The Plurimi of Emilio Vedova are clear precursors of Stella’s relief paintings, and the differences between the two groups of work are revealing. Vedova’s works had an origin in sets for an opera by Luigi Nono that he had done in 1961. The effort was to make an enveloping space, to place the viewer within the work, so they are also precursors of installation art. Vedova’s famous installation/show of 1964, called “Absurdes Berliner Tagebuch,” or “Absurd Berlin Diary,” gives the most typical examples.
In the Plurimi the planes are all flat, some hinged, and the edges straight. In Stella’s reliefs the edges are mostly curved and the planes often so. He packs his forms together rather than opening them out of each other, and the whole arrangement is frontal. Vedova is trying to spread, to conquer space; Stella, as he has often said, stays pictorial, if pictorial means a kind of gathering of everything together in front of a ground plane. In a major series that follows Moby Dick, the Kleist reliefs, he goes even further in the same direction. There is not a straight line in sight, and all the forms are curved—some actually enclose space. This piece is almost ten feet high, and a good example of the kind of packing together that I’m talking about. A click will give a clearer and larger image.
Vedova was of the generation of de Kooning and Pollock, and found his own way to gestural abstraction. He seems to have been a slightly crazy but very appealing character. He evidently had no theories, just action all the way. Like Stella, his working practice was very physical.