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Francesco Somaini was born on August 6, 1926, in Lomazzo, near Como, Italy. In 1949, after completing a law degree at the Università di Pavia, he attended Giacomo Manzù’s courses at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan. He debuted in 1948 at the Rassegna di Arti figurative promoted by the Rome Quadriennale, and in 1950 he participated in the Venice Biennale for the first time. The iron conglomerate sculptures he completed in the mid-1950s anticipated his affiliation with the Italian Art Informel movement.
In the late 1950s, Somaini’s work was critically acclaimed both at the Venice Biennale (1956), and at São Paolo Bienal (1959), where he was awarded the First International Prize for Sculpture. Following his success in Brazil, the artist was invited to exhibit across Italy, as well as to present his work at the Italian Cultural Institute in New York in 1960. The following year he received the prestigious French Art Criticism prize at the Deuxième Paris Biennale. Working along the lines of Art Informel, Somaini was keen on expanding his sculptural language by integrating a wider range of materials. Throughout the 1960s, the artist participated in a growing number of national and international exhibitions. In the late 1960s, towards the end of his Informel period, Somaini turned his attention to large-scale works. In the 1970s, the artist produced a series of drawings and photomontages in which he envisioned the integration of sculptural elements in an urban setting. These included the Bridge–Square proposal for Gustav Gründgens Platz in Düsseldorf (1980) and an Anthropomorphic Garden and Baignade for the Parc de la Villette in Paris (1982). Parallel to these studies, Somaini developed a new carving technique featuring high pressure sand jets.
In 1975, in his Tracce series, he introduced a dynamic element to his work. A matrix was rolled along a trench of clay and the imprint it left came to be known as traccia (trace), these new works were shown in Somaini’s solo room at the Venice Biennale in 1978. From the mid-1980s onwards the artist reverted to large-scale compositions. Notable among Somaini’s many solo shows were presentations organized by the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg in 1979; Palazzo di Brera in Milan in 1997; Castel Pergine in Trento in 2000; and the Somaini, Sculture, dipinti e disegni 1950-2001, exhibition held in Como in 2002. Francesco Somaini died on November 19, 2005, in Como. In 2007 the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea of Rome mounted Somaini’s first posthumous retrospective exhibition.