Renata Boero (Genoa 1936 - )


Born in Genoa in December 1936, Renata Boero spent her childhood in Turin, then she moved to Switzerland
where she studied the humanities taught from a Jungian perspective. When she returned to Genoa, she met
Emilio Scanavino: this was an important encounter that encouraged her to enrol at the Liceo Artistico N.
Barabino where, in 1952, the artist taught drawing and representation of the human figure. Her training with
Scanavino made a notable contribution to the development of her artistic career.
Regarding how and to what extent Scanavino influenced her work, Boero recalls his ability to give form to an
idea on paper as soon as it came into being. It was a sort of strange tension giving a sense of rapidity to the
gesture. It was the ‘delving into the images’ that made her feel close to the world of Scanavino, and thanks to
this she understood the importance of the result and the way in which this was perceived.
After completing her studies, she started an intense period of experimentation in which her work mainly
focused on the relationship between ‘sign’ and colour, and their possibility of revealing a link with nature and,
at the same time, their capacity to represent it; at first she used oil paints, which she then decided to abandon
for smooth plastic. Boero continued to work ‘on nature’ and ‘not again with nature’, until she had an experience
that was decisive for the development of her artistic language.
From 1960 to 1964 she worked as an assistant to Caterina Marcenaro, director of the Museo Palazzo Rosso
in Genoa. In this period she undertook conservation work for the Soprintendenza per i Beni Artistici e Storici
(Artistic and Historical Heritage Office) of Genoa, which allowed her to ‘experience the work in a different,
more fascinating way’ because there was a direct relationship with the painting. Thus she was able to analyse
the materials used and the way they changed over time, and to study the canvases that, while the
conservation work was being carried out, were without stretchers and frames. This gave her the idea that, in
order to engage in a dialogue with the space, the canvas had to be freed from its stretcher, an element that
also impeded the continuity of the work over time. As Boero stated, ‘every work is a fragment of an infinite
one’, an idea that was supported by the poet and critic Jacques Lepage, who, following their acquaintance at
the end of the 1960s, brought her into the cultural debate then underway relating to the concept of the ‘free
It was during the conservation of an old canvas with ‘herb juices’ that she started to carry out research —
which she found quite fascinating — into the use of natural substances and, after reading Pliny the Elder’s
Naturalis Historia, the symbolic aspects of colours.
After completing her stint at Palazzo Rosso, Boero taught at the Liceo Artistico Nicolo  Barabino until the
1980s, when the artist Luigi Veronesi asked her to replace him at the NABA (Nuova Academia di Belli Arti) in
Milan, where he taught colour science. In 1986 she was offered a post as a teacher of painting at the Brera
Academy, so she decided to move to Milan permanently, where she set up her studio in Via Borsieri.
Now that she had abandoned the idea of producing instinctive works seeking to depict the natural world, she
began to study the use of roots and herbs that could alchemically and tautologically represent it through the
rhythms and transformations of the materials used, which contain the idea of evolution in the course of time:
this was the origin of the Cromogrammi (Chromograms). Boero thus started to use ‘chromatic material’
composed of elements deriving from plants and other natural sources, such as turmeric, cochineal and henna.
She studied their chemical transformation and the way they changed over time, limiting her intervention to the
length of time the colours were immersed in water and the creasing of the canvas. The sense of rhythm
characterizing the Cromogrammi is similar to that found in a number of examples from the art of the past: ‘I
was interested in Antelami, Phidias and the Ravenna mosaics. I later realized that what fascinated me in these
works was the concept of rhythm, which I then transferred to the Cromogrammi.’ 5 The latter were displayed
for the first time at the Galleria Martano in Turin in 1970.
One can get an idea of the procedure with which these works were created by a sequence from a video made
for the exhibition ‘Ipotesi 80’, held in Bari in 1977 and curated by Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco, in which colours,
obtained by boiling plant substances, were poured onto the creased canvas in a process of absorption that
was continuously coming into being.
Generally speaking, the canvases used were large. In 1976 she painted one that was twenty metres in length
for her installation at the Cantieri Navali Baglietto in Varazze, which she located on the beach close to the sea,
as if it were intended to conduct a dialogue with the natural elements composing it.
In 1974, while she continued to work on the Cromogrammi, she started the series of the Specchi (Mirrors),
works in which she discovered ‘the energy of the gesture’ and, at the same time, felt the need to create a
‘freeze-frame’. One of the Specchi was exhibited for the first time in 1978 at the International Cultureel
Centrum in Antwerp and it was with this series, which she continued to produce for about ten years, that she
was invited to the 1982 Venice Biennale, where she displayed Specchio Z, executed in the same year. This
work consisted of three canvases painted with plant colours measuring 350 x 250 cm each, in which the critic
Luciano Caramel identified a ‘visionary use of materials’.
In the course of time, the predominant store of energy, which was to be found in the Blu di legno, gradually
began to decrease, withdrawing into clearly defined ‘structured’ spaces in large forms dominating the space of
the canvas: this gave rise to the series entitled Architetture (Architectures) and Enigmi (Enigmas). It was these
that, together with the previous works, were displayed in 1988 at the Musei Civici in Monza on the occasion of
Boero’s solo exhibition curated by the museum’s then director, Paolo Biscottini. This was also the case four
years later, in 1992, in an exhibition at the Casa del Mantegna in Mantua, where each room was devoted to a
stage in her artistic development: Stanza dei Cromogrammi, 1970–75, Stanza dei Blu di legno, 1987–91,
Stanza degli enigmi, 1988–91, Stanza delle architetture, 1989–91, Stanza degli specchi, 1978–81 and, lastly,
Stanza dei disegni, 1990.
Also in 1992 the artist executed I presenti di Gibellina (Those Present in Gibellina), a tapestry made with
canvas and foam rubber, and sewn with the aid of the women of Gibellina, which represents the plan of the
Sicilian town after its reconstruction following the devastating earthquake of 1968. The next year the work was
displayed in the Italian pavilion of the 45th Venice Biennale in the ‘Transiti’ section curated by Achille Bonito
In 1995 Boero went to Africa: this was an important journey that helped to enrich her artistic language, as in
the execution of the Crani (Skulls), the dark faces characterizing the people that, at night, she recounts, blend
into the dark, so that it is difficult to see them except for the glimmer of their large eyes. The outcome of this
experience was the publication in 1999 of the book Africa, with illustrations by the artist, an introduction by
Paolo Fossati and poems by Charles Carre re; published by Editrice Eidos, Mirano and Venice, it was
presented at the Turin Book Fair in the same year.
In 1999 she took part in the 13th Rome Quadriennale, where in addition to the 1959–60 edition, mentioned
previously, she had also participated in the eleventh edition of 1986.
In 2005 she was invited by the University of San Diego in California to give a course on her artistic experience;
here she devoted herself to watercolour, a technique with which she executed the Acquerelli di San Diego
(San Diego Water- colours) series, which she presented at the exhibition entitled ‘Borderline’.
In 2007 her works were exhibited in Slovenia at the Mestna Galerija in Nova Gorica and the Umetnostna
Galerija in Maribor, in an exhibition entitled ‘Cromogrammi’ curated by Luca Beatrice.
The following year, Boero participated in the exhibition entitled The Bearable Lightness of Being — The
Metaphor of the Space, curated by Davide Di Maggio and Lóránd Hegyi, one of the fringe events of the 11th
International Biennale of Architecture in Venice, followed by a solo exhibition at the National Museum of
History and Culture of Belarus, in Minsk.
The installation comprised a number of videos, the Kromogrammi and the letter K, a symbol that now
represented her; with this she made a sculpture for Villa Mondolfo in Como. In the same year she made two
videos: Kour Koum and Prima dell’applauso (Before the Applause), the latter based on Mario Canepa’s book,
Prima dell’applauso. Renata Boero, quasi un ritratto, Pesce Editore, Ovada, 2007.
In 2009 Boero participated in the exhibition entitled Venezia Salva. Omaggio a Simone Weil, a fringe event of
the 53rd Venice Biennale organized to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the French philosopher. The
artists participating in the exhibition were asked to prepare an original artist’s book, and Boero created one
devoted to her latest works, entitled Germinazioni (Germinations). Variations on the early Cromogrammi, they
demonstrate that the statement made by her friend, the art historian Paolo Fossati — who has written about
her work on a number of occasions — is still relevant: “Those who have written that the Cromogrammi —
fundamental from the out- set — are still crucial for the interpretation of the whole of Boero’s work are certainly
right; they are, in fact, a subtle explanation for the activity that she carried out over the following twenty years.”
In 2010 and 2011 a long series of exhibitions in Argentina occupied the artist: they took place in the Hall
Central of the Pabellón Argentina, located in the Ciudad Universitaria of the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba;
the Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Arias Rengel in Salta; the Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Timoteo
Navarro in San Miguel de Tucumán; and the Museo de Bellas Artes in Rio Cuarto (province of Córdoba).

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