Salvo. A performance lecture I’ve never written

Salvo, Archivio Salvo, performance lecture, The Lecture Agency

Salvo, Benedizione di Lucerna, 1970/1975, photograph, courtesy of FER Collection, Ulm


The period that anticipates Salvo’s leap to painting has often been described with a narcissistic flavor, that of the artist-author in the front row. The absence of his face in his subsequent work does not mean in any way a lack of presence, the protagonism is there and has always been a baggage of historical and imaginary references constantly linked to shapes, colors, and landscapes. However, The Lecture Agency would not like to limit its reflection to this, but on the contrary try to rethink this constant declaration of the artist’s role that can be read in Salvo’s work.
The process of substitution and impersonation that we see in his early works is not self-celebrating, it is not a medal that he decided to attribute to himself, but a positioning that for a long time cost him the definition of outsider. Today Salvo’s work has acquired a new weight, a weight that must be valued not only by its new price on the market, but by the teachings he has given us, unconsciously or not. His figure, his operability and his gestures, his way of writing and saying things are today an open lesson we can and must count on.

In a 1976 issue of Data, Werner Lippert, writing about Salvo, said: “the relationship with one’s own history is necessarily a matter of self-consciousness and self-understanding”. In 12 Autoritratti, literally and metaphorically, Salvo puts his face to the test, a face that he himself cuts out and glues on figures engaged in common work, the real workers who have carried on stories, economies and nations. At the same time he does not fail to sneak into the images of history close to him: the Vietnam War rather than the American Black Panthers. Risk and awareness are the first lessons he wants to convey.


Salvo, Archivio Salvo, performance lecture, The Lecture Agency

Salvo, Le tre foglie verdi, 1969, manuscript, courtesy of Archivio Salvo, Turin


Between 1969 and 1972, the investigation of Salvo’s writing not only relies on tombstones, but he also exposes himself on paper. Once he retrieved notebook and pen, the artist engaged in hours and hours of transcription of texts, novels and writings that were fundamental to him. Salvo becomes the protagonist, thanks to the substitution of his name with that of the main characters, and the author of a new and old manuscript. Feelings do not arise so much from the contents but from the writing process, from the weariness of the hand, from the almost school-like way of learning. The statuariness of the re-born masters and writers moves in parallel with a downsizing of the contemporary artist who, moved by conceptualizing intentions, tries to establish good practices.

In 1970, Salvo was invited together with Alighiero Boetti to take part in Aktionraum, a project founded in Munich the previous year by Alfred Gulden (writer and director), Eva Madelung (patron) and Peter Nemetschek (artist and photographer). With the intention of looking beyond the paradigms of the market and institutions, the space dedicated to young artists proposed a critique of society and an active commitment. On this occasion, Salvo proposed a blessing of the city, a solemn act of greeting and wish, the invocation of protection. The blessing in Munich did not take place because of some problems along the way. Nevertheless, blessings were offered in other cities such as Lucerne. With regard to Aktionsraum, the intention here is to share a letter that Salvo later wrote to Eva Madelung.


Salvo, Archivio Salvo, performance lecture, The Lecture Agency

Salvo, Aktionraum, 1970, leaflet



Dear Eva Madelung

I’m really sorry I couldn’t come to bless Monaco. However, I wanted to talk to you about this fact: as agreed you would have paid for the trip and the expenses of the stay. I didn’t even arrive in Munich, however I made a large part of the trip which involved many expenses that I wanted to submit to you. 

Turin – Rufstein – Turin, accompanied by an Austrian policeman to the Brenner Pass 100 DM

The fine paid at the border 200 DM

Interpreter’s expenses DM 40

Marijuana for the value of 40 DM

all for a total of 380 DM

I would be grateful if you could return this money to me. I would also remind you that you have one of your questionnaires with a circle drawn by me on it, which I consider a work and to which I had given the title “Io come Giotto”. I don’t know what else to add; with the hope that, although it is difficult for me to come to Germany, our relations will continue.

I wish you all the best, 



This letter emptied of institutional references is actually a manifesto of a performance lecture that appropriates an entire artistic practice, its professionalization (the request for compensation may seem trivial but it is an example), and a personal life. Salvo’s work is an act of micropolitics, an informal but capillary, expanded politics. He was ungovernable: he moved away from Arte Povera to a medium, painting, which had lost all meaning; he wrote Della Pittura, a philosophical treatise that doesn’t mince words; he entrusted his work to countless different galleries, almost as if to disrupt the static model of “official” representation that touched other artists. He was, for all intents and purposes, a free artist. Even the arduous task left to his archive is an example of this.


Salvo, Archivio Salvo, performance lecture, The Lecture Agency

Salvo, 12 Autoritratti, 1969, photographs, courtesy of Private Collection, Berlin


Salvo / Norma Mangione Gallery / Archivio Salvo

The Lecture Agency is a research platform, based on forms of radical pedagogy, which includes on its website a library of manifestos and other fundamental texts aimed at deepening the theme of lectures.

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