New Monograph by AICA-USA Member Matthew Kangas

Italo Scanga 1932-2001 is a new monograph written by AICA-USA member Matthew Kangas and published in cooperation with the Italo Scanga Foundation. The book chronicles the Italian-American artist’s life as a “permanent immigrant,” endlessly traveling to and from Italy and Europe, never fully attaining assimilation or integration into American life. This informed Scanga's career through subject matter, content and style.

AICA-USA members, to order a complimentary review copy please contact:

Melody Kadlub-Barr
(206) 297-1304 ext. 288

The following text is excerpted from the introduction to the book by Matthew Kangas.

The art of Italo Scanga (1932-2001) is an amalgam of memories and influences expressed in a wide variety of materials, each tied to a given idea or logic. Since the artist’s death in La Jolla, California on July 27, 2001, steps have been taken to further appreciate, explore and analyze the hundreds of examples of his artistic practice. The establishment of the Italo Scanga Foundation in 2003 set in motion a series of donated museum acquisitions and related solo and group exhibitions. However, a full-length study of Italo Scanga’s art and aspects of his life has not been possible until now. Therefore, the following chapters with reproductions and archival photographs attempt to chronologize and contextualize the extraordinary breadth of his oeuvre over a 40-year period. In the process, I shall determine how a young Italian, post-World War II refugee could immigrate to Port Marion, Pennsylvania, work in the auto factories of Detroit, serve in the U.S. Army, graduate late from high school, but go on to attain graduate university degrees and teach three generations of art students. Scanga’s ambition was so fervent he continued to make art while teaching full time and eventually emerged in New York in the dawning days of the Manhattan art quarter, SoHo, a 1960s and 1970s haven of artist cooperatives, galleries, avant-garde powder kegs, and opportunities where he first came to the attention of art critics and curators as an artist with a different point of view, one who was loquacious to a fault, and who freely confessed a humble confidence in his patience. As he told William H. Jordy in 1986:

Like [Giambattista] Vico, I’m anti-Cartesian, opposed to the great concept. Vico believed in a more circular concept. You can go back again. History will repeat itself in something like a spiral form. [1]

This world view, lifted from early modern philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), also from southern Italy, and espoused by major English-language poets such as William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) and T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), was a central dynamic in Scanga’s work habit. Series as well as imagery and materials were recycled, repurposed, adapted and always in motion. Seen this way, Scanga’s lifetime as a university art school teacher reflected his deep intellectual background and knowledge of the continuity of art history. In addition to Vico, many of Scanga’s artworks included depictions of other philosophers, or were dedicated to artists, musicians, composers, or explorers. By doing so, Scanga reinforced his status as a cross-cultural immigrant throughout his life, becoming a permanent immigrant, always striving and restless, never content or sitting still.

As we shall see, Scanga neither fully assimilated into American culture nor reinserted himself successfully into postwar Italian society when he returned on repeated occasions. The cycle of return to Italy—summers, hotels, country houses, churches and museums—became another trope in the artist’s creative life, source and fodder for his studio activities. Abruptly removed from his native Lago in the Cosenza area of Calabria at age 15, Scanga had double challenges as an immigrant: becoming American and then re-learning how to be Italian. Reflected continuously in his art—refinement vs. rusticity—such bi-nationality became a framing device for successive subjects and series. The abundance of American consumer waste in the form of thrift shop detritus, flea market finds, and the back shelves of antique shops inspired the dozens of mixed-media assemblage sculptures of the 1980s and 1990s. The vivid imprints of World War II deprivations and suffering became another focus for an agitated painterly attack and the seemingly ad hoc collaging of disruptively disconnected found objects. As we will see in Chapter 3, found objects led to a newly found culture—or two or three. In the process of finding cast-off objects, reconstituting them, and “Italianizing” them by adding mass-produced religious images--peasant tools, or broken pottery, to name a few--the artist was able to forge a unique hybrid of 1970s Italian arte povera and aggressive 1980s Neo-Expressionist painting, discussed below in Chapter 2. Chapter 4 is devoted to the artist’s stays at Pilchuck Glass School, where he made the tall totem-like, painted schematic figures of the 1990s for which he became is best known—the Fears, Montecassino and Troubled World series--which were the subject of two major art magazine articles in, respectively, Artforum [2] and ARTnews [3], the latter including a cover portrait of the artist in his studio. Chapter 5 deals with Scanga’s later involvements in cultural and historical events in Italy, especially, installations of his art in his hometown, Lago, Ravenna and Amalfi. Chapter 6 addresses Scanga’s teaching, so influential and pervasive an activity in his life and that of his students, as well as his roles as confidante and friend to other artists. His final years in La Jolla, California are discussed, answering how he developed as an ambitious, itinerant artist searching for inspiration and found materials wherever he traveled or exhibited his art, reiterating series as he transformed autobiography into expressive signs and symbols.

1. William H. Jordy. Italo Scanga: Recent Sculpture and Drawings. Providence, RI: Brown University, 1986.

2. Eric Cameron. “Italo Scanga’s Torn Loyalties,” Artforum, January 1977: 53-51.

3. Susan C. Larsen. “Italo Scanga: Confronting the Spirits,” ARTnews, November 1984: 68-71.

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