In Memoriam: Aldo Tambellini (1930-2020)

Aldo Tambellini. Courtesy of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies Special Collection, MIT.
ACT at MIT

Aldo Tambellini was a fellow at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) from 1976-1984. During his time at CAVS, much of his work focused on video art.

Born to an Italian mother and a Brazilian father in Syracuse, NY in 1930, Tambellini was a painter, sculptor, photographer, video artist, film-maker, and poet. Tambellini spent much of his childhood growing up in Lucca, Italy, where he was enrolled in art school at the age of 10. He returned to the United States in 1946. He was awarded a full Scholarship to study Art at Syracuse University where he earned a BFA in Painting, in 1954, and awarded a Teaching Fellowship at University of Notre Dame studying under world-renowned sculptor, Ivan Mastrovic, receiving his Masters in Sculpture, 1958.

In 1959, Aldo moved to NY’s Lower East Side, and founded the “counter-culture” group, “Group Center,” which organized public art events and non-traditional alternative ways to present artists’ work to the larger public in what today would be considered “alternate spaces.” He was a pioneer of the 1960’s video art movement. In 1965, he began painting directly on film beginning his “Black Film Series” of which, “Black TV,” won the International Grand Prix, Oberhausen Film Festival, ’69.

Simultaneously, he began a series of “Electromedia Performances.” “Black,” a work in progress, integrating, projected hand-painted slides, film, video, poetry, light, dance, sound and improvisational musicians, culminating in “Black Zero” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in “Intermedia ’68.” In 1966, with Elsa Tambellini he co-founded the Gate Theatre, showing avant-garde and independent films daily and in 1967, he and the German kinetic artist Otto Piene (CAVS Director, 1974-94); CAVS Fellow 1968-74) opened a second theater, the Black Gate. This became a showcase for avant-garde artists like Yayoi Kusama, Nam June Paik (CAVS Fellow 1982) and Charlotte Moorman (CAVS Fellow 1986). From 1976 to 1984, Aldo was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“‘Black’ is the expansion of consciousness in all directions,” he wrote in a 1967 manifesto, “Black Is the Awareness of a New Reality,” republished 42 years later in a catalog for his retrospective at the Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, Mass. “I see ‘Black’ very clearly as the beginning of all things; and in the beginning it was ‘Black’ before the beginning. There was ‘Black’ before there was light in the whole universe. There is ‘Black’ inside the womb before the child is born. ‘Black’ is not the opposite of white; it is a state of being. We come from this womb. We come from this planet enveloped by ‘Black.’”

The color was political for Tambellini, which he linked to the Black Power movement and the civil rights struggles breaking out across the US. His work’s febrile nature often matched the political atmosphere of the times. He would apply black paint to glass slides or celluloid film, then burn, scratch or pierce spirals on to the surface. Circles were another recurring theme in these works, which he called “lumagrams”.

It was only during the last decade of his life that Tambellini began to receive acclaim from the mainstream art world. In 2012, Tate Modern in London staged a retrospective entitled Retracing Black.

Tambellini had also been writing poetry since the age of seventeen, and performed his poetry with music; video projection; participated in many radio programs and countless poetry venues. His poems and visual poetry have been exhibited and published in several journals and books.

The Boston Globe: Aldo Tambellini, a multimedia artist, filmmaker, and poet, dies at 90

The New York Times: Aldo Tambellini, Avant-Garde Filmmaker and Video Artist, Dies at 90

ARTnews: Aldo Tambellini, Experimental Filmmaker Who Considered Many Meanings of Blackness, Has Died at 90

ArtForum: Aldo Tambellini (1930–2020)

The Guardian: Aldo Tambellini, experimental artist obsessed with black, dies aged 90

Aldo Tambellini Art Foundation