Gigi Guadagnucci was born in 1915 in Castagnetola, an outlying district of Massa. Here, following the family tradition, he began to sculpt marble when he was little more than a child. In fact after the mid-1920s he got his first job at the Ciberti workshop. Not long afterwards however he moved to the Soldani workshop, which all the sculptors from Massa before and after him have passed through at some time. Guadagnucci learned his art beginning with the traditional funereal art, as was the practice of that time, but he soon distinguished himself by carving his works directly without using the model, thus winning his first personal clients. In 1936 he was however forced to leave Italy for political reasons, because of his hostility to the Fascist regime. He took refuge in France at Annemasse, the Savoy town where he found the brothers who ran a marbrerie. From here he moved almost immediately to Grenoble, where he stayed up to the end of the war and where he alternated his work in the marble workshops with study, research and drawing. He inevitably drew inspiration from the masters (Auguste Rodin, Aristide Maillol), including Donatello, and discovered that sculpture is learnt through drawing and fervid dedication.
In Grenoble he got to know Henri-Jean Closon and above all Émile Gilioli, who came back from Paris every summer, thus exercising on Guadagnucci a first strong attraction towards the French capital. At the outbreak of the second world war, Guadagnucci enrolled in the Foreign Legion and after the defeat of France joined the Resistance. His activity in the south-eastern maquis (the French resistance movement) favoured his inclusion into French life and strengthened a bond which was destined to last far beyond the reasons and circumstances which had originated it. Having returned to Italy, he lived in Massa from 1950 to 1953, in which year he decided to return to France; he settled in Paris, where for at least two decades he was completely absorbed in the artistic fervour of Montparnasse. Meanwhile, he had already made himself known in Italy, where in 1952 he had exhibited in Florence at Dante’s House, and had won the Premio Lorenzo Vicini for sculpture in Forte dei Marmi and the Premio Interregionale of Marina di Massa for drawing. His fluent French and previous experiences in France led to his rapid acceptance not only into the artistic community but also into the most up-to-date cultural circles. He had many Italian contacts, those who had been in Paris forever like Gino Severini and Carlo Sergio Signori, and those who had only just arrived like himself: the Carrara sculptor Nardo Dunchi, the Pisan Gianni Bertini, the unpredictable Remo Bianco, also the writer Beniamino Joppolo (who became his closest friend) and Zoran Music who lived in the studio lent to him by a common friend, the great photographer Brassai. He met the last great sculptors of Montparnasse, Alberto Giacometti and Ossip Zadkine, and the young promises like César and Franҫois Stahly. He was fast friends with the Neo-Realists, Yves Klein and Jean Tinguely above all, but resisted Pierre Restany’s attempts to convince him to join the group.
In 1958 Guadagnucci overcame his natural reticence for public exposure and showed his first works at the Galerie Colette Allendy, making a great impression and attracting the first critical attention to them. In fact from that moment on his presence on the Parisian scene was a recurrent and increasingly appreciated one. He began to exhibit also outside Paris: at Auvers-sur-Oise in 1958, Rome in 1959, at the Robles Gallery of Los Angeles and the Brook Street Gallery of London in 1960, arriving the following year in one of the most prestigious Parisian galleries, that of Claude Bernard.
On these occasions Suzanne Hagen and Mock, Favre and Loce Hoctin all wrote about him, but above all Claude Rivière and Pierre Courthion, who in 1958 included Guadagnucci in his book L’art indépendant. Panorama international del 1900 à non jours. In those years Guadagnucci’s sculpture was informal, but repeated the rhythms and geological forms of the material it was made of.
In 1962 Guadagnucci took part in the exhibition Sculpteurs d’aujourd’hui at the Galerie Blumenthal and in 1963 in the exhibitions Actualité de la Sculpture at the Galerie Creuze and Forme et Magie at the Bowling de Paris. While continuing his intense participation in Parisian artistic life (he was in fact regularly invited to all the main salons: Comparaison al Salon de Mai, Réalités Nouvelles, Art Sacré, Salon de la Jeune Sculpture, Grandes et Jeunes d’aujourd’hui), he began to renew his bond with his native country. In fact, with his first savings he bought a house in Bergiola, a hamlet on the Apuan mountains near his birthplace. This reunion received further impulse in 1967 when Guadagnucci almost simultaneously received two invitations which were both a strong reminder of the past: the first to the 5th International Sculpture Biennale of Carrara, the second to the International Symposium for the Snow Olympics of Grenoble.
His participation in the Grenoble show, for which he made a large sculpture of over four metres positioned in the Parc Paul Mistral, opened up the way to a long series of public commissions for monumental works. The invitation to the Carrara show, which was repeated in 1969 and 1973, contributed to his gradual distancing from Paris, since the Apuan area, as well as offering the possibility of finding high-quality materials and assistants, also gave him the opportunity to get to know the great sculptors Marini, Moore, Adam, Lipchitz, Noguchi, and to renew his Parisian acquaintances (Signori, Gilioli, César, Jpoustéguy, Alicia Penalba, Zadkine, Augustín Cárdenas). So he dedicated himself above all to the creation of monumental works for French schools or universities and was forced to reduce his presence in exhibitions. His marbles hollowed out to transparency or cut into layers as thin as light-beams began here, although we must wait for the creation in 1974 of Orgue, made for the Palais des Congrès et de la Musique of Strasbourg for a large-scale application of these techniques.
He began to exhibit again and at the same time to intensify his search for new formal solutions for blending the sensuality of female curves with the exuberance of vegetable forms: the Foglie (Leaves) and their “dialogues”, the Libellule (Dragonflies), and the first Fiori (Flowers) were created in this period. His return to exhibiting earned Guadagnucci the Bourdelle award in 1977, which gave him the chance the following year to set up a large exhibition in that prestigious Parisian museum. His faithfulness to marble, translated into faithfulness to his native places and their culture, was recognised as a great value. Starting with Alain Jouffroy, who in 1978 published a long interview in the XXème siécle, and continuing with Umberto Baldini, who in 1980 included him in his book Scultura toscana del Novecento (20th-century Tuscan Sculpture), and finally Mario De Micheli, who in his 1981 book dedicated to 20th-century Sculpture identified the distinctive features of Gaudagnucci’s sculpture as his “love of marble” as well as his “religious feeling for his craft”. In 1980, because of a troublesome inflammation of his arm which prevented him from doing any heavy work, he discovered the bas-relief and began to readdress the human figure, making the first examples of what Jean Clair was to call lithophanies d’eros. It was in that period too that he first met Pier Carlo Santini, whom he was to meet up with again in all the artistic manifestations promoted by this historian from Lucca, and with whom he formed a deep friendship as well as a working relationship, interrupted only by Santini’s premature death in 1993.
During the ‘80s, Guadagnucci, who seemed to be going through a second youth, again intensified his participation in exhibitions, and he also began to travel again in Europe and America, embarking on wholly new experiences such as that of 1988, when he went to instal his sculptures in Tokyo, and in 1992, when he made a large wooden sculpture for a tourist village in Kenya. Although in 1983 the minister Jack Lang decorated him with one of the most important honours of the French Republic, naming him Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts e des Lettres, the ‘80s marked his definitive detachment from Paris, where he kept his studio on but stayed there rarely for brief periods. He had now reconquered his home lands: in 1986 a large sculpture of his was installed in the Town Hall of Massa and in 1989 the province of Massa-Carrara commissioned from him a bas-relief of almost five metres for the Resistance Room in the Ducal Palace of Massa. In 1993 the Municipality organised a large retrospective for him, with almost 100 sculptures inside the Malaspina Castle, and in 1995 it celebrated his 80th birthday with an exhibition of drawings at the Ducal Palace of Massa, recuperating an aspect of his artistic production which was thought to have been lost. In the final years he returned to the human figure, as experimented with in the small erotic bas-reliefs of the ‘80s.
He died in September 2013 in his house/studio of Bergiola.
(From Massimo Bertozzi’s biography)