Vincenzo Agnetti was an Italian artist, essayist, theorist and writer, one of the most significant and influential conceptualists of the twentieth century.
A student of poetry and art – he graduated from the Brera Academy of Fine Arts and then enrolled at the Piccolo Teatro school in Milan – the biographic information of his early life remain opaque, “forgotten by heart” as in the artist’s words. His first artistic experience took place in informel painting and poetry, but in the early 1950s, he ceased to paint. At the end of the 1950s and in the early 1960s Agnetti frequented a small group of friends, amongst whom Manzoni and Castellani, and contributed criticism to the avant-garde joucrnal Azimuth, which was dedicated to conceptual and formal developments of advanced artistic production.
In 1962, he moved with his family to Argentina, where he stayed until 1967, working in the field of electronic automation. These years were characterised by a refusal to paint and prolific writing. After travelling to Arabia, Scandinavia and New York, he came back to Milan and fully dedicated himself to art. Language was the main focus of his research. His whole work engaged art with philosophy and knowledge production: rather than illustrating theories and idea, Agnetti sought to fully integrate idea and form.
In 1967 he held his first solo show at the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara; the following year he exhibited his Macchina drogata (Drugged Machine) at the Galleria Visualità: a Divisumma 14 Olivetti calculator whose 110 numbers were replaced by letters generating a nonsensical poetry that appraoaches abstraction.
His reflection on language continued with the Feltri (Felts), “landscapes” or “portraits” with stenciled letters burnt or painted on a felt surface, and the Assiomi (Axioms), square bakelite panels featuring cryptic, paradoxical observations, postulates, and formulas.
In 1975 he went back to New York, and held his first US exhibition at Robert Feldman’s gallery. In the same year, he displayed his works at the Sonnabend gallery in Paris. The sculpture exhibition Surplace at the Toselli gallery in Milan and the Feldman in New York dates from 1981.
He suddenly died on the 2nd of September 1981. In 1982 the MART of Rovereto dedicated him the exhibition Vincenzo Agnetti Retrospettiva (1967 – 1980).