Art Review: Alberto Savinio: Emerging From Big Brother’s Shadow

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Alberto Savinio’s “Family of Lions,” from 1927, one of 22 of his paintings on display at the Center for Italian Modern Art. Credit 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS)/SIAE, Rome, via Center for Italian Modern Art

The Greek-born Italian artist Alberto Savinio spent most of his life in the shadow of his older brother, Giorgio de Chirico, famed as the pioneer of Surrealist painting. It remains to be seen if he will spend eternity there. The question is not settled by “Alberto Savinio,” a rare exhibition of 22 of his paintings at the Center for Italian Modern Art in SoHo, but it is given a tantalizing spin.

Savinio (1891-1952) was born in Athens to a family of Italian-speaking Greeks and went to Italy as a teenager. He changed his name in 1914, during a sojourn in Paris (1911-1915) with his brother, who was already becoming known for the dreamlike metaphysical paintings that proved foundational to Surrealism. These efforts, as de Chirico admitted, had been formulated with the multitalented Savinio, who worked variously during his life as poet, novelist, critic, composer, pianist and set designer as well as a painter.

The brothers frequented avant-garde circles and were especially close to Guillaume Apollinaire, contributing essays to a journal he published. But at the time, music was Savinio’s chief interest and, not unlike the Italian Futurists, he favored reducing it to raw, physical sound. On May 21, 1914, Savinio gained notoriety with a well-attended concert where he played the piano so violently that it had to be replaced more than once. The event would be recalled by Blaise Cendrars in his 1948 book, “Bourlingueur.”

The war forced the brothers back to Italy but 1926 found them both in Paris again, with Savinio very much in painting mode. All but one of the canvases here date from the second Paris sojourn, which ended in early 1934. They reveal an artist juggling several styles, all buoyed by easy, robust paint handling, all connected more or less to Surrealism.

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