Enigmatic Journeys

Francesco Clemente at the Albertina. A visually stunning journey into hidden ideas of the ego. By Sabine B. Vogel.

Francesco Clemente: Hermaphrodite, 1985 Gouache auf handgefertigtem pondicherry Papier ALBERTINA, Wien – The JABLONKA Collection © Francesco Clemente

In August 2019, ex-gallery owner Rafael Jablonka gave the Albertina around 400 works from his collection on temporary loan. In October 2020, the Albertina showed some highlights from it, now followed by the personale of Francesco Clemente (born 1952 in Naples, lives in New York), a collection focus of Jablonka.


In the early 1980s, Clemente was one of those young Italian painters who revolutionized art with their bold images. Her works were strictly subjective, unconcerned with questions of style, and largely devoid of meaning. Their main subject was their ego. Thus, the label “Egonavigato” (Journey into the Ego) was first created. Soon the label “Arte Cifra” followed: ‘art ciphers’ for a new ego consciousness, to give a name to these painted longings and also contradictions. In the end, the term “Transavantguardia” prevailed: an ideology-free art beyond the avant-gardes.

Francesco Clemente: Southern Cross, 2006 Öl auf Leinwand ALBERTINA, Wien – The JABLONKA Collection © Francesco Clemente

What seemed to us at the time to be a cheeky rejection of previous isms has lost its wildness today. Instead, as the show at the Albertina shows, Clemente’s works are defined by an almost melancholic poetry that is stirring in its emotional intensity. It is a pictorial language condensed to a few pictorial elements, figurative but entirely enigmatic. We see magnificent pictorial inventions full of enigmatic details that one can name, that one can feel, but that one cannot interpret.


Wonderful the “self-portraits in white, red and black” – “primary colors”, as Clemente calls it, which are connected with light, shadow and blood or life. Why the three pairs of eyes hover above his head with their empty shells remains as open to interpretation as the sailing ships stranded on tippy ancient columns a few steps away. In his “Tarots” series (2008-2011), Clemente interprets in 22 richly detailed watercolors and gouaches the arcana cards, i.e. the trump or main cards of the divination deck: the Hanged Man, the Force, the Wheel of Destiny, and others. With the help of these cards, questions are asked about life issues and the future – in keeping with Clemente’s central theme of a journey into hidden ideas of the ego. Some of these journeys also lead to connections between his ego and art history, for Clemente’s theme is not self-discovery, but discovery-with which he takes us on a visually powerful journey.


Francesco Clemente, Albertina, July 9 – October 30, 2022

Francesco Clemente: Self-portrait with eyes, 2002 Öl auf Leinwand ALBERTINA, Wien – The ESSL Collection © Francesco Clemente