Sculptor Nivola: the Sardinian artist who conquered New York
The sculptor Nivola is one of the most authentic Sardinian artists of the twentieth century and one of the most appreciated overseas.
Sardinia is a land of light and wind, of bold colours and intoxicating scents, of majestic nuraghi and elegant Liberty buildings, of skilled artisans and extraordinary artists like the sculptor Nivola, that with his works has obtained success and awards all over the world.
Costantino Nivola Mele, also known as Antine Nivola in Sardinia and Tino Nivola in the United States, was born in Orani on the 6th of July 1911, as the fifth of ten children of a builder from whom he learned the rudiments of the craft.
In 1926 he left Orani and began working as an apprentice for the painter Mario Delitala, considered one of the greatest Italian engravers of the twentieth century, engaged in the decoration of the auditorium of the University of Sassari.
A few years later, and more precisely in 1930, he exhibited at the First Trade Union Exhibition in Sassari the watercolour La collina and two other works, while the following year he made the decorations in the hall and the billboard for the Veglione della Stampa, at the Teatro Verdi in Sassari. Also, he exhibited some woodcuts at the Second Trade Union of Cagliari and worked on a series of decorative works for the villa of Cala Gonone (Dorgali) entrepreneur Gianni Ticca, an influential member of Sardinian fascism.
That same year, thanks to a scholarship, the future sculptor Nivola began attending the Istituto Superiore di Industrie Artistiche (ISIA) in Monza, where he graduated as an advertising graphic designer five years later. Here he met Salvatore Fancello and Giovanni Pintori, two other Sardinian students who will later be part of the group of artists who will contribute to the art of the twentieth century.
In 1932 at the III Trade Union of Sassari, Nivola exhibited Publio Horace kills his sister, Paradise Earth plus three pencil drawings. Alongside organizing his first solo exhibition at the Perella gallery in Sassari, the following year, he painted the frieze Giochi da Spiaggia in the villa of Count Ticca and the IV Trade Union of Cagliari he showed woodcuts, drawings and monotypes.
A year later, he accepted the invitation of Giuseppe Pagano, one of his teachers during his years at ISIA, and collaborated with his friend Pintori at the Italian Air Force Exhibition in Milan before being suspended for six months by the ISIA after refusing to do the Roman salute. To avoid his expulsion, the intervention of Count Ticca allowed Nivola to return to school, where he meets the young German-Jewish Ruth Guggenheim, who he will marry in 1938.
In 1936, after graduating and staying in Paris with his cousin Giovanna Bertocchi, the young Costantino participated in the VI Milan Triennale with some decorative interventions, including a series of pictorial panels for the Rural Architecture Exhibition, and was employed as a graphic designer at the Olivetti Development and Advertising Office in Milan, directed by Renato Zveteremich, where he initially collaborated in the drafting of the Regional Plan of the Aosta Valley. He became artistic director of the graphic section of the Olivetti Advertising Office the following year and collaborated in the preparation of the Italian Pavilion at the International Exhibition in Paris.
Sculptor Nivola: success and works from New York to Cagliari
After marrying Ruth Guggenheim, with whom he went to Oriani for their honeymoon, due to fascist racial laws in 1938, Nivola decided to leave Italy with Ruth for Basel and then moved to Paris where he went to the Italian anti-fascist exiles and collaborated in the newspaper of the movement Justice and Freedom, the following year he left for the United States.
In New York he became art director of the magazine Interiors, he met the most important masters of European architecture and design, such as Gropius, Albers, Breuer, Moholy Nagy, attended the circle of anarchists that revolve around the newspapers L’adunata dei Refrattari e Il Martello (The gathering of the Refractories and The Hammer) and the New York art scene, establishing relations with De Kooning, Kline, Léger, Pollock, Esteban Vicente, Hedda Sterne.
In 1941, he joined the Mazzini Society, an anti-fascist association that among its members included Lionello Venturi, Carlo Sforza, Franco Modigliani, Toscanini, Salvemini, Borghese, and knows Josep Lluis Sert and Paul Lester Wiener and attends the environments of the artists émigrés of which were part Frederick Kiesler, Alexander Calder. He also got in touch with the young architect Peter Blake and became the art director of the women’s magazine You.
In April 1943, Nivola exhibited at the Wakefield Gallery in New York and a year later worked as a graphic designer for the magazine The New Pencil Points (later Progressive Architecture). That same year, his son Pietro was born, father of actor Alessandro Nivola, and in collaboration with architect Bernard Rudofsky he executed the series of plaster sculptures Ideal nudes for the exhibition Are clothes modern? Moma in New York.
In 1946 he met and became friends with Le Corbusier, with whom he shared the studio for four years, and the following year his daughter Claire was born. The end of the forties and the beginning of the following decade for Nivola were a succession of opportunities and successes: he invented the technique of sand casting, debuted as a sculptor in a solo exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York, turned the garden of his house in Springs into an environmental work of art, returned to Sardinia as an envoy of Fortune and published on Interiors the project Pergola village- Vined Orani.
He created a plaster panel for the Olivetti showroom in New York with the sand casting technique, he held a solo show at the Peridot Gallery in New York, he made the Four Chaplains War Memorial in Falls Church, Virginia, then became director of the Design Workshop at Harvard University, performed the prominent Gruppo di inquilini for the lobby of Raymond Loewy’s house on Fifth Avenue in New York and was listed on the first list of artists for UNESCO decoration in Paris next to Moore, Gabo, Pevsner, Léger, Mirò, Arp, Calder Picasso, Noguchi, Burle-Marx.
These are just some of the important goals that characterize a career full of opportunities and awards in the subsequent sixties, seventies and eighties. Nivola, in Orani carried out the graffito for the Church of Sa Itria and a series of sculptures that were exhibited in the streets of the village. He held a solo at the Gallery of the Million in Milan, makes the sculptures for the Morse and Stiles colleges of Yale University and teaches at Columbia University, Harvard, Berkeley, and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague.
He is among the members of the team of international experts studying the displacement of the temple of Abu Simbel, in Egypt, following the construction of the dam of Aswan. He made the sculpture representing Italy at the Olympics in Mexico City and exhibited drawings, sculptures and ceramics made with the ceramist Luigi Nioi at the Duchamp Art Gallery in Cagliari.
Costantino Nivola died on Long Island on the 6th of May and there is now the homonymous museum in Orani that preserves the most distinguished collection of his works. However, you can also admire some of his extraordinary sculptures at the palace of the Regional Council of Sardinia in the central Via Roma in Cagliari.
The eight sculptures were made on the occasion of the project to beautify the new building designed by architect Mario Fiorentino and inaugurated in 1988. The sculptor Nivola, in charge of the decoration, defined the identity of the palace by designing a grey granite flooring, renamed the “salt lake”, which embellishes the outdoor space and visually integrates the works in the architectural context. The marble carved figures represent two recurring motifs in the work of the great Sardinian artist, namely the “Builder” and the “Mother”. These are two archetypal images that represent masculine and feminine and are present in the Sardinian iconography since the Neolithic era.
Do you want to admire up close the beautiful works of the sculptor Nivola and have a holiday full of charm and elegance? Book your stay at Palazzo Doglio in Cagliari.