Italian conceptual artist and writer Luciano Fabro was a radical, central figure in the redefinition and re-evaluation of sculpture in post-war Italy. In utilising and expanding on spatial context, materials and meaning, Fabro's sculpture moved away from convention, resisting established artistic thought and process.
Fabro decided to become an artist when he was 12 years old. In 1958, a developing interest in the avantgarde led Fabro to that year's Venice Biennale, where he encountered Lucio Fontana's slashed canvases. Inspired by Fontana's introduction of space to what were otherwise flat surfaces, Fabro moved to Milan to pursue an artistic career the following year. It was there that he was introduced to Piero Manzoni, with whom Fabro became closely associated, particularly in relation to the avantgarde Arte Povera ('poor art') movement. This movement took a critical stance against established institutions and consumerism by experimenting with an unconventional style and raw or 'poor' materials. Fabro, however, never completely accepted this characterisation; once calling himself the 'heretic of the Arte Povera church', he was known to also use expensive materials, such as gold, bronze and marble, in addition to more humble ones. His works are elegantly designed but assuredly simple enough to bring the viewer in as a participant to an experience where seeing and feeling are united.
Throughout his nearly five-decade-long career, Fabro constantly found ways to emphasise the past alongside the urgency of the new through the expression of time. Conscious of the legacy of Italian ruins, Fabro often used classical sculpture as inspiration to create new perspectives and spatial relations. One of his best-known works, Sisifo (Sisyphus) (1994), is an example of this; the work comprises a large cylindrical piece of marble, engraved and rolled through a layer of flour leaving behind an outline of a figure in the dust.
Among Fabro's other well-known works is his sculpture Buco (Hole), (1963) which comprises a mirror with parts of the reflective backing scraped off, so that in some areas it reflects the viewer, while in others, it acts as a window to the surrounding environment. Fabro frequently worked with other raw materials, as in his 'Piedi' (Feet) (1968–71) series of extremely large claws forming tripod bases, made of materials including cast bronze, marble and aluminium, and draped in silk.
In arguably his most famous series, 'Italia' (Italy), Fabro transfigured shapes of the Italian peninsula into reliefs from all sorts of materials, including leather, metal and wire. For a well-known work from this series titled Golden Italy, Fabro hung a map of his country in gilded bronze upside down to represent a carcass. The work was created in 1971—part of an era of significant political and social disorder. By hanging his country on its head, Fabro boldly portrays Italy as backwards and in disarray.
In 2014 the first major, posthumous retrospective of Fabro's work was held at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain. During his lifetime he was featured in numerous solo and group shows, including ones at Musée Bourdelle, Paris, France (2004); Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1997); Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom (1997); Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (1996); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, United States (1992); Kunstmuseum Luzern, Lucerne, Switzerland (1991) and more. Between 1972 and 1997 Fabro participated in the Venice Biennale at least eight times, and he also featured in Documenta, Kassel, Germany, three times. Throughout his life he was the recipient of several prestigious awards, including a Coutts Contemporary Art Award from Zurich, Switzerland (1994); the Antonio Feltrinelli Prize from Rome, Italy (1993); and the Sikkens Prize, awarded from Rotterdam, the Netherlands (1987).