Visionary art dealer Carla Pellegrini (1931–2019)

Visionary art dealer Carla Pellegrini (1931–2019)
Leading lights

Carla Pellegrini, the director of the Italian gallery Galleria Milano in Milan since 1965, recently passed away at the age of 87. The visionary avant-garde dealer offered such artists as Ed Ruscha, Georg Baselitz, and Sigmar Polke their first major shows in Italy.

During her lengthy career, Pellegrini staged some three hundred exhibitions at the gallery, an eclectic program mixing international artists and movements, historical and avant-garde. She frequently highlighted modern and contemporary artists that were little known to the Italian public at the time. Throughout the years, her rich, varied, often daring program reflected her ability to take risks, her open-mindedness and her  interest in and commitment to to a wide range of directions mediums, styles, and groups, from avant-garde photography to popular culture, from anthropological research to experimental cinema.

The Galleria Milano was established in Milan in 1928 by the art critic and publisher Enrico Somarè; it closed at the opening of World War II, then reopened in 1964 thanks to Somaré’s sons, Guido and Sandro, both painters. Pellegrini became head of the gallery the following year. She soon became breaking barriers; as in her 1966 exhibition “London Under Forty,” a group show that introduced Italy to British Pop art with works by Jones, Riley, Tilson and others. In 1969, she featured Allen Jones’ work in a solo show in 1969, the same year organizing an exhibit on radical Body Art.

In 1974, a survey show of young German artists brought together works by Baselitz, Polke, Palermo, Penck, Beuys and Darbhove, some never before seen in Italy. She also orchestrated a group show of California West Coast artists (Graham, Al Bengston, Price, Moses, Ruscha, Goode) as well as a solo exhibition of Ed Ruscha, then relatively unknown. Her exhibitions in the 1970s included shows on “Non-Objectivity and Abstraction from 1924 to 1955” and on Dada. With the coming years, she championed Lucio Fontana early on, starting in the late 1960s; defended the radical, post-war Japanese artists Kazuo Shiraga and the Gutai Group; offered Alexander Brodsky his first solo show in Italy; and featured a number of British artists, including sculptors Barry Flanagan and William Tucker, all the while giving exposure to several Italian artists, including Antonio Calderara, Ketty La Rocca, Gianfranco Baruchello, Nanni Balestrini or Sandro Somaré.

In 2017, Pellegrini received the National Association of Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery Award at the Arte Fiera in Bologna in 2017. She published a memoir on her life in 2018.