When Reviving a Forgotten Sculptor’s Reputation Is a Family Affair

COLD SPRING, N.Y. — Adrian Nivola remembers the lengthy hours spent within the studio of his grandfather, Costantino Nivola, throughout the 1980s, watching the artist seize the nice and cozy embrace of a mom in a wooden sculpture because the nation singer Tammy Wynette crooned over the stereo.

The music and the person got here dashing again into focus earlier this yr as he went to work on almost two dozen beforehand unseen sculptures from his grandfather’s studio that have been forged from moist sand into the shapes of animals, individuals and summary pure types. Adrian cleaned them of mould and mildew for the exhibition at the moment on view at Magazzino Italian Art, a museum of postwar and modern work within the Hudson Valley.

“Nivola: Sandscapes,” on view by Jan. 10, represents a household’s effort to lift the profile of their patriarch, a forgotten proponent of modernism who was as comfy collaborating with the architect Le Corbusier as he was hobnobbing with celebrities like Marilyn Monroe. The exhibition celebrates the artist’s pioneering sand-casting approach, which required Nivola to carve into moist sand and fill its cavity with cement or plaster. It was a low cost, environment friendly technique for producing massive sculptural reliefs, which he put in on buildings throughout the nation.

Installation view of “Nivola: Sandscapes.” His sculptural works have been midcentury outliers, neither a strict Modernist nor an Abstract Expressionist.Credit…Magazzino Italian Art; Marco Anelli

“This is the story of an Italian refugee who made America his home, finding kindred spirits among a community of artists and architects,” mentioned Teresa Kittler, the exhibition’s curator, who recounted how the Sardinian artist fled fascism in 1939, arriving in New York and embedding himself within the metropolis’s cultural scene.

From his residence in Long Island, Nivola would incessantly host events that included shut associates just like the artists Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. While his friends explored the parameters of Abstract Expressionism, Nivola elaborated on the traditions of Mediterranean sculpture with cuboid cutouts in cement, humanoid figures paying homage to his Sardinian neighbors and a constellation of prehistoric symbols.

Some of Nivola’s associates, from left, Ruth Tishmann (with hat), Dorothy Norman (in an armchair), Inge Weiner, Paul Tishmann and the architect Paul Weiner, at an outside lunch in East Hampton within the 1960s.Credit…Susan Greenburg, through Fondazione Nivola

Nivola grew to become an outlier of the artwork historic narrative du jour — neither a strict Modernist nor an Abstract Expressionist like de Kooning, Pollock or “second-generation” New York School painters — pushing his fame into obscurity after his demise in 1988. And though he by no means obtained a main retrospective within the United States, proof of his skills exists in dozens of public artwork installations in faculties, authorities buildings and public housing developments throughout the nation. An exhibition at Cooper Union final yr mentioned lots of these tasks, however a few of these works have turn into endangered. In March, the New York City Housing Authority eliminated a few of his horse sculptures from a property throughout development, elevating the significance of the Magazzino exhibition.

“It was hard to process because I grew up with maquettes of those horse sculptures,” mentioned Adrian Nivola, a painter and sculptor. “To see them hacked off at the legs was just awful, but the silver lining is that the controversy has drawn more attention to my grandfather’s work.”

For greater than 30 years, preservationists have criticized the town for what they see as neglect of Nivola’s public artworks. (Carl Stein, an architect consulting on the broken horse sculptures, mentioned there’s a plan to revive the statues to their unique positions on the Nycha property.) Other sculptures, which the artist donated to associates and establishments, have been misplaced.

Nivola, “Untitled (Maquette for the Olivetti Showroom, New York City, NY),” 1953.Credit…through Magazzino Italian Art

While researching for his or her exhibition, the curators at Magazzino unearthed one such sculpture, a 1953 maquette for the Olivetti Showroom on Fifth Avenue. The design, which options a procession of hieroglyphic gods and ornamental patterns, was discovered within the storage services of the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., the place it had been since its donation in 1974.

“It’s a fabulous example of Nivola’s style,” mentioned Kittler, who added that the maquette was only one instance of how the artist frequently adjusted his designs, discovering a steadiness between futuristic Cubist figures and historic Sardinian modes of abstraction. “He had a very democratic idea of what art should be and was not really precious about his work.”

“Untitled,” 1970, polychromed cement.Credit…Magazzino Italian Art; Marco Anelli“Untitled,” circa 1960, cement.Credit…Magazzino Italian Art; Marco Anelli

For the artist’s daughter, Claire Nivola, touring the Magazzino exhibition was a long-awaited reunion with the artwork of her father, whose classes within the studio helped encourage her profession as a youngsters’s e-book illustrator and writer.

“He never let me use an eraser when I was a kid drawing, because he didn’t want me to become a perfectionist,” she recalled. “He had a childlike joy in life; everything we did together felt like a mix of work and play.”

Nivola: Sandscapes

Through Jan. 10, 2022 at Magazzino Italian Art, 2700 U.S. 9, Cold Spring, N.Y. 845- 666-7202; magazzino.artwork.

Additional sandstone sculptures by Nivola

Through June 30 at Eric Firestone Gallery, four Newtown Lane, East Hampton, N.Y. 631-604-2386; ericfirestonegallery.com.