Luigi Mainolfi (Rotondi, 1948) leaves Naples in 1973, after attending the Fine Arts Academy there, where he had also begun working on behavioral experiences under the name of Mainolfi VIII. After settling in Turin, the artist took part to of the experimental climate of those years, pursuing research of performative inspiration, which explores the relationship between the body, the gestures, and sculpture. During this season, from 1972 to 1978, Mainolfi creates works, including the one in the collection entitled Senza titolo (Esploso) – “Untitled (Exploded)”, 1978, aimed at analyzing the physical and mental double of his own image; to do so, he uses plaster or wax casts of his own body which he allows to be consumed by water until they deteriorate and become pure plastic material (Cavriago, 1977), or he drops them from above (Galleria Civica di Bologna, 1977). The result of this is a performative vitality that bestows these unpermanent sculptures with an archetypical value and an oneiric consistency.
This research is followed, in the early 1980s, by a reflection on the sculptural materials and their expressive potential, which is embodied in plastic compositions where the artist explores and reinterprets the different materials used and the various symbologies he refers to. In 1981 he holds his first solo show in Turin at Galleria Tucci Russo, where he exhibits La Campana, made out of plaster between 1979 and 1980: with this huge three-dimensional structure, whose surface is marked by furrows of iconography and which can be inhabited inside, Mainolfi begins to explore eccentric sculpture with respect to the research that was being done in those years. Polychrome terracotta, in particular, takes on a central role for the experimentation of a sculptural language through which the artist constructs, in continuity with the performative-sculptural research of the 1970s, a personal mythography; by developing the morphology of the folktale, this is articulated in an unprecedented itinerary of organic forms where the surface and the volume, the skin and the sculptural form are all directly related: Nascita di Orco ed Elefantessa (1980), exhibited at Documenta, Kassel in 1982, or Alle forche Caudine, 1981 and Stagno, 1982, presented at the 1982 Venice Biennale are examples of this practice.
Mainolfi employs the conventional sculptural materials – tuff, plaster, wax, wood, bronze, copper and iron – which from 1987 he uses to develop his series in which the core element is sound or its evocation (Batacchi, Sonagli, Nacchere, Tamburi). Drawn to the relationship between the superficial and volumetric dimension in the language of sculpture, Mainolfi works on the surfaces, heeding the vocation of the materials themselves, whether smooth or porous, ennobling and transcending the very quality of the material. In some of his works in the 1990s, the artist develops an ever-increasing interest in the leveling of the sculpture surface, which becomes smoother, such as in the series Paesaggi. In 1988 the artist shows his work at the Alfonso Artiaco gallery in Naples, and in 1996 he installs an imaginary bench-staircase at the Museo Civico di Castel Nuovo. During that same period, his works are shown in a major retrospective held at Villa Pignatelli, while, among the other works produced in Naples, mention should be made of Terra della pace (1990-1991) for the permanent collection of the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples.