For Milan it was a special weekend. And not only for the news of the attack of which Pope Paul VI was the victim in Manila when, for a very short time, a stab wound was not fatal, nor for the workers’ demonstrations that took over the city center, to the point of challenging the project of Christo to pack up the equestrian statue of the king in Piazza Duomo. To make news and scandal, albeit for the last time, was the invasion and appropriation of squares and monuments by novo-realist artists, as Mimmo Rotella (also from the group) defined them. Ten years after its foundation, the Nouveau Réalisme movement celebrated its self-extinction. It was November 1970, we would have liked to have remembered the right event 50 years later (even 60, in hindsight); we do it with a little delay, you won’t want any.
Casa Vogue, as it still often does, at the time did not speak of architecture and design in the strict sense, but of the city and the relationship that art has with it; how it intervenes, the modification, even if only for a short time; and how citizens react (which is basically the most important thing). The article focuses above all on the final event of the three days of happening, that is to say the dinner that was set in the Biffi in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Although downsized, the famous restaurant is still there, like its “rival”, the Savini. To tell the story of that dinner, the photos taken by Enrico Cattaneo were published, or rather the sheets of the specimens he fished from his vast archive. They are photos taken in a hurry, hoping that the light and the framing will work immediately and counting the clicks to economize at best.
Disappeared in 2019, Cattaneo was one of the great witnesses and documentatists of Milanese artistic events for 50 years. Fortunately, an archive is active which is based in his usual home-studio, in via San Gregorio 44. He was not the only photographer then present. Remembered by Cattaneo in his intervention in the article, there was also another very active teacher in Milan, Ugo Mulas. And not only that: a series of interesting shots were also taken by the duo Harry Shunk and János Kender, the “official” photographers of the Nouveaux Réalistes, by virtue of their connection with the famous Parisian gallery owner Iris Clert who was the reference point of the movement. Always for those who want to learn more: an excellent dedicated site http://nouveaurealisme.weebly.com/; finally to be read as Rotella remembered, in his own way, the event in his biography “Autorotella”, published by Sugar in 1972 and then reprinted about ten years ago, but it is available in pdf on the net. The article appeared in Casa Vogue April 2012.
Ah! Last thing: you will see that the specimens are repeated as they are; whites and blacks sometimes overexposed and scorched; then so many people, confusion, party, joy. Who were all those characters? Here are a few: the skinny gentleman in a tuxedo cutting the cake is Daniel Spoerri; with mustache, long curly hair in the neck and glasses is Pierre Restany; the gallerist and organizer of the event Guido Le Noci is the man sitting alone and obviously exhausted in the midst of all the chairs; Arman is in a coat with maxi lapels and a slightly gangster Borsalino. Very last thing: the suspension lights of the Biffi, you will probably recognize them, are the Splugen by Flos, designed by Achille and Piergiacomo Castiglioni. Already a classic a few years after their creation. (Paolo Lavezzari)
Contact proofs of the photos taken by Enrico Cattaneo at the Biffi in the Galleria, in Milan.
“I have never seen so many people respond to the appeal of art – about eight to ten thousand people”, wrote Dino Buzzati in Corriere della Sera. For Milan, those three days at the end of November 1970 they were really lively: the celebrations for the ten years of the Nouveau Réalisme threw the city into turmoil. More than the opening of the anthological exhibition at the Rotonda di via Besana, it was the public performances that gave the atmosphere a sparkling tone, also causing some intervention by the police. Christo he had packed the monument to Leonardo in Piazza della Scala; Jean Tinguely had burned a gigantic golden phallus in Piazza Duomo; Francois Dufrêne had declaimed, imitating the Duce, the parody of a Fascist speech; Niki de Saint-Phalle had performed with a rifle in what she called “paint shots”; César had invaded the Gallery’s Octagon with a polyurethane “Expansion”; Martial Raysse had cast plays of light across the sky; Arman had distributed mini-accumulations of waste and Mimmo Rotella, in Brera, had torn apart gigantic advertising posters. The party, however, was the (self-celebrated) funeral rite of the Nouveau Réalisme: the intention of the members of the group to meet had been decided to declare it extinct.
To seal, one “Last Supper” that Daniel Spoerri, founding member of the group, organized for Saturday 28, to be set up at the Biffi in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It too was intended as a performance: Spoerri asked the artists to translate their art into food, so as to literally “swallow up” the idea that kept them linked to each other and to the inspiring critic, Pierre Restany. Guido Le Noci took care of the organization of the dinner, who, in his Galleria Apollinaire, proposed the Nouveaux Réalistes in Milan.
«When I arrived in town», Spoerri recalls, «Le Noci had already found a sponsor for dinner». It was the Motta, whose kitchens were entrusted with some courses to be served at the Biffi. “We met the pastry chef Villa, who had also studied art”, continues Spoerri, “and we agreed on the realization of the cake in the shape of a pontifical tiara: a tribute to Restany ». Other dishes came out of the kitchens of the Biffi according to the artists’ instructions and following the project-drawings assembled by Spoerri on the poster entitled “The Last Supper, Funeral Banquet of the Nouveau Réalisme”, signed at the bottom by the members of the group.
Menu: Arman proposed accumulations of eels, fish and frog legs in jelly; César compressions of liqueur and pudding bonbons; Christo wrapped fish in foil; Niki de Saint Phalle drew an ice cream “Nana” and a liquid clock; Raysse designed a marzipan make-up kit; Wheel the maquette of a Shell oil can. Raymond Hains created one giant walnut cake decorated with pink icing and a thousand candles whose lighting was up to the guests; the walnuts were in honor of the gallery owner, the candles were a thousand for a game of assonances with Milan, while the icing was a tribute to the master, who died just two years earlier, Marcel Duchamp, and to his alter ego Rrose Sélavy.
Dinner was very crowded. The photographer Enrico Cattaneo found himself among the tables of the Biffi almost by chance. “I didn’t think about going there, I didn’t even have any more rolls of film,” he recalls. But the occasion was unique and Cattaneo intercepted Ugo Mulas from the crowd, from whom he had the three rolls he had lent him back a few weeks earlier. Loaded two cameras, he began to shoot, in not exactly easy conditions, as shown by the contact sheets that collect all the shots of the precious rolls published in these pages: each artist sat – among friends, collectors, merchants – at his own table, on which the relative stood out edible art creation. The voices of the guests rose overwhelmingly, the glasses were raised and the smokescreen above the heads became more and more dense. “Someone, perhaps Tinguely and others, took refuge in the other Biffi, in Piazza Scala,” recalls Cattaneo.
In the disorder, the flash also fixes images that, forty years later, tell many stories. Like the moment of cutting the cake dedicated to Restany; However, it is not the critic, who appears in the background with a grim expression, who holds the knife, but Spoerri. A vengeance is about to be consummated: Spoerri actually wants to destroy the cake “to prove to Restany that he was not a pope.” The attempt, however, fails: “I did not know”, admits Spoerri, “that pastry chefs put supports in such large cakes, so the knife stopped to the first layer of wood I encountered ».