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Giorgio Morandi: The Art of Silence

review - By Janet Abramowicz. Yale University Press, 2004. 268pp. £40

'City architecture has affected few modern artists as much as the urban landscape of Bologna influenced Morandi, and it became subject matter to be transformed into his still-lifes, ' writes Janet Abramowicz in this new study. 'In a Morandi still-life, bottles become architectural facades or melt into the background, and shadows become substance.' Le Corbusier, Aldo Rossi and Carlo Scarpa are among the architects who have admired Morandi (d. 1964), and the artist returned the compliment, responding not just to the historic matrix of Bologna - the city where he spent most of his life - but publicly supporting such schemes as Frank Lloyd Wright's proposed palazzo on Venice's Grand Canal (commissioned by Count Cini, but, of course, unbuilt). Florian Beigel and the Architecture Research Unit often cite Morandi, particularly the way he makes the spaces between things as telling as the things themselves (see Building Study, pages 24-33). One can see this in his landscapes as well as in his still-lifes.

Abramowicz was a teaching assistant to Morandi and a longtime friend. Her account is strong on biographical detail, on Morandi's friendships and affiliations, on his exhibition history and critical reception, and on the political climate in which he worked. It's less successful in analysing or evoking his paintings.

To say of one late group of works, for instance, that it's 'a fascinating series of variations on the same theme', really isn't enough.

Reproductions are variable, but mostly quite good in quality, and the book is attractive overall, each chapter prefaced by a full-page detail of Morandi's bedroom, where he painted, with the countless dusty bottles and tins that served as his props. There's enough here to understand why he touches people so deeply.

Andrew Mead

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