different occasions: some in the catalogue of an exhibition in Milan and another ones in the next issue of a qualified literary magazine, but I think it's better to discuss this later.
Furthermore, in order to answer in an exhaustive way to your question, I must say that we are in possession of tens of notebooks and pamphlets containing mathematical studies, in addition to the several essays and articles published in some other magazines.

Moreover, we have letters by scholars, critics, writers, who were in touch with Saffaro, from Italy or from abroad, for example, Panofsky and Ricoeur. What's more, we have a fair number of photographical documents, now partially converted into digital format, representing Saffaro's works of art and documenting some of his exhibitions, such as that at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna of Bologna, in 1986 and at Palazzo Agostinelli of Bassano del Grappa in 1991. It is also to be noted the documentation, in the slide format, of Saffaro's elaboration of complex polyhedrons realized with ENEA's calculators. We also have a great amount of slides on ancient art he used when holding conferences requested by cultural circles, universities and high schools. Such material is considerable; I must confess that, although my knowledge of Saffaro was profound, and despite the fact that we all knew his devotion to what he had a passion for, I was impressed when I discovered the thousands of works he realized during his whole life.

Besides what I have just said, there are several versions of the unpublished texts progressively refined, which are thousands of documents and then, there are also essays on various subjects, such as those on Durer, Dante, Virgil, studies on numerology, mathematics, and still other interests, especially that extremely deep interest in music, above all in Bach, whom he studied and played also with the piano.

G.V.: Can you briefly describe who Lucio Saffaro was? How was it possible for his several spirits to coexist (and by that I mean, the artistic spirit and the scientific one)? To this matter, is it true that Saffaro had a degree in mathematics or in physics?

G.M.A.: Saffaro graduated in pure physics at the University of Bologna. He felt that a scientific background was indispensable for his education, despite his greater interest in arts and literature. That of putting the scientific background and the artistic one side by side, was an indicative feature of his linkage to the ancient art, which he then reviewed in a contemporary setting. His studies in mathematics and, especially, his researches and definitions of new classes of polyhedrons, have always been treated with a parallel attention to the aesthetic part. The mathematical ideal and the formal quality as well, are Saffaro's constant.

He appeared to people as an accurate bourgeois and as an extremely kind person, certainly acting defensively towards the world, he was far more singular and unpredictable than people, who did not know him very well, would have imagined. He was affable and helpful, he had a wide circle of acquaintances but, as I personally had the chance to realize, only after years of knowing him and getting to appreciate him, did he begin to open and entrust me. Despite his being strict at work, he was more keen to make exceptions in life than he appeared. It's no wonder he wrote: "Let the indefinite inspiration of invention catch the ray of extravagance". He wasn't a conservative at all, and he had several interests and curiosity in the evolution of scientific and technological studies, even in no connection with his researches. On the contrary, he mitigated his judgments on contemporary art and on its system, which instead were really severe and regarded with a very personal outlook.

I've already had the chance of stating that several subjects and topics of his literary and artistic pieces of work, which are apparently enshrouded in an almost metaphysical and abstract atmosphere, have concrete correspondence with real situations in his daily life. Obviously, it depends on how we look at what surrounds us; in Saffaro's case, everything was regarded with a conscious impossibility but still stubborn will of pursuing the "distant perfection of eternity".

G.V.: From the artist's death, i.e. from 1998, or better still, perhaps, from the creation of this institution of which you are the President, what are the cultural activities that the Foundation has carried out and promoted in Saffaro's memory? In this connection, I think I read something about, or you may have mentioned earlier, an exhibition dedicated to Saffaro in Milan, promoted by the Foundation…

G.M.A.: The first meeting of the Board of Directors of the Foundation was hold in March 2000. It took us some years to catalogue all his inheritance in a correct way: he left an apartment containing paintings, drawings, lithographs, i. e. hundreds of boxes full of documents, almost two hundred of wrapped paintings, framed drawings, files containing another drawings, studies and lithographs. There also were a great amount of furniture objects, some of which pertained to his parents, and other types of documents of interest for the artist. We also had to make an inventory of his manuscripts, after making a distinction between those already published and those unpublished. So, it was impossible for us to organize any project without knowing the material we had at our disposal. Anyway, besides some other minor projects, an exhibition of the works by Escher and Saffaro was organized by the Department of Mathematical Sciences of the University of Bologna, in 2000, at the University Library. In 2004, there was an anthological exhibition at the Museum of Palazzo Poggi, at the University of Bologna, realized together with an exhaustive catalogue, with a critical anthology and apparatus, as well as several critical essays written, for that very occasion, by Barilli, Emmer, Tega and me. In the same year, Ms Angela Mandesani put Saffaro in the exhibition Il disegno italiano dal 1945 al 1975 (Italian drawings from 1945 to 1975), organized by herself for the Fondazione Bandera of Busto Arsizio. In 2006, Giorgio Celli requested one of his works for the exhibition L'alchimia dei quattro elementi (Alchimy of the four elements), mounted in the Church of S. Apollinare at S. Giovanni in Persiceto. Last year, it was Mr Cerritelli who included Saffaro in the great exhibition Pittura aniconica at Casa del Mantegna in Mantova. Our Foundation has also promoted the anthological volume Parola d'artista, published by Charta of Milan. This is a volume collecting writings by thirty-five Italian artists from 1960 to 2006; it has been appreciated especially by the university libraries and institutions of art that requested the volume. The exhibition Lucio Saffaro. Opere grafiche 1952-1991 is going to be mounted at the library of Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, in Milan during the months of May and June 2009. This exhibition is going to be realized together with a catalogue encompassing an unpublished text of a convention by Argan on Saffaro's drawings of the Tractatus, which were displayed at the Calcografia Nazionale in Rome, in 1970; it encompasses also two other unpublished texts by Saffaro, as well as an essay by Mr Claudio Cerritelli and a brief introduction written by myself. We are going to bring out another unpublished writings in one of the most important magazines of the literary study, "Anterem", run by Flavio Ermini, probably in one year. We are also about to publish a long text by Saffaro, revisited and almost completely edited by the artist himself and finished one year before his death, as well as a volume collecting a range of my monographic essays on individual artists from the 80s on, such as Aricò, Consagra, Pardi, Pomodoro, Sanfilippo, Scanavino, Somaini, Unicni, Varisco, Verna and, clearly, Saffaro.

G.V.: Given the great amount of works owned by the Fondazione Saffaro, I suppose you are thinking of editing and publishing a complete catalogue encompassing Saffaro's graphic and pictorial works. If this project does exist, how do you think of realizing the reordering and the publishing of such a Saffarian "corpus"?

G.M.A.: This clearly is an issue that I have already thought of. The complete catalogue of his works is really problematic, in fact, not for the quantity of the painted canvas, which is instead quite small, but rather for the unknown position of some paintings, at present, and for the related lack of reusable reproductions of these works. The same thing is for the drawings, of fundamental importance for such an artist as Saffaro, although the Foundation owns already seven hundred of those, I know that the artist produced at least two thousand drawings. A specific graduation thesis, realized by one of my students in the 80s, and also some notes Saffaro left us, confirm what I've just stated. So, it's not easy to find information and reproductions of all these works, quite the opposite, it's nearly impossible. One relevant reason of the just mentioned difficulty is due to the way the world of art is nowadays structured: Saffaro, in fact, wasn't on the market of art, as a consequence, an immediate reference to the financial value of his works is absent. Unfortunately, the financial aspect of art, which has always existed and which is also legitimately positive, has replaced any other tools of communication, of research and information. It's really difficult for the works of art to be surrounded by interest, study and financial support, if they have not been established a financial value.

Anyway, a complete catalogue or a widely documented monographic volume are to be agreed in little time. The same problem as that I've just discussed, is to be referred as well to Saffaro's literary texts: those which have been published, that are nowadays impossible to find, and a great number, as I mentioned before, that are still unpublished. In this case too, I would like to realize some significant collections of what Saffaro wrote, not being the writing activity of secondary importance compared to that of painting, with the advantage of not having market problems of unavailability.

G.V.: If people want to know the artistic assets of the Foundation or to get information about Saffaro and his artistic activity, how could they do that? I think I heard that a web site of the Foundation will soon be available…

G.M.A.: Yes, it's right. A web site of the Foundation is about to be published in the Internet and it will be possible to get news and information about us, besides the viewing of Saffaro's paintings and drawings. The web site will be also useful for the achievement of the project of the complete catalogue, which, as I've said before, will be really difficult to serve out. Clearly, our Foundation can provide scholars, students and collectors with any information requested. People who are interested can find our telephone number and address at the bottom of this interview. At the Museum of Palazzo Poggi in Bologna, unless there are special occasions and exhibitions, it is always possible to see a group of Saffaro's works displayed in the Museum.

G.V.: Besides the University Museum of Palazzo Poggi in Bologna, are there public or private Museums or even cultural institutions displaying or owning works by Saffaro, at present?

G.M.A.: First of all, I would like to point out the Department of Mathematical Sciences of the University of Bologna, to which we gave the polyhedron study models made by Saffaro and a part of the documentation with mathematical issues. On the web site of the Department, it is possible to find a section completely dedicated to Saffaro. Moreover, as I've mentioned earlier, all the works of art of the Foundation are entrusted to the Museum of Palazzo Poggi. One painting is kept in the collection of Galleria d'Arte Moderna Ca' Pesaro in Venice, another one is at the MAMbo of Bologna, and another painting is kept in the collections of the Municipality of Trieste. This is just to mention the most significant works and those that I can remember at the moment.

G.V.: I've read that some of the most important Italian critics and historians of art have been interested in Lucio Saffaro; I'm mostly intrigued, though, by the fact that Saffaro aroused the interest of critics who, actually, were poetically and conceptually distant from his thought; I recall, for example, the great esteem Francesco Arcangeli showed for him on several occasions…

G.M.A.: Arcangeli, at the height of his interests in informal artists such as Moreni, Morlotti and Mandelli, procured the opportunity for Saffaro to have his first individual exhibition in 1962, organizing it in a gallery which was really prestigious at that time, the Obelisco in Rome. He kept on being interested in his works, and he suggested a further exhibition in 1972, when the artist's paintings were already dominated by the enigmatic presence of polyhedrons.

Calvesi, as well, began to be interested in Saffaro when the artist wrote about Kounelis, Pascali, Ceroli, and minimalism; he associated Saffaro's painted subjects to the primary shapes of minimalism, in an article published in the magazine "Cartabianca" in May 1968. In the 70s he organized an exhibition, once again at the Obelisco, in the same year that I was organizing an exhibition at the Galleria Bertesca in Genova. Calvesi also demonstrated his interest for Saffaro, by publishing another writings, by holding a conference on this matter and by inviting him to the Biennale of Venice, of which he was the curator.

Quintavalle and even more Filiberto Menna, as well, had several chances to show their interest in Saffaro; my own way of taking Saffaro into consideration and my proximity to him went actually in a different direction from that I used to take with the artists I was following most, at the time. Still more akin was the attention given to him as an artist, by Argan. However, Saffaro was a special artist for everyone, with his particular and different poetics, being outside of the usual schemes of art. For this reason he always constituted a ground of exploration in an unusual and nonconforming territory with respect to the other contemporary artists, among whom he was always been considered a valid and seducing interface of study.

(This interview was published in META parole&immagini, issue no. 30, 2009)