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THE GENDER ISSUE AND THE CASE OF THE SCULPTRESS OF MONFERRATO CLAUDIA FORMICA

The young lady from Monferrato, the only sculptor (besides Leonardo Bistolfi) among the artists participating to the first union exhibition in Turin in 1929, was handsome, tall and elegant, but made a “hard and difficult work, with spirit of sacrifice”.

Endowed with solidity, rigour, balance and method, perhaps deriving from her birth in a “viticultural and rural centre” and from a not elit education, Claudia Formica was stubborn, but also free from the trends of the moment such as the Abstractionism.

The artist, born in 1903 in Nizza Monferrato (at that time included in the Province of Alessandria) created a “delicate art, peacefully melancholy, but without anguish, without complications about sexual and Freudian complexes, without cruelty and dark desperation”, like Zanzi affirmed, an art critic who worked for “Gazzetta del Popolo” and “Emporium”.

Trained at the “Accademia Albertina” of Turin, through the lessons of Edoardo Rubino and the eclectic sculptor Musso, the sculptress started to work very early by practicing the ceramic art for the Lency factory of Turin in alternation with the great sculpture for squares. Then she passed through Florence where she became a pupil of Calori and Libero Andreotti; from the latter she derives “the taste for a sculpture of an essentially modern conception, but nutrished in the depths by an elegant Classicism”.

Claudia supported herself with her own work, at that time considered as “a man stuff”, partecipated to 14 regional exhitions of the Fascist Union of Fine Arts between 1929 and 1942 and achieved fame, besides the possibility to take part into the Quadrenniales of Rome and the Venice Biennals. Morevoer the cultural system of that time promised help and support to artists from each social class and geographic origin.

Formica preferred religious subjects, portraits, female and children figures; some of her most important works can be found in Nizza Monferrato under the arcades of the Town Hall, in the church of St. Siro (which keeps a sculpture depicting St. Anthony) and in the Monument to the Fallen in the square of Incisa Scapaccino.

The “Portinaretto” (the young porter) bought instead by the State at the III Union Exhibition of Art of Asti in 1941 was immediately put in storage and nowadays is placed in the Civic Gallery of Mazzetti Palace. This terracotta is “one of the most lively and vigorous plastic interpretations of a breezy and insolent teenager” (Emporium). Since 2011 the model is recognizable in Giuseppe Balocco, the son of the doorman who worked in Turin in the palace where the atelier of the sculptress was located.

In 1939, when she was 35 years old, Claudia Formica was mentioned among the sculptors that contribuited to trasform Turin into “the richest city in monuments”. Her home-atelier located in Via Marco Polo in Turin, chock-full of “plaster, bronze and clay works” (..)“ was brightened up by geranium pots and a big lemon tree full of fruits”, like an interview revealed in 1981.

The seventy-eight – years- old artist from Nizza, showed an “imposing body by dressing her work smock, a handsome face illuminated by two very young light blue eyes”. The private life of the sculptress was characterized “by the passion for good food and wines, the smoking habit, the sunny, modest and ironic disposition”.

The famous ceramist from Bologna Aurelio Minghetti moreover included the “artist from Turin” Formica in the Biographic and Bibliographic Encyclopedia (volume n. XLI) in the section dedicated to the Ceramists; it is an inclusion of great value.

Her name, unfortunately limited inside the narrow regional borders, is a little bit more appreciated and largely declared thanks to the presence of this artist in the Lenci’s Catalogue; but the talent of this noble artist of the Italy’s fascist era would deserve much more regard.

“Gente Nostra”, an exposition of artists active in Piedmont, instead provides a regional anthology with medium quotations where the artists are grouped depending on technique and commercial evaluation, a questionable criterion and “adopted outside of any consideration of merit”.

The sculptural corpus of works by Formica, certainly identified and dated thanks also to the cross-referencing with the data taken from the two main Turin newspapers of that time (“La Stampa” and the “Gazzetta del Popolo”, whose main art critics were Marziano Bernardi and Emilio Zanzi), newspapers from Alessandria and Asti (such as “Il Piccolo” and “Il Corriere di Alessandria”, “La Gazzetta d’Asti”, “La Provincia di Asti”, “L’Ancora” or “Il Giornale d’Acqui”), but also specialized magazines such as “Torino”, “Alexandria”, “Emporium” and “L’Illustrazione Italiana”…

When on 1 April 1935 the Province of Asti was established by a Royal Decree, which removed Nizza Monferrato from the Alessandria sphere, because of a simple administrative issue Claudia Formica’s career suddenly stopped attracting attention without finding any editorial experience in the area of Asti comparable in depth. Her name was relegated to “slender volumes of modest appearance and of little editorial value, I would say almost of an autarchic flavor […] with a very limited set of illustrations, perhaps for cost reasons, compared to the large number of works presented”.

At the beginning of the Nineties of the last century, Villa Claudia was demolished in Nizza Monferrato as part of a building speculation that saw the creation of a shopping center in its place; the villa was subjected to the plunder of works and documents belonging to the Formica family, now dispersed among private collections.

In conclusion, Claudia Formica was a strong and willfull figure, ahead of her time, who faced a predominantly male environment during the years of the Fascism, therefore lessons were dedicated to the gender issue in the schools of Asti and Alessandria, as part of the project called “Raccontare il tempo” (Telling the time) together with the culture of the “removed years”. The municipal administration of Nizza Monferrato has moreover dedicated to her a Plaster Cast Gallery in order to restore a piece of history by telling life and works of a sculptress of international importance, one of the few who was able to support herself with her own artist work in that first half of the twentieth century.

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