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Costantino Nivola was born in Orani, Nuoro, Italy, on July 5, 1911. In 1926 he moved to Sassari to serve as an apprentice to the painter Mario Delitala, and he won a scholarship in 1931 to attend the Instituto Superiore per le Industrie Artistiche in Monza, where he studied under Marino Marini. His first group shows took place during this time, and he travelled often to Paris, where he met Emilio Lussu. In 1936 he was employed by Olivetti of Milan and was soon appointed the artistic director of its graphics department. In 1937 he painted murals for the Italian pavilion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris and a year later married Ruth Guggenheim.
In order to flee Nazi and Fascist persecution, Nivola and Guggenheim went first to Paris and then to New York in 1939. Here, Nivola met many artists, renewed his friendship with Saul Steinberg, and became the artistic director of the journals Interiors and Progressive Architecture. In the mid 1940s he befriended Le Corbusier and started working with the “sand-casting” technique, which he did by casting plaster or cement on molded sand. His first solo exhibition took place in 1950 at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York; that same year he participated in Rome’s Quadriennale. In 1954 he joined the faculty at Harvard University, Cambridge, but continued to produce paintings and sculptures on both public and private commission. In 1958 the Architectural League of New York presented a retrospective of his work, and the same year, the artist completed the facade of the Itria church in Orani.
Nivola has been the subject of numerous exhibitions and has enjoyed much success and renown, especially in the U.S., where he was honored in 1972 with a nomination to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition to his post at Harvard University, Nivola has held teaching positions at the University of California, Berkeley (1978) and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, The Hague (1982). In 1988 he took part in the exhibition Three Italian Artists at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Nivola died in Long Island, New York, on May 6 of that same year. A museum dedicated to his art has opened in Orani in 1995.