Francesco Clemente

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Francesco Clemente
Black-and-white photograph of an elderly man with grey-stubbled chin
Portrait by Michael Avedon, 2011
Born (1952-03-23) 23 March 1952 (age 70)
Naples, Italy
EducationArchitecture (University of Rome)
Known forPainting, drawing
Cover of Francesco Clemente Pinxit, artist's book, 1981
With self-portrait, San Francisco, 1991

Francesco Clemente (born 23 March 1952) is an Italian contemporary artist. He has lived at various times in Italy, India and New York City. Some of his work is influenced by the traditional art and culture of India.[1] He has worked in various artistic media including drawing, fresco, graphics, mosaic, oils and sculpture.[2] He was among the principal figures in the Italian Transavanguardia movement of the 1980s, which was characterised by a rejection of Formalism and conceptual art and a return to figurative art and Symbolism.[3]

Early Life & Education[edit]

Born in 1952, Clemente was raised by a family with aristocratic roots in Naples, in Campania in southern Italy.[4] As a child, Clemente was artistically inclined: he grew up writing poetry, painting, and studying classical languages and literature in school.[3] In 1970, he briefly enrolled in the Sapienza.[3] Just before completing his degree, Clemente decided to leave the program, turning instead toward fine arts. Yet, the young artist remained in Rome, immersing himself in the artistic milieu of the city and the art history it offered.[5]


Rome and the 1970s
In Rome, Clemente surrounded himself with artists, writers, and poets, such as Alighiero Boetti and Luigi Ontani, who had come to the city at about the same time,[5] and also with the American Cy Twombly, who lived there.[1] Clemente’s generation came of age amidst the politicization of Italy. And, amid this background of political strife, conceptual artistic strategies and the dogmatism of Arte Povera prevailed.[6] The dominance of Arte Povera and Conceptualism sprung from revolutionary political change that characterized the end of the 1960s in Italy.[7] Yet, Clemente turned away from the tenets of Art Povera––those of which embraced nature, found objects, everyday materials----such as rags, wood, iron, and natural elements or industrial waste.[8] Despite his close involvement with these artists associated with the Arte povera movement, and his interest in others such as Pino Pascali and Michelangelo Pistoletto, Clemente preferred to work on paper. He made ink drawings of dreams and recollections of his childhood, and in 1971, in his first solo show, exhibited collages at the Galleria Giulia in Rome.[1]

Clemente & India in the 1970s
Clemente & Boetti: Surrounded by anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist activities in Rome, Clemente looked away from Western Europe. In 1971, Clemente traveled to India for the first time and later visited Afghanistan in 1974 with his friend and mentor Alighiero e Boetti.[9] Boetti was ten years older than Clemente, and the two shared the impulse to turn away from Western ideals of order, ambition and power, and instead towards virtues of the East. Clemente was intriguied in “the esoteric…and the seductive” aspects of Boetti’s work, as Clemente himself describes–––the very “border between order and chance, a space where anything can happen.”[9] Their analogous movements Eastward, Clemente says, were “symmetrical and complementary.”[9] For Boetti, the model was Afghanistan, where much of his work was crafted. However, Clemente looked towards the traditions, rituals, and imagery of India and explored an introspective, symbolic method of painting.

In 1973, Clemente decided to establish a studio in Chennai (then Madras)[2] and immediately became enamored with both the religious and folk traditions of India.[1] Clemente lived on and off for ten years in India, where he studied Sanskirt as well as Hindu and Buddhist literature, educating himself in the library of the Theosophical Society of Madras, which he first visited in the mid-1970s.[3] During this time, Clemente thoroughly read Western psychoanalytic thought: Clemente read books by Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari.[10]

In India, Clemente absorbed himself the culture, craftsmanship, and folk art traditions. He learned from and collaborated with Indian miniaturists, papermakers, and sign painters. Francesco Clemente Pinxit, a 1980–81 series of twenty-four gouaches on antique hand-made rag paper, is a collaboration between the artist and young miniaturists from Jaipur and Orissa, who painted the decorative elements.[1][3][11]: 88  The artist found inspiration in the rich colors and graphic sensibilities of Indian decorative art. Clemente was also interested in the androgyny, sexuality, and physicality with which the region’s gods and goddesses were portrayed in Indian artistic craft and culture.

Clemente came to prominence in the late 1970s and cemented an international reputation with his participation in the 39th edition of Venice Biennale in 1980.[12]

New York, the 1980’s, and the Downtown Scene
Clemente visited New York for the first time in 1981, bringing with him a series of gouaches on large sheets of paper joined with hand-woven cotton strips, produced in India and sometimes in a dialogue with local billboard painters. Water and Wine was painted in India in 1981: the work is dominated by an image of a beheaded cow with a rope around its middle that recalls a piñata.

In 1982, Clemente officially moved to New York City, where he began working out of a studio loft in downtown Manhattan with his wife, Alba.[13] He continued to study Sanskrit in New York in the early 1980s. His combination of radical innovation with an antique sensibility immediately caught the eye of peers and critics alike, with contemporary American curator Henry Geldzahler predicting at the time that Clemente would go on to become the first European artist to vitally influence the New York art scene since the influx of surrealists in the 1940s.[14]

In New York, Clemente continued to collaborate with painters such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and with writers like Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, John Wieners, Rene Ricard, Vincent Katz, and Salman Rushdie.[15] Morton Feldman and Clemente also worked together in Clemente's Broadway studio. In 1983, Clemente collaborated with Warhol and Basquiat on a group of works. He simultaneously developed various book projects, including three unique works created with Ginsberg.

Clemente also created murals for the now-demolished Palladium nightclub in New York (1985). He painted a monumental fresco of a hermaphrodite-like figure running as a fan floats atop. The work was titled Tutta la Vita (All through Life), much like a collection of short stories by Alberto Savinio.[16]

His early large canvases, painted in 1981–1982, were exhibited in 1983 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and then in Germany and Sweden.[1]

Clemente (right) with Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Bruno Bischofberger in 1984

With Raymond Foye, Clemente published The Hanuman Books.[17] A series of books published between 1986 and 1993 out of the Chelsea Hotel in New York, The Hanuman Books featured some of the biggest names in avant-garde culture and has since acquired a cult following. The name and format were influenced by Indian prayer books collected on a trip to India in 1985. Throughout the 1980s, Clemente continued to travel to India; he also sojourned in southern Italy and the American Southwest.

The Funerary Paintings: The Funerary Paintings is a series of paintings which Clemente began in the late 1980s and were worked on for a ten year period. The death of many of those in his circle during the AIDS crisis (including Beuys, Warhol, and many others) shifted the tone of his work.

In 1986 the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, mounted a travelling exhibition of his work.[3]

Clemente in the 1990s
In the 1990s, Clemente visited Jamaica and began working in a studio in New Mexico.[3] Cera punica is the wax fresco method Clemente employed during this time. In 1995, Clemente took a trip to Mount Abu in the Himalayas, Clemente painted a watercolor a day for fifty-one days in between taking walks and meditating.[3]

Ginsberg & Clemente: In June 1995, Allen Ginsberg and Clemente traveled together to visit the Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. Clemente created a series of pastels titled Ex Libris Chenonceau, and the series was first exhibited in the Château de Chenonceau. Ginsberg immediately began writing the “Pastel Sentences”: one-line poems that each corresponded to a pastel on display. Pastels had been an integral part of Clemente’s practice since the late ’70s and form a unique material link between the eclectic references he employs and his own potent vocabulary of images, figures, and symbols. Night (1994) is from this series of pastels. In the 1990s, Clemente took up watercolors, inspired by William Blake (whose work he referenced in 1983 and 1984 in his collaboration with Allen Ginsburg). For Clemente, watercolors allowed him to fuse the personal and spiritual, as well as the familiar figures and abstract forms.[18] This can be seen in Clemente's Book of the Sea series.

La Stanza della Madre (Mother’s Room) at the Guggenheim Bilbao: In 1996, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao commissioned Clemente to paint the 17 large-scale paintings. The work, La Stanza della Madre (Mother’s Room), evoke the large-scale decorative murals of Medieval and Renaissance palaces. [19] In these works, references to elements found in nature interlink with elements from Indian culture, religious history, and astrology.[20] Clemente's commission for the Guggenheim coincided with a revival of figuration in painting. Clemente rapidly became seen as one of the leaders of the “return to figuration,” dubbed the Transavanguardia in Italy (by art critic Achille Bonito Oliva) and Neo-Expressionism in the United States. This acclaim coincided with Clemente’s move to a New York loft with his growing family.

Clemente’s Dormiveglia series: 1998 was quite a prolific year for Clemente as well. In 1998 his work was used in the film Great Expectations, directed by Alfonso Cuarón.[3] Clemente’s Dormiveglia series was also created in 1998 in New York, and takes its title from the Italian expression connoting the state between sleep and awakening and captures the state in which reality intrudes into the realm of dreams. The series was exhibited in 2016 at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, Florida.[21]

21st Century
Clemente created a mural and lampshades for New York’s Hudson hotel, which opened in 2000.[3]

In 2002, Clemente was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[3]

In 2008, Clemente further explored his interest in collaborating with performing arts projects when he exhibited portraits of eight stars in the concurrent season at the Metropolitan Opera in an exhibition entitled The Sopranos at the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery Met in New York.[22]

Recent Works
Encampment is a group of immersive sculptural works in a multi-part, thirty-thousand square foot installation exhibited at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Massachusetts in 2015.[23] The work was created in collaboration with local wood-block printers and artisans in Rajasthan. It was inspired by the many camouflage tents Clemente saw along the border of India and Pakistan during his time there.[23] The exhibition included six painted canvas tents, which, as Clemente noted, “were generated by reflection on my own life, and my own needs; it was as if I didn’t have a home, but wanted one.”[23] Created from 2012 through 2014, the structures create a village of tents, with painted human figurines and motifs within. The patterns are reminiscent of the Indian Army in Rajasthan.[23]

In his recent series, Gold on Gold, 2016, and Shadow, 2017, Clemente integrated Indian miniature paintings, a continuation of the collaborative practice he began long ago the 1980s with his series Francesco Clemente Pinxit.[24]

Selected Exhibitions & Bienniales[edit]

Clemente participated in the Biennale di Venezia in 1988, 1993, 1995 and 1997; in documenta in Kassel, Germany, in 1992 and 1997; and in the Whitney Biennial, also in 1997.[2] Solo shows were held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1990;[25] at the Sezon Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo in 1994; at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna of Bologna in 1999; at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2000; at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli in Naples in 2002–2003; at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin in 2004; at Palazzo Sant'Elia in Palermo, in Sicily, in 2013; at both the Coro della Maddalena in Alba and Santa Maria della Scala in Siena in 2016; and at the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2017.[2][3]

Clemente’s work has been presented at numerous international institutions, including Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Royal Academy of Arts, London; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; Sezon Museum of Art, Tokyo; Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli; and Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

  • 2020, Francesco Clemente, 7-23-2020,vVito Schnabel, St. Moritz
  • 2020, Francesco Clemente, Watercolors, Lévy Gorvy, London
  • 2018-2019, FRANCESCO CLEMENTE: WORKS 1978-2018, The Brant Foundation NY
  • 2016, FRANCESCO CLEMENTE: ENCAMPMENT, MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts
  • 2014-2015, FRANCESCO CLEMENTE: INSPIRED BY INDIA, The Rubin Museum of Art, New York
  • 2004, Francesco Clemente: New Works, Irish Museum of Modern Art
  • 1999-2000, Clemente, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York NY
  • 1990, FRANCESCO CLEMENTE: THREE WORLDS, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Personal Life[edit]

Clemente lives in Greenwich Village.[26]

Paper tent at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kochi, in Kerala, India, 2014

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f [s.n.] (2012). Clemente, Francesco. Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Accessed April 2017. (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d Clemènte, Francesco (in Italian). Enciclopedie on line. Rome: Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana. Accessed March 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Francesco Clemente. Guggenheim. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Accessed March 2017.
  4. ^ "Francesco Clemente Paintings, Bio, Ideas". The Art Story.
  5. ^ a b Alex Bacon (3 May 2013). Francesco Clemente in Conversation with Alex Bacon. Brooklyn Rail.
  6. ^ "Francesco Clemente - Projects - Vito Schnabel".
  7. ^ "Arte Povera - What Was the Arte Povera Movement?". 7 December 2021.
  8. ^ "Arte Povera Art Movement – History, Artists and Artwork – Artlex".
  9. ^ a b c Francesco Clemente (2012). TateShots: Francesco Clemente on Alighiero Boetti. London: Tate. Accessed April 2017.
  10. ^ McKENZIE, Dr JANET. "Francesco Clemente: Mandala for Crusoe".
  11. ^ Stella Kramrisch (1990). The Twenty-Four Indian Miniatures; in: Ann Percy, Raymond Foye (1990). Francesco Clemente: Three Worlds (exhibition catalogue). Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art. Pages 88–109. ISBN 9780847812974..
  12. ^ "Guggenheim Museum - Clemente".
  13. ^ Kay Larson (19 November 1990). On The Line. New York. ISSN 0028-7369.
  14. ^ "Clemente in the Eighties: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten". 8 February 2021.
  15. ^ "Francesco Clemente - Clouds - Exhibitions - Vito Schnabel".
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Francesco Clemente - Artists - Vito Schnabel".
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b c d "Francesco Clemente: Encampment | MASS MoCA". 19 March 2015.
  24. ^ "Francesco Clemente: Watercolors - Lévy Gorvy".
  25. ^ Francesco Clemente: Three Worlds. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art. Archived 30 March 2011.
  26. ^ Kurutz, Steven. "What Do Anna Wintour and Bob Dylan Have in Common? This Secret Garden", The New York Times, 28 September 2016. Accessed 3 November 2016. "The house is part of the Macdougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District, a landmarked community of 21 row homes, with 11 lining Macdougal Street and 10 running parallel on Sullivan Street."

Further reading[edit]

  • Seidel, Max. Francesco Clemente: The Tarots. Hirmer Publishers. 2012. ISBN 9783777445212
  • Clemente, Francesco; Hollein, Max and Walcott, Derek. Francesco Clemente: Palimpsest. Moderne Kunst Nürnberg. 2012. ISBN 9783869842257
  • Danto, C. Artur. Francesco Clemente: The Sopranos. Charta. 2008. ISBN 9788881586981
  • Clemente, Francesco; Walcott, Derek. Francesco Clemente: Three Rainbows. Charta. 2009. ISBN 9788881587452
  • Clemente, Francesco; Danto, Arthur. Francesco Clemente: A Private Geography. Charta. 2011. ISBN 9788881587957
  • Jain, Jyotindra. Clemente: Made in India. Charta. 2011. ISBN 9788881588091
  • Ammann, Jean- Christophe; Clemente, Francesco. Francesco Clemente: Works 1971–1979. Charta. 2007. ISBN 9788881586509
  • Matthews, Harry. Singular Pleasures. Dalkey Archive Press. 1999. ISBN 9781564782335
  • Clemente, Francesco. Francesco Clemente. Charta. 2000. ISBN 9788881582822
  • Babini, Luca. Francesco Clemente: Art and Life. Aperture Foundation. 1999. ISBN 9780893818722
  • Rushdie, Salman. Francesco Clemente: Self Portraits. Gagosian Gallery. 2005. ISBN 9781932598247
  • Clemente, Francesco. Polaroids, Celebrities and Self-Portraits. Jablonka Galerie. 2001. ISBN 9788391307526
  • Fahey, David; Clemente, Francesco. Sante D'Orazio: A Private View. Prestel Publishing. 2006. ISBN 9783829602471
  • Clemente, Francesco. India. Twelvetrees Press. 1989. ISBN 9780942642308
  • Rimanelli, David. Francesco Clemente Paintings 2000–2003. Gagosian Gallery. 2003. ISBN 9781880154946
  • Clemente, Francesco. Francesco Clemte: Fifty One Days at Mount Abu. D'Offay, Anthony Gallery. 1999. ISBN 9780947564773
  • Fischl, Eric; Ammann, Jean-Christophe; Young, Geoffrey; Clemente, Francesco. Eric Fischl: It's Where I look...It's How I See... Their World, My World, The World. Mary Boone Gallery/ Jablonka Gallery. 2009. ISBN 9783931354329
  • Auping, Michael. Francesco Clemente. Abrams, Harry N., Inc. 1985. ISBN 9780810907720
  • Colombo, Paulo. Francesco Clemente. Electa. 2006. ISBN 9788837043469
  • Avedon, Elizabeth. Francesco Clemente. Knopf Publishing Group. 1987. ISBN 9780394747873
  • Katz, Vincent. Life Is Paradise: The Portraits of Francesco Clemente. Powerhouse Books. 1999. ISBN 9781576870532
  • McLure, Michael. Francesco Clemente Testa Coda. Rizzoli. 1992. ISBN 9780847814695
  • Percy, Ann. Francesco Clemente: Three Worlds. Rizzoli. 1990. ISBN 9780847812974
  • Percy, Ann. Francesco Clemente: Three Worlosi. Philadelphia Museum of Art. 1998. ISBN 9780876330845
  • Warner, Marina. Francesco Clemente: The Book of the Sea. Gagosian Gallery. 2002. ISBN 9781880154779
  • Shapiro, David. Francesco Clemente. Parkett Verlag AG. 1986. ISBN 9783907509593
  • Valli, Giambattista. Giambattista Valli. Rizzoli. 16 October 2012. ISBN 9780847835713
  • Denninson, Lisa. Clemente: A Retrospective. Abrams, Harry N., Inc. 1999. ISBN 9780810969179
  • Crone, Rainer. Francesco Clemente: Pastelle 1972–1983 Prestel Verlag GmbH & Co KG. 1984.ISBN 9783791306421
  • Eccher, Danilo. Francesco Clemente. Allemandi, Umberto & Company. 1999. ISBN 9788842209171
  • Walcott, Derek. A Conversion, exhibition catalogue. Deitch Projects, New York, Edizioni Charta, Milano 2009.
  • Rushdie, Salman. Being Francesco Clemente, in: Francesco Clemente: Self Portraits, exhibition catalogue. New York: Gagosian Gallery, 2006. Pages 5–10.
  • Kort, Pamela. Francesco Clemente in Conversation with Pamela Kort, New York, 26 March 2011; in: Francesco Clemente, Palimpsest, exhibition catalogue. Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, 2011.