By Livia Lupi

Sculptor and designer Costantino Nivola was born in Oruni in Sardinia on 6 July 1911. In 1939 he moved to the United States, where his work gained prominence during the 1950s. He taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Columbia University and UC Berkeley among many other universities and institutes.

Nivola grew up in a very modest family, working as an apprentice stonemason during his teenage years. In 1931 he enrolled at the Istituto Superiore per le Industrie Artistiche (ISIA) in Monza where he met his wife, Ruth Guggenheim. Through one of his teachers at the ISIA, Nivola exhibited his work at the 1936 Milan Triennial and at the 1937 Exposition in Paris, drawing the attention of Adriano Olivetti.

Nivola and his wife moved to the United States in 1939, establishing a circle of friends that included Fernand Léger and Le Corbusier as well as emerging young artists like Wilhelm de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Here, the sculptor developed his own sand casting and cement carving processes, creating abstract, large-scale architectural reliefs in concrete.

In 1951 Nivola’s work featured in the groundbreaking 9th Street Art Exhibition curated by Leo Castelli, and was subsequently named Director of the Design Workshop at Harvard Graduate School of Design. He then went on to teach at other prestigious universities and institutes, and in 1972 he became the first non-American member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Reference: Mattia Patti, “Nivola, Costantino”, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani Treccani (2013)

Further reading: 

Ugo Collu, Diane Lewis et al., Costantino Nivola: 100 Years of Creativity. Charta Italian Cultural institute in Washington, 2012.

Maddalena Mameli, Le Corbusier and Costantino Nivola: New York 1946-1965. Franco Angeli Edizioni, 2018.

Micaela Martegani, Costantino Nivola in Springs. The Parrish Art Museum, 2003.

Costantino Nivola at work

Olivetti Showroom, New York City

Sculptures in Piazza Santa, Nuoro, 1967

Nivola Museum in Orani, Sardinia

Museo Nivola in Orani, interior

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