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HAPPENINGText: Ilaria Peretti

I remember that my mother asked me: “what do you want to do when you grow up?” I answered “the child”. This sentence, deduced from the video-interview by Irene Dionisio, allows us to get to the heart of the protagonist of the exhibition of Castello di Rivoli, A.B.O. THEATRON. Art or Life, the Italian art critic and curator Achille Bonito Oliva (Caggiano, 1939).

Achille Bonito Oliva, Photo: Sandro Giustibelli

The exhibition, curated by Bonito Oliva himself and the museum director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, with the coordination of Andrea Viliani, is the second chapter of the program conceived by Castello di Rivoli and CRRI (Castello di Rivoli Research Institute), which focuses on highlighting the most eminent curators of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, their methodology and their influence, staging a paradigm shift that the history of art can no longer neglect. The program started in 2019 with the exhibition “Museum of Obsessions” about the art critic and curator Harald Szeemann, an archive-based project as well that saw a philological reconstruction of his personality, organized in collaboration with the Getty Research Institute of Los Angeles.

The exhibition takes shape thanks to the archive that Bonito Oliva donated to CRRI, and which he himself has collected over the years, thus creating an impressive archive of himself. He always had, in his practice, an aversion to archive-based criticism, since he rather believed in “criticism as ‘critical thinking’, practicing its autonomy in a lateral basis with respect to the centrality of art”.

In fact, this archive contains few materials on the genesis of his exhibitions, but much more on the life of the curator himself: his correspondence, written contents, traces of speeches, even quarrels and discussions in written form with colleagues and artists, television broadcasts recordings, photographic documentation and videos, as well as a large part of his personal library.

Installation view of the exhibition A.B.O. THEATRON. Art or Life with artworks by Giuseppe Ducrot, Enzo Cucchi, Giulio Paolini, Mimmo Paladino, Jan Fabre, wooden and glass case with documents and reproduction of Achille Bonito Oliva’s desk, 
Photo © Antonio Maniscalco
, Courtesy Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Torino

Who is Achille Bonito Oliva? Among the most important Italian art historians, critics and contemporary art curators, a multifaceted figure, he is one of the few who have combined serious theoretical and curatorial research with an ironic attitude and presence in the mass media and television in particular. For Bonito Oliva the exhibition is a means of communication thanks to which it is possible to “write in space through works of art”. The exhibition represents for him “the second level of writing of the critic”, a level “subsequent” to that of essays production, although fueled by a profound theoretical activity.

Achille Bonito Oliva is also well known for having theorized, in the late 1970s, the Transavantgarde movement, the fourth Italian art movement after Futurism, Metaphysical Art and Arte Povera, which term was then established in the magazine Flash Art in 1979. Chia, Cucchi, Clemente, Paladino and De Maria were the protagonists of this open, contaminant movement, capable of recuperating the history of art but at the same time confirming a new identity.

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Minna Parikka