Costantino Nivòla, between Salvatore Fancello and Le Corbusier.
The detail of an elegant ‘frivolitè’ embroidered insert on a linen byssus tablecloth, teal coloured.
“…Psychoanalysis consists in walking on all fours – that is partnership, without confusion of subjects or legs – which, if it ends well, still remain as an endowment (or dowry) for the following life too”.
Born at Orani, near Nuoro (Sardinia, Italy) in 1911, fifth of ten siblings, his father as a bricklayer, Costantino Nivòla soonest stood out for his own strong talent in drawing : even working as a hod-man with father and brothers, in 1926 he was called as an apprentice to the painter Mario Delitala at Sassari town, where he then received assignments from new clients until 1931, when he could move to Monza thanks to a modest scholarship obtained from the ‘Consiglio dell’Economia Corporativa’ of Nuoro, in order to attend the ‘Istituto Superiore per le Industrie Artistiche’.
At ‘I.S.I.A.’ in Monza-MB Italy he met Salvatore Fancello and Giovanni Pintori, both of them younger than him and coming from Sardinia too : with them in 1934 he will organiz a painting exhibition in Nuoro, buti t was not warmly welcomed. In the same year he was suspended from the Institute as he refused to give a Roman salute, and avoided the expulsion only thanks to Gianni Ticca, a generous entrepreneur from Sassari who had commissioned to Costantino the first early works : returned to the I.S.I.A., he met the young Ruth Guggenheim, of Jewish origin, who was attending the same Institute and who in a few years would have become his own wife.
In the company of the Sardinian youngmen, whom Ruth and Renata Guggenheim joined, Costantino was standing out for his entrepreneurship and communication skill, involving Salvatore Fancello among others, orphaned of father and mother, and clearly burdened with economical responsibilities towards sisters and brothers at Dorgali (Sardinia) : already talented, five years younger than Nivòla, Salvatore was passionately attending at I.S.I.A.’s Course for potters; Costantino deemed him gifted with talent in painting which in the following years would have made him appreciated as an artist and no more just as a decorator. Last of twelve siblings, Salvatore Fancello was expressing an early talent in drawing, so much that his teachers made sure that he continued his studies instead of going to work as it used in the poorest families : “It is noted that the pupil Fancello (…) has a marked tendency for drawing and the applied arts, and he is deserving of all help…” He could so work as an apprentice with other selected fellows in the potter’s workshop of Ciriaco Piras, and a few photographs still remain of that time : the work-shop was famous throughout Sardinia because it exported manufactured items thanks to ongoing orders, and from this experience Salvatore Fancello got pretious connections which brought in, still in the first years at Monza, dedicated commissions. Around 1934 the ‘Creazione Fancello‘ brand was born with his own decorated items, and reported on Milan ‘Domus’ magazine, directed by the architect and designer Giò Ponti : his admirer and loyal supporter was Giulio Carlo Argan, famous teacher and critic of Art.
In order to manufacture dishes and commissioned vases, Salvatore sent tight technical specifics to his brother-in-law’s work-shop at Dorgali: “On faces and on hands you can leave the ‘terracotta’ colour as it is beautiful. Pay attention to the colours and don’t do candy things. Colours have to be neat (small mixtures). As you can see I’ve made a few sketches, so that seems enough to me to give you an idea of the colour. Then you, who are right there and daily watch at the costumes, know them more than me…”
Monza’s I.S.I.A. is an emanation of the ‘Società Umanitaria’ in Milan, a famous Socialist institution for worker assistance, associated with Monza and Milan municipalities in order to manage a state-of-the-art vocational training school education for future ‘Masters of Art’ : in those rich years at Monza, from taciturn and solitary Salvatore Fancello rapidly became an attentive and cultured interlocutor towards his own teachers who appreciated and were encouraging his art inspired by the dreamlike and to a fanciful re-interpretation of hieratic characters, animals, plants, landscapes until his satisfactory participation to the ‘VI Triennale’ at the ‘Palazzo dell’Arte’ of Milan – where since 1936 he moved together with Nivòla and Pintori – with a large wall, scratched with an ironically colonial subject and a mosaic of lithoceramic tiles, he signed together with Costantino Nivòla. The immediately following years were full of reviews from critics and prestigious orders : he’ve been working at Padua, Albisola (near Savona), and at last he received the commission for a commemorative panel, with a white feminine figure on a background of deep blue colour of about 12 square meters from the architect Giuseppe Pagano – who, as an antifascist will die in the Nazi lager of Mauthausen six years later – for the canteen of the “Luigi Bocconi” University in Milan, installed in 1941 and financed by the artist himself, who in the meantime had been called to arms, notwithstanding many friends did their best to avoid to him the Albanian front where instead he would have died in March of the same year.
Already in 1938 Costantino chose to move to the United States with his wife Ruth, after learning that his friend and Sardinian painter Carmelo Floris was arrested and that Nivòla himself was wanted. Salvatore Fancello, who at that time was starting a correspondence with Renata, Ruth’s sister, didn’t answer the invitation to join the friend, nor insisted in order to obtain the exemption from the military service. His gift for Costantino’s wedding remains that very very long (668 cm x 29,4) “Disegno ininterrotto” at Indian ink and watercoloured on teleprinter paper which Fancello was always supplied with, a ‘continuum’ of days preluding the wedding where to the homesick due to a too short childhood are connected anxieties and silent recommendations about the heritage of a culture, the Sardinian one, by now so far away : that work remained by Giovanni Pintori who could deliver it to the couple just when the war ended.
In Milan, working together in 1937 for the setting up of the ‘Padiglione Italiano’ at the ’Esposizione Internazionale’ in Paris, Costantino met Spanish artists with whom he matured antifascist sentiments, and also at Paris, where he stayed for a while with Ruth before continuing to the United States, he offered articles for the journal of the ‘Giustizia e Libertà’ movement : arrived in New York he found a job as ‘art director’ for the magazine Interiors, so meeting architects and also European design specialists like Gropius, Breuer, as well as De Kooning, Léger, Pollock with whom he built friendships; he adhered to the ‘Mazzini Society’, an antifascist association attended also by Franco Modigliani and Toscanini and as well he met the young architect Peter Blake. Between 1944 and 1946 his children Pietro and Claire were born, and he had his first exhibition at the ‘MoMa’ of New York.
The holding of Jung theories in the United States, which landed there with popularity, however didn’t satisfy him, and particularly that ‘collective unconscious’ which Jung had hung to immanent archetypals, mostly the ‘Great Mother’.
For Costantino Ruth was the novelty of a feminine partner, and not an inspiring ‘muse’, menacing in her ideality, part of those archetypals which got to such emotion the Modernists.
It is impressive indeed his individual and artistic path which led him to detachedly describe the woman-mother whom he portrays in 1958 as recognizable, burdened and resistent under the load of a massive traditional vase (‘Mother’s tomb’), to then shade and in many versions into the white stone of ‘Cycladic culture’ – for example : ‘Mother’ of 1981 – similar to a cloud-totem from which a short cane sorts out, even ressembling to his preceeding ‘Idolo’ (1952) where the stone is emptied inside.
In 1946 he met Le Corbusier, with whom and generously he shared the studio for four years – as already he did with Fancello and Pintori at his own studio at Via Garibaldi in Milan, but now notwithstanding the excesses of character of the brilliant architect : as a matter of fact, thanks to the acquaintance of Le Corbusier, Nivòla decidedly switches to sculpture and to ‘informal art’ which privileged the material and the special manner to treat it. Nivòla begun his special technique he would have called ‘sand casting’, he invented when playing with children on Spring beach at East Hampton and making a first panel in plaster for the Olivetti showroom in New York which paid an international success to him. In the meanwhile he was appointed director of the Design Workshop at the University of Harvard.
It is with the young friend’s family that the nomadic, world famous architect often stayed and happy : we can look at him in the photos of the time, incredibly and maybe for the first time pacified. The bitter frustration of Le Corbusier, not at all gratified in his second stay in New York in 1946 and notwithstanding his excellent references, during his participation to the international team of architects to which the project of the United Nations building was committed, led him to devote himself to drawing he considered his own orientation talent, and to painting he was facing after meeting the work and the appreciation of an already famous Picasso.
Described by those who observed him during the long work sessions by the Headquarter of the Commission in New York as a silent and solitary voyager, however his buildings on sand remain, in less official photos of those years, he made together with Costantino and children, or the pique-niques on the grass of Nivòla’ house garden with Ruth and the little Claire in her arms.
The long conversations between Costantino and Le Corbusier, so different men but both of them intelligent precursors, became a mutual learning, so tracing in their life some deep and fruitful guidances : for the architect it was impossible to develop ideas without an audience, and questions and observations received from Nivòla were incisive and lasting for his own art.
In the years between 1946 and 1953 of their partnership and friendship, ‘Le Corbu’ – as he liked nickname himself – published the article ‘L’espace indicible’ and the volume ‘Poème de l’angle droit’ where he stated the primate of drawing and painting compared with the architecture, in an ideal continuity which was the real ‘leit motiv’ of his work.
For Nivòla, the mural paintings in his Long Island house (‘Long Island mural’, 1950) were an artistic indispensable reference as well as a sure sign of friendship from an older architect : because at last it was the painting indeed which could destroy ‘the barrier’ of a wall, so making it ‘ineffable’ and ‘unspeakable’ of the reality which should guide one’s own life.
That was a real ‘beginning’ for Le Corbusier, notwithstanding his advanced age : for the first time his work now became discursive, soft, convincing instead of shouting, majestic, generalized as in the first, frenetic explosive decades of his activity : and it is of these years (1950-1955) the project for the delightful Notre-Dame du Haut at Ronchamp, destination of religious pilgrimages in the French countryside.
And even more stands out the very nice ‘Le Cabanon’ (1950 – 1952) at Roquebrune-Cap Martin, which Le Corbusier described as “my own castle of three meters for four…” and set in Cote d’Azur, dotted with haughty villas : it is only fifteen years before the majestic ‘Le Corbusier-Gallis’, a villa he projected for himself and his beloved Yvonne - who however didn’t feel at her ease - in which the famous ‘ribbon’ windows and the overhead doors of the innovative ‘machine à habiter’ try to dissolve a rough distance between man and Nature.
For Costantino Nivòla, the lesson learned by Le Corbusier who was still trying, even if with weary stubbornness, to cling to a de-imputative ‘continuum’ of real on reality, led him to conjugate the novelty of his art whereas it was appreciated : so in 1957 he made the excellent decoration for the Mutual Hartford Insurance Company of Hartford, in Connecticut; in 1965 he carried out at Nuoro the arrangement of the square dedicated to to the poet Sebastiano Satta; in 1967 he made sculptures for the Public School 320 of Brooklyn, for the White Plains Plaza, for the Children’s Psychiatric Hospital in Bronx at New York and for many U.S.A. cities; in 1978 he begun teaching at the Berkeley University in California, where he also had a personal exhibition.
The parable of Nivòla’s life can be considered a Case of competence in the care of one’s thinking, when you get to judge about a ‘ceasing damage’ and drop your pathological diseconomics and as well avert narcissism and melencholy : however the capability to identify one’s own benefit partner, dropping the Ideal, remains a rare and only human achievement, that is logical and economical at the same time.
Marina Bilotta Membretti / Cernusco sul Naviglio, the Monday after Easter -Aprile 13, 2020.
P.S. Thanks are due for the materials offered : ‘Fondazione Nivola’ established at Orani in 1990 on the joint initiative of Regione Sardegna, Municipality of Orani and of the artist’s family with the aim of promoting awareness of Costantino Nivòla and other contemporary artists’ works/ www.museonivola.it and ‘Biblioteca Comunale’ of Biassono-MB, Italy.
 “Born In The USA” (1984), is a rock song by the U.S.A. author and singer Bruce Springsteen.
 Cited from : “Un uomo che ha domani”, ‘Opera Omnia di Giacomo B. Contri’ 2015, Sezione ‘Saggi, testi pro-manuscripto’ pag. 12
 “Alla periferia del Paradiso. Il ‘Disegno ininterrotto’ da Salvatore Fancello a Costantino Nivola”, by Roberto Cassanelli – Jaca Book Wide 2003. I thank the ‘Biblioteca comunale’ of Biassono-MB, Italy for this precious volume.
 Cited from : “Fancello 1942”, by M. Labò : it is a certificate of the ‘Scuola di Avviamento professionale’ in Dorgali.
 Cited from : “Alla periferia del Paradiso. Il ‘Disegno ininterrotto’ da Salvatore Fancello a Costantino Nivola”, by Roberto Cassanelli – Jaca Book Wide 2003/ Lettera al cognato Simeone Lai, 1935.
 In 1988, when Costantino died, Ruth Nivola gave ‘Disegno ininterrotto’ to the Municipality of Dorgali , where now can be admired at the ‘Civica Sala Fancello’.
 Carl Gustav Jung moved away from Sigmund Freud’s work, after the 1909 travel to the United States, made together with Freud himself and the Colleagues psychoanalists Abraham Brill, Ernest Jones, Sàndor Ferenczi on invitation of the ‘Clark University’ for a cycle of conferences.
 Not so easy to define, the ‘Modernism’ emerged, as a cultural stream and movement, between the end of XIX and the beginning of the XX century, together with the urbanization process which made obsolete many canons of the bourgeois society of the beginning of XIX century : it proposed itself also as revolutionary compared to the first capitalism and, in a sense, simplifier of its istances. It had to deal with the devastations of the two World Wars.
 Pablo Picasso in 1949 visited at Marsille the ‘Unitè d’Habitation’, public housing projected by Le Corbusier with the characteristics of that architectural Modernisme he named ‘machine à habiter’.
 “L’espace indicible”, 1946 in “L’architecture d’aujourd’hui”, November – December special issue, cited in ”Le Corbusier. Lessons in Modernism”, Catalog of the exhibition held at Orani (Nuoro, Sardinia) 2018 December – 2019 March and at care of Giuliana Altea, Antonella Camarda, Richard Ingersoll, Marida Talamona.
 In “Un uomo che ha domani”, ‘Opera Omnia di Giacomo B.Contri’ 2015 – Sezione ‘Saggi, testi pro-manuscripto’ the author and psychoanalist Giacomo B. Contri takes up the figures of pathological diseconomics : ‘emerging damage’, ‘ceasing benefit’ to which he adds a third figure, ‘non emerging benefit’ (pg.19).