A Retrospective

"My decision to open my studios to the public was so that I can have the joy of showing my work in the spaces I have built for it. All while the dust and sweat are still there and everything is alive with me. These are my homes, my living spaces, not museums. I wanted to give myself a chance to play purely for pleasure's sake, with no dealers or commercial strings attached.

It does not take an art historian to respond to great works of art. When the artist is inside the work, one feels it in their mind, heart, and in their guts. "

– Carla Lavatelli

Carla Lavatelli is an expert at revitalizing abandoned and unwanted places. Her challenge is to bring them back to life. She does what she feels she has to, which is discovering precious and impossible pieces of work by surprise. She finds happiness when an idea becomes a wall. And that wall becomes a space that will be experienced and enjoyed by people. Those very people are extremely important to her, for her work comes a live through them. What matters most is to be able to have a link to them. To speak to both their hearts and their minds.


1968-1977 - New York City, NY

This was at 75th and 1st, and is some of what happened during that period. It was also the beginning of my paper works, which were born out of solitude and despair. Aaron Rose commissioned the first paper installation for his building at 392 West Broadway in New York. It was to be opened to the public for one year. Among the many visitors were Alva Gimbel, Sweney, Geldzohler, the Zadocs, Inid Haupt, and Patterson Sims. Iolas took over my studio at 75th. It was the first exhibition by a dealer at an artist's studio. 

The Phillips Collection moved some of the sculptures to Washington for a June-September 1974 Solo Show in their courtyard. I coined the phrase “Sculptures to Wear” for my small wearable carvings. This started a whole new wave of followers across the globe. My “Sculptures to Wear” were first purchased by the Benjamin Gallery in Chicago and the Albright Knox in Buffalo, NY. My friend, Isamu Noguchi, unsuccessfully tried to convince André Emmerich to represent me. After almost twenty­­ years, I moved my 140 Thompson Street New York studio to Tuscany in June of 1996.

"...the thought is already sculpture. To do it is a demonstration, to leave a mark. My Happenings are
for the community, not just for the privileged few.
No one should be excluded. Abandoned areas can be re-dynamized to bring people together in peace for an important moment that might change things in life."

– Carla Lavatelli

From 1968 to 1977, I had been renting the ex-studio of Ad Reinhardt at 75th between 1st and York. Lieberman, Frankenthaler, Castro Cid, Ferrorelli and Avedon also had their studios there.

It was in 1977 that my last dealer in New York, Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer, severely damaged five of my major sculptures in stone, marble and bronze, due to careless handling. Many years of work were lost causing me to become blind for four days. After all kinds of medical tests, the diagnosis was a spasm of the retina. I was blinded by rage, literally. The trauma from this experience changed my life and vividly remained with me forever. I made up my mind to no longer work with dealers, so I became an independent.

Upon my return from Mexico City in the fall of 1977, I purchased the abandoned garage of a paper mill at 140 Thompson Street in SoHo. After ten years, it became a landmark building. It was at 140 Thompson Street that I started my exciting adventure in New York. And being able to own a little piece of Manhattan for almost twenty years allowed me my freedom. I was no longer at the mercy of some unscrupulous dealer. I remember with gratitude the dealers of the past who respected my work and showed it with pride: Iolas, Motte, Carpine, Moos, Heller, Marlborough-Rome, Benjamin and Gimpel.


1970-2006 - Tuscany, Italy


On a Sunday in 1972, I came across a little office. It had some pictures of the places for sale in the window. I spoke with a fellow there, explaining that I needed a lot of space for little money. He told me that more than ten years before, a woman had wanted to sell a huge old olive mill for, what seemed to him, a small amount. There was one stipulation; she would only sell it to an artist.

A few days later, that same man called me. Announcing, with great enthusiasm, that the place was still available. More importantly, that the owner was still alive and had not changed her asking price. I purchased the olive mill, but only after she had come to The Officina Cidonio to see and approve of my art.

I bought a spider-web, which was built by the Borboni di Parma at the end of the 16th century. It took me more than twelve years to bring the wonderful spider-web back to life. I did this so that I could live where I worked and also to have a museum for my life's work. It was a major reconstruction job and I was always one of the masons. Only two other masons worked on it aside from me. All of the electricity and heating was contracted out.

Many years, after the initial twelve, were spent putting the place to together. Installing the sculptures and acquiring the tools needed for my carving studio and stone yard. In order to pay for the continued reconstruction of the mill, I had to honor the commissions I was lucky enough to receive.

The new work was then shipped to my New York studio at 140 Thompson Street in SoHo. Isamu Noguchi loved my mill and wanted to come work with me. I felt that if I allowed him to move in, it would soon become his studio. In which case, I would end up working for him. He insisted that I should come work at his studio on the island of Shikoku. I had just purchased the olive mill, which was to become my Working Place and Sculpture Garden in Tuscany. After such an expenditure, I could not financially afford to make the move.

"Living with me here are stone, water, wind, nature, light and shadow, and the theater. We work together and they are my friends. My work comes from my life, going towards life. It is best explained by my work.
My wish is to continue to be healthy and to feel loved." 

– Carla Lavatelli

I was so busy with all the projects that I had undertaken, that it, fortunately, helped me to overcome my brother, Erminio’s, death. The loss of his total commitment and advice concerning my work, which he sincerely admired, and also the loss of the wonderful life I had at The Officina. The great friends I had made while there were also lost, except Isamu Noguchi and Marino Marini. 

I had my studio in New York for approximately 35 years. My experiences there were both fabulous and tragic. However, I always came back to Tuscany each year for 4-5 months for the mere joy of coming here. Then I would return to New York with the same great joy and enthusiasm. I eventually sold my New York studio in 1996 after my second round with cancer and the cancellation of my exhibit at Leo Castelli one month before its opening.