Gianni Bertini

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Gianni Bertini was an Italian painter and graphic artist, whose experimental work with technologies of media, material transfer, and photo-mechanical screen printing resulted in a distinctive style, contemporary with Warhol and reminiscent of Pop Art, but with a more explicitly critical orientation vis-à-vis postwar consumer culture. Bertini often collaborated with experimental poets and was particularly close to Henri Chopin. He also worked with Sarenco in the early years of Lotta Poetica.

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Gianni Bertini Papers

Acquired from the artist’s son between 2012 and 2016, the Gianni Bertini Papers contain scrapbooks, manuscripts, correspondence, original artwork, production materials, unique artist books, and printed ephemera documenting his career from its beginnings in immediate postwar Italy through the early 2000s. Complete documentation of Bertini’s exhibitions is complemented by correspondence with dealers and gallerists, while his collaborations with experimental poets and publishers of artist books, particularly Henri Chopin, Jean-Clarence Lambert, and Pierre André Benoit (PAB) are also well represented. Three variant copies of Bertini and Lambert’s monumental “book-object,” Les Folies françaises d’après ‘Elle,’  each including original production materials and variant prints, have been cataloged separately from the archive, along with other original artist books and collaborations, which can be found in the Library’s extensive print holdings . Bertini’s manuscript memoir, Cahier  Nomade, has also been cataloged separately.

Collection Highlights

  • Scrapbooks

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Spanning the years 1946-2007, more than 35 massive scrapbooks document Bertini’s nearly obsessive fascination with archiving virtually every move in his career. Invitations, flyers, catalogs, posters (folded to quarto dimensions), newspaper clippings alternate with manuscript notes, original artwork, and photographs, such as this scene of the exhibition opening of Pays réel, overlaid by a transparency with Bertini’s notes identifying Yves Kline, Pierre Restany, Jacques Villeglé and others in attendance and apparently marked up with printer’s instructions for eventual publication.

  • Correspondence

Documents Bertini’s relations with art dealers, exhibition preparations, and co oration with experimental poets and artists, including Jean-François Bory, Henri Chopin, Jean Dubuffet, Jacqueline de Jong, Jean-Clarence Lambert, Sarenco, and Serge Vandercam.

  • Mec archive

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Production files for the magazine, including original contributions from visual poets, maquettes, photographs, and production materials documenting the process of transformative appropriation in Mec Art.

  • Original Art and ArtistBooks

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Original collages, sketches, gouaches, and prints in addition to limited edition artist books, collaborations, and unpublished projects. Other poets and artists represented include Pierre-André Birot, Henri Chopin, Bernhard Heidsieck, Jean-Clarence Lambert, and Jean-Jacques Lévêque.

Gianni Bertini

Gianni Bertini was an Italian painter and graphic artist, whose experimental work with technologies of media, material transfer, and photomechanical screen printing resulted in a distinctive style, contemporary with Warhol and reminiscent of Pop Art, but with a more explicitly critical orientation vis-à-vis postwar consumer culture. Close to Pierre Restany, the founder of Nouveau Réalisme, Bertini also collaborated with performance artists and experimental poets such as Jean-Jacques Léveque, Jean-Clarence Lambert, Pierre-André Benoit, and Henri Chopin, with whom he formed a lifetime friendship.  Produced with Lambert between 1964 and 1966, Bertini’s massive “book/object” Folies françaises d’après ‘Elle’ remains an iconic manifestation of Mec Art, a movement promoted by Restany that focused on conscious manipulation of images from mass media and popular culture through the intervention of mechanical processes. 

Born in Pisa in 1922, Bertini studied mathematics before turning to painting, joining circles of young artists, poets, and intellectuals who formed the nascent neo-avantgarde of Italy in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Early figurative paintings in an Expressionist style soon gave way to experiments with abstraction, including the singular compositions of Bertini’s first series, I Gridi (Screams, 1947-1949), which integrated elements from everyday life, words from traffic signs, numbers, stamps, stencils, metal, and other unconventional materials in a manner that anticipated some aspects of American Pop Art a decade later and his own work in Mec Art. Continuing to explore abstraction, Bertini joined the Milan-based Movimento Arte Concreta in 1950, but quickly grew impatient with its rigid adherence to geometric formulas and looked for possibilities to develop freer, more passionate means of expression elsewhere. After exhibiting some of the first paintings of Arte Informale in Italy, Bertini moved to Paris in October 1951.

In Paris, Bertini at first gravitated to the heterodox circle around Edouard Jaguer and Phases, an international review of new tendencies in avant-garde art that, like Cobra, had its roots in Revolutionary Surrealism. But it was through the Galerie Arnaud that Bertini eventually came into contact with  Pierre Restany, in 1954, just as the young critic was beginning to assemble the group of artists including Yves Kline, Raymond Hain, Jacques Villeglé, and others who later formed the nucleus of Nouveau Réalisme. Bertini’s encounter with Restany also coincided with the definitive emergence of his distinctive style, a blend of machine motifs, gestural elements, stenciled text and numbers, photomechanical screenprints, all  coming together to convey an explosive sense of speed, dynamism, and immersion in the chaotic everyday life of postwar consumer society. While Bertini later refused to sign Restany’s manifesto of Nouveau Réalisme, rejecting its collectivist principle of artistic anonymity, the painter and the critic became lifelong friends, and Restany actively supported Bertini’s career as a star pupil of the new art he was promoting. “I am passionate, as you know, about the … restructuring of the  two-dimensional image by means of mechanical or industrial processes, which are the language of mass communication,” Restany wrote his friend in the 1960s. “The process of BERTINIZATION takes pride of place in this domain.”

Blurring the boundary between painting and critical engagement with the materiality of language, Bertini’s art resisted easy classification–hence Restany’s “Bertinization”–but for that reason it resonated all the more powerfully with avant-garde currents in many fields, from the visual arts to expermental poetry, perfomance art, and happenings, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Joining painters from Restany’s group and the Italian Arte Nucleare movement, Bertini signed the influential manifesto Contro lo Stile (The End of Style) in 1957 and continued to exhibit in galleries in Paris and Italy, winning major notoriety with  Pays réel (Real Country), hosted at the Galerie J with Restany’s support in 1962. Composed from the profane realia of everyday life–newspaper clippings, photographs, stamps, tickets, even Bertini’s passport and an Italian flag–the works on display mocked not only the sacred aura of fine art, but also officially sanctioned symbols of national identy, and a subsequent showing in Venice was banned by the Italian government. By this time Bertini had already begun working with poets on scandalous happenings such as a “Poetic Strip-Tease” at the Soleil dans la Tête, where he launched his first artist book collaborations with Jean-Jacques Lévêque and Jean-Clarence Lambert in 1960. The following year Bertini designed sets for Lévêque’s Adventures of Telemachus, staged as part of the Paris Biennale, and collaborated on exhibitions of “Objective Poetry” co-curated by Lévêque and sound poet Henri Chopin. Bertini and Chopin worked together closely for the rest of the decade on a variety of projects, including Chopin’s review Ou, the experimental film L’Énergie du someil (shown at the 1965 Paris Biennale) and the conceptual art piece Festival du Fort Boyard, and imaginary festival whose only physical manifestation was a series of posters produced with numerous avant-garde poets and artists, with whom Bertini worked to produce the screen prints.

The mid-1960s were a period of intense collaboration, not only with Chopin, but also with Lambert, with whom Bertini produced the elaborate “book object” Folies françaises between 1964 and 1966, and Pierre-André Birot, with whom he worked on many artist books in collaboration with other poets, including Bernard Heidsieck. Bertini worked with many of the same artists on MEC, the journal he founded in 1969 and devoted to the process of creative manipulation and appropriation he had perfected with Folies française. Two years later he joined Sarenco and the Belgian experimental poet Paul De Vree in founding Lotta Poetica, one of the most important reviews of poesia visiva not only in Italy, but throughout Europe.

Bertini continued to experiment with the media of language and images for decades to come, combining a sense of exhilerating immersion in popular culture with a powerful critique of commercial culture and the power of instant messaging in series such as Syntheses, Shadows, and Not to Forget, an intense exploration of the first Gulf War as media spectacle in the early 1990s. His final years were devoted to archiving his life’s work, with a particular fascination for the mid-1960s. Bertini died in Normandy in 2010.

Related Collections

Online Resources

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Print Holdings

Related Collections

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