As the dust settles in Milan after the finish of the 103rd Giro d’Italia one art gallery owner is celebrating with a special exhibit that combines the bicycle in art. Antonio Colombo is nothing less than an industry giant in the cycling community as the president of both Columbus tubing and Cinelli bikes. But for decades Colombo has also been an avid art collector, and for over 20 years, the owner of Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea, a wonderful gallery specializing in modern and contemporary art situated about a mile north of where the Giro finished on Sunday. And it is here where he is overseeing a special exhibit Traguardo Volante: Cinelli and Columbus, Crossing the Line Between Art and Bicycle that celebrates the bicycle as a motif in art.
The third of a three-part series originally conceived to mark the centennial of Columbus tubes in 2019, the exhibit was postponed indefinitely as Milan, like much of northern Italy was forced into a severe lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. The first exhibit Flessibili Splendori: Columbus and Tubular furniture, that opened last fall, focused on the prevalent use of the company’s highly reputed steel tubing in modern furniture design, as the company had a close working relationship with the German-led Bauhaus school between the World Wars. Anima d’Acciaio: Columbus e il design della bicicletta, which ran until January 19, focused on the evolution of the bicycle itself and many iconic bikes—like Roger De Vlaeminck’s Gios from Paris-Roubaix or Francesco Moser’s hour-record bike—were on display.
And although it was postponed for months, Traguardo Volante is finally on display.
The exhibit stems from Colombo’s personal collection and the close relationship he has developed over the years with many artists, from Italian Post-Modern artist Mario Schifano to Pop and Graffiti artists like Keith Haring. “It’s really about the connections between the bicycle and art seen through the eyes of Columbus, Cinelli, and my gallery,” Colombo explains. “What I like about the exhibit is the title Traguardo Volante, the intermediate sprint, because, while this exhibit celebrates the centennial of Columbus, the story is not over. It is not the finish, just the intermediate sprint. And I am exhibiting pieces from my art collection, as well as the two companies, in a way that combines order and disorder.”
Entering the exhibit, one is immediately struck by a start black and white tableau that stands against the mass of colors and movement found in much of the exhibit. On it, “ANQUETIL IS MY CHIEF NOT YOU,” is simply etched in black against the white background. It is an early work from 1963 by Schifano, who was also a passionate cycling fan.
“Mario was a good friend and was passionate about cycling. He knew all of the riders, not just the big names, but the gregarious,” Colombo recalls during a personal gallery visit with VeloNews. “And this is a great example of that, as he made an artwork out of a small quote by a small rider. It showed his passion for cycling early on, much before Schifano would soon move into color.” Schifano’s passion for combining cycling and art only grew, even as his style evolved and became more colorful, and in 1989 he actually designed the yellow jersey in the Tour de France for Castelli. Several of his jersey designs can be found on display as well.
A disc wheel prototype in a collaboration with the Studio Alchimia, a forward-looking, multi-disciplinary, and multiform group in Milan in the 1980s and 1990s is also found in the upper level of the gallery. But there are several contemporary pieces made by artists for the centennial exhibit including “Keep It 100,” by Sam Binkow, a contemporary artist from California that works in “Hyper Pop” style, as well as a new piece by longtime friend and collaborator Zio Ziegler. While Ziegler, who also hails from California, is well known for his energized monochromatic and has actually painted the door to the Columbus/Cinelli factory outside of Milan. But his current work on display here is full of color, with a swirling sense of movement that calls to mind the Italian Futurists.
“I just love Zio’s mix of South California, Mexican and European art, and his visual aggressivity from Graffiti and Street art. He combines both high brow and low brow attitude,” Colombo says. And a link with Graffiti art along with early-20th century styles found here only mirrors Colombo’s own tastes. “You know, it seems strange but I love new objectivity from the from 1920s and the new realism from the 30s. And I love that atmosphere between traditional Italian Renaissance and Surrealism. Reality with a part of mystery,” Colombo explains. “Graffiti is a new language which includes ingenuity and social emergency, a movement which makes art accessible to the masses.”
Descending to the ground floor of the gallery, the visitor actually passes under a red Traguardo Volante flag used in so many bike races in Italy. It could easily go unnoticed but it is a testament to Colombo’s true passion for classic bike racing
The first piece on the ground floor begins with a work that combines more classicism, albeit a 21st-century example by another American artist Andy Rementer. “Towards Solitude,” is another example of a piece that was created for the Columbus centennial and portrays a young woman riding her bike down a tree-lined road with trees. “I love Andy’s work,” Colombo says. “He may be a contemporary artist, but I find elements of the Italian Novecento movement in his work. And that is how I first got into art. I love the way they restructure elements of Renaissance Art, while still keeping elements of modern art. The volume of the body, the sense of landscape is just wonderful.”
The main gallery quickly expands into a rich display of works that come together and recreate Colombo’s visual world, from the neo-classicism found in Rementer’s work or “Ciclista,” done by Italian artist Salvo in 1982, to contemporary Pop and Graffiti artists today like Russ Pope and Barry McGee, to a number of Cinelli frames actually painted by his artist friends.
But while the exhibit is richly diverse it is not eclectic, as all of the works are united by a certain playfulness that is a distinct part of Colombo’s taste.
“I like art of all ages including illustration and as soon as I can I explore and study with a passion toward painting, because well, this old media which never dies,” Colombo explains. It is clear that Colombo had fun with this exhibit as it serves as a sort of retrospective for his own artistic tastes. “Like for many exhibitions I love the days before when the gallery is In a mess and suddenly everything goes in the right place with the right evidence,” Colombo says.
Interestingly one of the real jewels of the exhibit is one of the pieces easiest to overlook—a handwritten card from Keith Haring. Colombo bought a large-scale piece at Haring’s first exhibit in Milan in 1984 and the two quickly formed a friendship around their shared passions of art and cycling. The note from Haring to Colombo refers to a collaboration between the two where Haring promised to hand paint one of Colombo’s bikes. “Antonio,” the note begins. “You may be surprised to receive a letter from me, but I have been thinking about the bike. I love my Cinelli and I still want to paint one for you in exchange for the one I’ve already received. We talked about me painting a racing bike with solid fiberglass wheels—for your collection. Let’s talk to try to arrange this.” The note was written on a card with one of Haring’s illustrations and was signed “Keith. Keith Haring, 676 Broadway, NYC NY 10012.” And he even included his phone number, “212-477-1579.”
It is a small, casual note, but it speaks worlds of the connection Colombo had with the legendary artist. And, like the exhibit Traguardo Volante, it speaks worlds about the personal relationship Colombo has had art and artists over the years.