Armando Testa

From 21 February 2001 to 13 May 2001

Born in Turin in 1917, Armando Testa is considered the father of modern Italian advertising, and even outside this specific context he was a master of communications, a creative artist who invented new languages, always adopting the most technologically advanced means.

It is possible to differentiate his production depending on the function it was meant to carry out, from advertising messages to cultural promotions, from ironic greeting cards to community service posters. However Testa never altered his approach to the creative act, as this exhibition of his work documents.

As a boy, while working as a printer he attended the Vigliardi Paravia night school, where one of his teachers, painter Enzo D’Errico, imbued him with a love for abstract art, particularly that of a rationalist, Bauhaus-derived bent.

Looking at this cultural patrimony, he designed a poster for ICI, a company that manufactured printers’ inks, and the result, a geometric design, was one of his first successful works. From geometric abstraction he assimilated a taste for formal synthesis, in a reiterated verification of Mies van der Rohe’s maxim Less is more. For his entire life, Testa would search for, and would find, images that, in their essential nature, succeed in fully communicating the message they are meant to convey. One sees this above all in his early advertising posters, created prior to the prevalent use of color photography in the language of graphic design.

The tension of the work’s synthesis is based on a vocabulary of dynamic signs, and it generates a taste for a unique image that, however, contains many others, almost like an organism in metamorphosis. This is the case in some of the most successful posters created during the fifties, where the protagonist is a fusion of animal bodies and mechanical elements, or in many freely inventive works created in silkscreen technique, where another distinctive characteristic of Testa’s work also emerges: his ironic tone.

Among all his images, more than a few have achieved a level of fame much greater than that which is usually accorded to even more successful advertising campaigns. Among these, the famous logo invented for the aperitif Punt e Mes, consisting of a simple sphere that overhangs a half sphere, in a literal translation, with a semantic shift as simple as it is clever, of the verbal expression “a point and a half” (“un punto e mezzo”), which identifies the drink, a bitter with a touch of sweetness…

During the sixties, color photography, a typical product of mass culture, progressively replaced drawing in the world of advertising. Armando Testa, now the head of an agency destined to become a leader in Italy and beyond, adjusted unconditionally to the new medium, conceiving campaigns that would mark a new era in his own country.

During that period, however, his greatest success was derived from his engagement in the world of television, the new means of communication that would soon be widely disseminated. Testa put it to imaginative and fable-like use, inventing characters like the Caballero Misterioso, Carmencita, Paulista and the inhabitants of the planet Papalla. Simple cones and spheres with few human attributes, they were skillfully shot using a “stop motion” technique, that is, with photographic sequences that, once filmed, give a sense of movement. He also created brief sketches with professional actors to whom he entrusted expressions and slogans that soon entered into everyday speech in Italy, such as “…no more belly!” or “Call me Peroni, I’ll be your beer…” The short television filmstrip was the format best suited for explicated the narrative character that, according to Testa, had to be intrinsic to every message directed to the public at large.

Testa’s creativity found expression in many directions, within the context of social communication as well as the realm of artistic expression. His images passed beyond the consumer world to act as vehicles for messages aimed at public awareness of social and political issues, such as support for Amnesty International. His many clients included cultural institutions such as the Spoleto Festival, the Teatro Regio and the Book Fair in Turin, as well as Castello di Rivoli, for which Testa created posters, book covers and logos. This wide-ranging activity was accompanied, particularly during his late years, by a free creation of forms and figures, among which the final image of the cross stands out in all its dramatic pathos. Armando Testa died in Turin on March 20, 1992.

Giorgio Verzotti

From 21 February 2001 to 13 May 2001