Movimento Arte Nucleare, an artist collaborative founded in 1951 by Enrico Baj (1924–2003) and joined by Sergio Dangelo (b. 1932), and Joe C. Colombo (1930–1971), was dedicated to producing art and discourse that warned against the misuse of nuclear capabilities. Based in Milan, the group published its first manifesto that same year, followed by another in 1959. The movement’s artistic techniques were resolutely positioned against mirroring the clean, recurring geometries of much abstract painting at the time. Rather, these artists’ brushstrokes and spatial strategies were deeply influenced by visual automatism, the practice of using color and form freely to draw links with the mind’s subconscious.
Nuclear Explosion (1951) illustrates these strategies through its harried deployment of muted colors across a dark background. Explosive pale strokes emanate from a white sphere in the painting’s center, as smudges and blots of enamel paint haphazardly mark the spatial plane. A hazier layer of yellow paint radiates around these chaotic forms, casting a warm glow to the composition’s spontaneous violence. When perceived as an expressive representation of an actual phenomenon, this painting evokes the billowing mushroom-shape cloud of a nuclear explosion; if seen instead as an aerial view, it renders a space of destruction with a clear central target. These pictorial readings, however, overlook the work’s otherwise abstract rendering that place it at the edges of other contemporaneous movements that emphasize spontaneous gestural strokes, such as art informel and abstract expressionism.
Movimento Nucleare (Enrico Baj, Sergio Dangelo, and Joe C. Colombo). The atomic bombings of Japan during World War II by the United States and the subsequent Cold War nuclear arms race between the US and the USSR strongly influenced the development of the Movimento Nucleare (Nuclear Movement). The movement began in Milan in 1950 when Italian artists Enrico Baj (1924–2003) and Sergio Dangelo (b. 1932) curated an exhibition at Galleria San Fedele titled Pittura nucleare (Nuclear Painting). Baj began to use the mushroom cloud in his works of the 1950s, while Dangelo had been influenced by the free-ranging artistic expression and folkloric elements of the CoBrA group. Joe Colombo (1930–1971), an Abstract Expressionist-influenced artist later known as an industrial designer, joined the group in 1951. “Manifesto tecnico della Pittura nucleare” (Technical Manifesto), published in 1952 to accompany an exhibition in Brussels, concretized the group’s theories. In this screed the artists sought to reinvent painting for the atomic age, warn about the dangers of nuclear technology, and criticize the uniformity of contemporary painting. Dangelo spearheaded Il Gesto (1955–1959), a journal affiliated with the Movimento Nucleare. The movement is historically associated with Eaismo (“Atomic Era-ism”), founded by Voltolino Fontani in 1948 in Italy, and Salvador Dali’s “Mystical Manifesto” from 1951. Movimento Nucleare influenced artists internationally, including Yves Klein (1928–1962) and Asger Jorn (1914–1973).