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COSTANTINO NIVOLA

Costantino Nivola was born on July 5, 1911 in Orani, a small village in the island of Sardinia. His family was very poor so, as a child, Costantino helped out by doing little jobs here and there.

As a young adolescent, he worked as an apprentice stonemason where he learned how to shape sand and cement.

It was clear by then that he was very talented. Painter Mario Delitala, also from Orani, noticed the young artist and hired him to help him with the frescoes in the University of Sassari’s Great Hall. When he turned 20, Costantino won a scholarship to go study art in Monza, Northern Italy, and there he had his first official exhibitions. In 1938 he met Ruth Guggenheim, another art student, who became the love of his life. All went well until 1939, when racial laws forced the young couple to leave Italy. At first they hid in France, then they left Europe for the U.S.A. Here in New York they met other European artists and they all lived in what Ruth once called ‘a refugees’ art colony’, around Washington Square Park and the Village.

In 1941 he became the art director of the architecture magazine "Interiors and Industrial Design", while working also as the art director for the women's magazine "You". And he prepared his next exhibits, this time with friend Saul Steinberg in a group show at the Betty Parsons Gallery and at the Wakefield Gallery.

At the end of the war, he met Le Corbusier, who painted in his studio for about two years. He also had two children, Pietro and Chiara, and the young family needed more space, they couldn’t live in the ’art colony’ any longer. In 1948, Costantino and Ruth bought a house in East Hampton, Long Island, reinforcing their ties with a group of American artists who had chosen to isolate themselves there, artists like Jackson Pollock, Ibram Lassaw, James Brooks, John Little, and Hans Namuth. There Costantino invented a unique type of sand-casting, a new technique of fusion for sculptures in bas-relief. Soon after, he made a famous sand-cast relief wall for the Olivetti showroom in New York, for Mutual Hartford Insurance Company (Connecticut), Harvard University, McCormick Plaza Exposition Center (Chicago), Yale University, and completed murals and several statues for squares and institutions in Italy.

In 1954 Costantino became a professor and the director of the "Design Workshop" at Harvard, while the American Institute of Graphic Arts assigned him its Certificate of Excellence. In 1972 the American Academy of Arts and Letters admitted Costantino Nivola as its first non-American member. In 1978 the University of California, Berkeley gave him a chair at its Art Department. He died in 1988 in his home in Long Island, a house and garden that were his final art work, and that reminded all visitors of his cradle, the island of Sardinia.

Cement Carving Technique

By Costantino Nivola

The process of carving in green cement is a "common sense technique" because of its economical ingredients and its fitness in the current methods of industrial construction and transportation. The fact that concrete is the number one building material today (as stone was in the past) makes concrete a logical material to be used for sculpture in an architectural context:

A standard mixture of three parts of screened sand (mason sand) and one part of cement (regular or white) is the basic material needed. This mixture is poured into a wooden box, built strongly enough to resists the pressure of the soft mixture.

Two to three hours (depending on the temperature of the air) is normally the time required for the cement to set to a stage in which it becomes firm enough to permit the removal of the sides of the box. The time allowed to work before the material hardens is about five hours.

If the size of the piece is about two feet, it is advisable to build the box in sections of two feet in height. This permits the sculptor to remove one section at a time (as he starts working from the top), thereby releasing some of the weight for the bottom. With some experience and familiarity with the behavior of the material, a sculptural form of seven to eight feet may be carved comfortably at one time.

On the Use of Art in Public Buildings

By Costantino Nivola - Translated from the Italian by Ruth Nivola

It seems to me necessary today to make a distinction between art created in the studio and that form of art used in architecture for public purpose. (This differentiation had not been necessary in other times; a differentiation which did not need to be made until the last century). In the studio the artist has all the freedom to work in a condition of disinterested detachment that is indispensable for creative search at personal expression.

The use of art in public buildings poses to the artist a series of considerations of ethical, moral, and economical nature. He has to make a serious attempt to achieve a harmonious relationship to its architectural and social environment. Not all the work that is done in the studio, independent from its intrinsic artistic quality, is necessarily fit for civic purpose.

 

SOURCE:

Museo Nivola

Wikipedia

http://www.metropolismag.com