Armando’s Masterpieces

More than one hundred works from the Testa De Angelis Collection at Ca' Pesaro
by Fabio Marzari

Gemma De Angelis Testa donated to the City of Venice a large part of the vast, important art collection belonging to her and her husband Armando Testa, a key figure in the international world of advertisement.

Thanks to such a meaningful bequest – the largest since the Lisi Usigli bequest of 1961 – the Modern Art Gallery at Ca’ Pesaro gained 105 pieces of contemporary art: prints, sculptures, serigraphs, paintings, tapestry, worth an estimated €20m. The collection includes masterpieces by Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, as well as arte povera works by Mario Merz, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Gilberto Zorio. This journey into late-1900s art articulates around iconic art by Anselm Kiefer, Gino De Dominicis, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Mario Schifano, Tony Cragg, Ettore Spalletti. The other half of avant-garde is represented with art by Marina Abramovic, Vanessa Beecroft, Candida Hofer, Mariko Mori, Shirin Neshat, among others.

Armando Testa has been a precursor of Italian minimalism in communication and advertising. His popular, effective creations employed concise graphics, such his famous 1960 ad for vermouth Punt e mes – Piedmontese for a point (of sweetness) and a half (of bitter): a sphere, plus half of a sphere. In 2015, the ad was adapted into sculpture as a tribute to Testa and installed in his hometown of Turin. Testa had a job that was many: drawer, painter, cartoonist, art director, copywriter, and animator. Born in Turin on March 23, 1917, he died on March 20, 1992. His most famous ads are those he created for the Antonetto digestive, Peroni beer, Philco TV-sets, Borsalino hats, Facis clothing, Sasso olive oil, the Punt e Mes, Pirelli tyres, Simmenthal canned meat, food producers Saiwa, Citterio, and Galbani, Sanbitter soft drinks, Esso petroleum, and Martini&Rossi spirits.

He would say of himself, at the beginning of his career, “I was born poor, but modern”. He had contagious vitality, and champed at the bit of a cultural world that had little consideration for the profession of ‘creative’ and advertiser. “Aged fourteen, I took a job in printing to learn typesetting. While the working environment was somewhat stuffy and traditionalist, I remember being curious to find out what the latest achievements were, and I read all about it. Curiosity is the first step towards creativity. This passion for the latest trends in graphic art and painting, and my visceral love for abstract art contributed to shaping my culture – not rationally, from the ground up, but in such a way that I grew into a situation of absolute freedom from official culture.”

Today, Armando Testa’s art is part of important museum collections, for example the MoMA in New York, the Staedelijk in Amsterdam, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Parma University Study Centre and Communications Archive, and several other international institutions.