Ending 40-Year Hiatus, Artist Survives Sandy in N.Y. Show

Giorgio Griffa’s first New York exhibition since 1970 opened just four days before Hurricane Sandy flooded Manhattan’s Chelsea art district last October.

A five-foot water surge hit the Casey Kaplan gallery, where Griffa’s show, “Fragments 1968-2012,” was on view. The deluge stained Kaplan’s ground-floor space on West 21st Street and Griffa’s canvases, whose prices range from $17,000 to $80,000.

Most of the paintings need to be restored, a lengthy and costly process that averages $8,000 per work.

Now the gallery is preparing to reopen its doors tomorrow, with a new selection of Griffa’s paintings spanning four decades. The minimal, poetic canvases are pinned, unframed, directly to the walls with tiny, delicate nails.

“Of course I was going to open with Giorgio’s show,” said Casey Kaplan. “I owed him that. The guy had waited for 42 years to have a show in New York.”

Griffa, 76, was born in Turin, Italy, where he still lives and works. He hasn’t been represented by a gallery since the 1970s, Kaplan said. Yet he has continued to paint every day, creating a large body of work. Much of it has never been exhibited or sold.

His last New York exhibition was with Ileana Sonnabend; eight years later, in 1978, his work was included in the international pavilion of the Venice Biennale.

He uses acrylic watercolor on unprimed canvas, applying a series of vertical and horizontal lines, garlands, zigzags, blotches and tiny dots that allude to writing and evoke works by Cy Twombly, Agnes Martin and Daniel Buren.

Different Light

“The light is different in watercolor than in oil,” said Griffa in a telephone interview from his studio. “In my work, there’s memory of Italian painting. The canvas is nude on a wall. My idea of painting is that it’s never finished.”

When the painting is dry, Griffa folds the canvas as if it were a blanket or a garment, and stores it away on a shelf.

“There are pieces here that have never been unfolded,” said Kaplan, pointing at the vertical and horizontal creases that form as the work ages.

“His work had a tremendous impact in the 1970s, and he’s been carrying out his research into the relationship between painting, writing and mark-making ever since,” said Francesco Manacorda, artistic director of Tate Liverpool, in a phone interview. He went to school with Griffa’s son in Turin. “His investigation looks completely contemporary and fresh.”

‘Different Project’

A week after the flood, Kaplan flew to Turin to break the news to Griffa. While there, Kaplan also sold three paintings to the local museum, Castello di Rivoli, its first holdings by Griffa.

“Giorgio was generous and patient,” Kaplan said. “It was also part of the healing because we started planning a new show right away.”

The two selected a completely new group of paintings, spanning more than four decades through 2012.

“The first exhibition was nice but the second is even better,” Griffa said. “You see, the works need people. Without people, the work is asleep.”

“Fragments 1968-2012” is on view Jan. 10 through March 2 at 525 W. 21st St.; +1-212-645-7335; http://caseykaplangallery.com/.

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