In 1957, UNESCO’s "Committee for Architecture and works of art" organized a competition for the artistic decoration of the Organization’s permanent headquarters; only eleven artists were selected, among which Afro Basaldella. The committee members included the architects who built the buildings, Bernard Zehrfuss, Marcel Breuer, Luigi Nervi, as well as C. Para-Perez who chaired the “Committee of Art Advisors” responsible for guiding the selection of works, and which included Georges Salles, Shahid Subrawardy and Herbert Read.
Afro Basaldella’s "Garden of Hope" was selected along with works by Roberto Matta and Karel Appel, in order to decorate the 7th floor at the time of the construction of the Fontenoy Building.
Afro’s work represents the hope of Humanity following its escape from the horror of 1945: the hope of leaving behind the chaos and the barbarism, in the search for harmony and joy. This hope is found in the preamble of the United Nations’ Charter, which begins with: "We, the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...” As for the Preamble of UNESCO’s Constitution, one can read that Peace "must be founded, if is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind." Thus, UNESCO’s mission, within the United Nations system, is to strengthen human solidarity by acting in its fields of competence: education, science, culture and communication, in order to allow peace to take root.
Artists have always carried a message of life, energy and hope, if only through the force of creation which they embody. Afro’s painting does not depict the garden mentioned in his title; he evokes it through its lack of representation. The path to the garden is undoubtedly long and difficult or, is it that the path is in itself the garden?
The starting point for the work seems almost at the opposite of what it will be in its finished form: sometimes there appears to be nuclei of opposite forces, whose directions remain uncertain, sometimes it seems the entire space of the canvas is restricted to the dimensions of a square and forces tangled lines in the background to contract and become diagonals, occasionally with a streak of color which seeks to hide the structure of the drawing. It is evident, however, that Afro here abandoned the use of any vertical line for the rhythm of this composition. Shape and color spread across a wide horizontal line even as they seem to struggle to share the painted surface.
Afro Basaldella was born in Udine, Italy, on March 4, 1912.
After studying art in Florence and Venice, he began his career by exhibiting his first works in the Il Milione Gallery in Milan, in 1923.
In 1936 he exhibited a series of portraits and still lifes in Rome, accompanied by a text in 'Libero Libero', which would later publish the first critical essay on Afro.
He travelled to Paris with his brother Mirko, where he discovered Cubism, which would be fundamental in the evolution of his work.
During the war Afro participated in the resistance in Venice. In 1949 he met Catherine Viviano, who opened a gallery in New York with an exhibition of five Italian painters, which included Afro. He continued exhibiting regularly in her gallery until 1968.
On the occasion of one of these exhibitions, he remained in the United States for a longer period of time; during his stay he was particularly struck by Arshile Gorky’s painting, and later by Franz Kline’s and Willem De Kooning’s action painting. In 1952 he joined the group of artists ‘The Eight’, with whom he exhibited in the Venice Biennal; three years later he participated in the exhibition “The New Decade”, organized by the Museum of Modern Art of New York. In 1956 a separate space was dedicated to his work at the Venice Biennal where he was awarded the prize for Best Italian painter.
Between 1957 and 1958 he accepted a professorship at Mills College in Oakland (California), during which period he created “The Garden of Hope” for UNESCO’s Headquarters building in Paris. He also created several set designs for the opera at this time, including those in Rome, Munich, Cologne, Palermo and Ljubljana.
In 1969 a major retrospective exhibition of over two hundred of his works was held at the Darmstadt Kunsthalle, and then was at the National Gallery of Berlin and the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara.
In 1971, shortly after the death of his brother Mirko, which profoundly affected him, he was struck with a terrible illness. After his recovery, he took up painting again with great enthusiasm and exhibited in Milan and Rome.
Afro passed away in Zurich, on July 24th, 1976.