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Sawyer, Pfc. Charles H. | Scarpitta, Salvatore C., Jr. | Selke, Maj. George

Scarpitta, Salvatore C., Jr.  

Seaman, 2nd Class, United States Navy, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA)

Avant-garde sculptor Salvatore Scarpitta, Jr. was born in New York, the son and namesake of the famed Italian architect and sculptor. Raised in Hollywood, California, he left the United States for his father’s homeland at the age of 17. He arrived in Palermo, Sicily in September of 1936 and stayed with his family for several months. Scarpitta did not begin learning Italian until his arrival, so it was difficult for him to apply to the art academy. He attended a “preschool” for several months before being admitted to the Italian World Academy of Architectural Arts in Palermo, where his father had studied years before. Scarpitta soon moved to Rome and began studying at the Italian Academy of Arts, where he received classical training as an artist. He was graduated in 1940 just before war broke out between Italy and the Allies in June of that year.

William Everett Scott, an American Consul and friend of Scarpitta, warned Salvatore of the dangerous situation and encouraged him to flee to Romania where the consul had been relocated. After a few short months, Scarpitta returned to Rome. When Italy and the United States declared war in late 1941, Scarpitta was put under surveillance by the fascist government because he was an American citizen. He spent nearly 18 months at an internment camp before he made his escape to the Apennines Mountains in central Italy where he lived with other escaped prisoners, military men, and partisan groups. Scarpitta served the group as a liaison with others in the area because he spoke Italian. After almost a full year of living in hiding, he and 79 others went south to cross the German line, a mere six miles away. Ironically, William Scott, the man who had helped him escape Italy years before, was at the front line when Scarpitta found freedom. He promptly joined the United States Navy and first worked as an interpreter and interrogator of prisoners of war. He utilized his translation skills while assisting in the sorting through of Mussolini’s office and papers.

Scarpitta met Monuments Man Lt. Col. Ernest DeWald through his father, who had been trapped in Italy during the war years and was a member of underground groups working to deter the Axis forces, despite having sculpted two portraits of Mussolini in the 1930s. He subsequently became involved with the Allied sub-commission for Monuments and Archives in Italy, working under director Lt. Col. Ernest DeWald. He also worked alongside noted British MFAA officer, John Bryan Ward-Perkins and esteemed Princeton professor Charles Rufus Morey. As civilian field personnel, Scarpitta traveled to various repositories across the countryside where Italian masterpieces had been hidden. He discovered many caches of artworks, catalogued and photographed them, and assisted in their return before his discharge from the military in early 1946.

Aside from returning home to the United States for two brief visits, Scarpitta remained in Italy until 1958. After the war, he was admitted to the American Academy in Rome, but was dismissed in 1949 after being falsely accused of harboring communist sentiments. The first exhibition of his artwork was shown in Rome in 1948 at the Gaetano Chiurazzi Gallery. He was said to be “one of the protagonists of the renovation of Italian art in the post-war era.” By 1958, Scarpitta had developed his trademark “bendati” or “bandaged” style of paintings, in which he purposefully slashed his canvases, then repaired them. These “bendati” works were first shown at the Galleria La Tartaruga in Rome in 1958. Scarpitta made the acquaintance of New York-based gallery owner Leo Castelli at this time, and was offered the chance to exhibit at his gallery in January 1959. He took advantage of the opportunity and relocated to New York City, fulfilling a longtime desire to return to his native country. During the course of his lengthy career, Scarpitta would go on to have no less than ten one-man shows at the Leo Castelli Gallery, as well as participating in several group shows.

Widely known as a pop artist who focused on found-object collage in his early career, his work moved in an unexpected and unprecedented direction in the 1960s. Scarpitta focused his work on the concept of machines as “a metaphor of existence.” From 1964 to 1969, he used his childhood passion of racecars as inspiration, and actually built six racecars, two of which were fully functional. However, his interest was primarily in the form of the objects, not necessarily the working mechanics of them. In regards to viewing objects from daily life as art, he said, “art must have roots in humanity, in the up and down of humanity.” Scarpitta displayed his racecars at the Venice Biennale celebration in the Piazza San Marco on June 6th, 1972. (A photograph from the event is seen above.) He later expanded his interest to include skis and sleds as vehicles of movement, but was never focused on the speed or dynamism of machines.

In addition to his work as an artist, Scarpitta began working at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1966 as a visiting critic. He also taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York for six years, and was a visiting professor at Harvard. His work has been shown at the Albright-Knox Gallery, the Los Angeles County Musuem of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Steldjik Museum in Amsterdam, the Tel-Aviv Museum, and the National Museum of Milan. More recently he exhibited twenty paintings at the Fonte d’Abisso Gallery in Milan in 2001. In that same year, Luigi Sansone authored a catalogue raisonné on his work. It was published by Mazzotta in Milan, Italy and is written in Italian and English.

Update from The New York Times
Salvatore Scarpitta, New York Artist, Dies at 88
Published: April 16, 2007
Salvatore Scarpitta, an artist whose work ranged from three-dimensional wrapped canvases that evoked survival and death to sculptural renderings of cars and sleds that extolled his belief in travel as a metaphor for life, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 88.
The cause was complications from diabetes, said his wife, Dana Scarpitta.
Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Scarpitta grew up in Los Angeles, where his father, an Italian-born sculptor, created the exterior bas-reliefs on the Los Angeles Stock Exchange building and his Russian-born mother briefly acted. After graduating from Hollywood High School, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. During World War II he joined the United States Navy, where he was a “monuments man,” part of a multinational group charged with searching out, cataloging and rescuing art from the Nazis, as well as identifying monuments and historical sites to protect from Allied bombings.
After the war Mr. Scarpitta continued making art in Rome until 1958, when the dealer Leo Castelli lured him to New York with the promise of an exhibition and financial assistance.
The following January Mr. Castelli unveiled a series of Mr. Scarpitta’s wrapped, or “bandaged,” canvases in a show titled “Extramurals.” At once macho and tender, the mostly monochromatic works were bound in webbing and canvas he had found at Army surplus stores, often with an opening in them not unlike that of a birthing gown — a symbol, Mr. Scarpitta said, of man’s potential for spiritual renewal.
The automobile culture of his California childhood fueled his lifelong fascination with movement, or lack thereof. In the mid-1960s he created a series of racing cars, among them the “Rajo Jack Special,” a reproduction of the car driven by one of the country’s first African-American racecar drivers, and “Lynx,” a full-size, fully operational World War II armored car.
But Mr. Scarpitta wasn’t content merely to fashion speedsters. He raced them as part of a team at a dirt track near his second home in New Oxford, Pa., the name of his crew sponsor — the Leo Castelli Gallery — emblazoned on the side of his own car, No. 59.
In the 1970s Mr. Scarpitta began constructing sleds, which resembled nothing so much as slow-motion archaeological artifacts, from discarded objects — chairs, hockey sticks, Christmas trees — he scavenged from trash bins around the city.
“I wrapped my sleds,” he said in an interview with James Harithas, founding director of the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston. “It was just natural. They had their own kind of skin.” He added, “It was like wanting to give it a breathing capability of its own that could come out of the matter it was made of.”
The painter Willem de Kooning bought Mr. Scarpitta’s first sled.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Scarpitta is survived by two daughters, Lola Knapple of Los Angeles and Stella Cartaino of the Bronx; five grandsons; two great-grandchildren; and a sister, Carmen Scarpitta of Rome.



Copyrighted by Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art